MHS Centennial Business: Canadian Pacific Railway Company
To discuss the history of the CPR and its involvement in our great province, you have to go back to the very decade of Manitoba’s entry into confederation. In 1874, the community of Winnipeg discovered that plans were being drawn for the construction of a transcontinental rail line to run through Selkirk to the north. Immediately, a citizens’ committee was established and a petition was delivered to Ottawa. In true Canadian fashion, debate over the issue lasted for seven years when in 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was formed and agreed to construct the line through our present provincial capital. This important decision would help pave the way for Winnipeg to become the “hub of commercial activity in the northwest.” For the next 16 months following, immigrants migrated to the city in search of employment and hope causing the population to explode from a few hundred to 14,000. Due to this massive influx, the CPR announced 2,000 new jobs at their shops.
This period was an intensification of the expansion of the mid-1870s on a scale which was unprecedented in Canadian history. For a short time, the sky was the limit. Winnipeg was again “the new Chicago” and speculation drove the prices of lots on Portage Avenue or Main Street above the going rate for similar frontage on Michigan Avenue or State Street in the “Windy City.” Emerson and West Lynne, its long-since devoured twin across the Red, were touted in local and eastern papers as improved versions of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Crystal City, Rapid City, Nelsonville a long list of metropolises-to-be clamoured for the attention of settlers and received that of speculators. Winnipeg was prompted by the speculation fever to move heaven and earth in order to secure the crossing of the Red River by the new Canadian Pacific Railway.
During this time, construction of the railway was supervised from offices in Winnipeg. Facilities were located near the Point Douglas area of the city. During the early part of the 20th century, this marshalling yard was one of the largest in the world. It was the centre point of the Dominion, moving material and goods in both directions between eastern and western Canada.
Over the years, this railway company has changed and evolved in many aspects including service lines, modes of transportation and even things as simple as its name. CP Rail System, or CPRS, was changed again to Canadian Pacific Railway Company in 1996. The nature of Manitoba-based railway services have also evolved throughout the 20th century and beyond, including operations across the nation.
One such evolution was in 1994 when emphasis was focussed on consolidating customer service for all its Canadian operations into a new centre in Winnipeg. At that time, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was expecting to employ more than 200 people many of whom would have been transferred from urban centres all across the country. Winnipeg was also the chosen site for the CPR’s headquarters for the “grain team,” its company’s marketing unit for transporting western Canada’s most fundamental commodity.
The Canadian Pacific Railway’s activities and involvement in Manitoba still continue today. its main heavy repair facility is located in Weston yards. Additionally, services such as a diesel shop which is responsible for a large part of CPR’s fleet and the Transcona which welds standard rails into quarter-mile long continuous rails for installation in main line track across the country have been built and maintained.
The railway employs 1000s of Manitobans and spends approximately 2 billion dollars in our province on payroll, provincial taxes, purchases and capital spending. This is in addition to indirect spending generating by business done with Manitoba-based suppliers. It maintains and operates approximately a 2000 km network of line to serve its Manitoba customers and connects them to terminals and major coastal ports throughout the North American continent.
An article in CP Rail News dated 28 August 1974 had this to say about the Canadian Pacific Railway’s involvement in the building of our province: “The diversification of Canadian Pacific operations is well known but would you believe 50 years in the entertainment business? Winnipeg Beach was where it all started at the turn of the century when CP Rail opened an amusement park, complete with roller coaster, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and dance hall, among other things and a rail line to get people there. The company also built a hotel on the site the Empress where, in its heyday, picnickers could buy a gallon of beer for 25 cents and the Sunday concert was the social event of the week. There was a 400-foot pier and an 800-foot boardwalk where families strolled up and down in the sun, and friends and lovers did likewise, more or less on moonlight excursions.”
An MHS Centennial Business Award was presented to Janet Weiss, General Manager (Grain) of Canadian Pacific Railway Company, by MHS President Steven Place, on 3 April 2004.
Some CPR workers:
This gallery was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 15 May 2011Back to top of page