Manitoba Business: Great Northern Railway / Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson’s Bay Railway / Midland Railway / Manitoba Great Northern Railway
Between 1906 to 1936, this American railway, controlled by business baron J. J. Hill, operated a spur line between Devil’s Lake (North Dakota) and Brandon. Its origins were with the Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson’s Bay Railway incorporated in 1903 by a group of prominent Manitoba men, most with ties to the Brandon area: J. Bettes, K Campbell, A. C. Fraser, M. S. Fraser, J. D. McGregor, T. C. Norris, J. A. Osborne, P. B. H. Ramsay, C. Whitehead, and C. A. Young. The company’s plan was construct a railway from the Canada-US border through Brandon and on to The Pas and Hudson Bay. Its charter ran out in 1905 without any construction being undertaken. Shortly after the charter was renewed, the majority of the company’s shares were purchased by the Great Northern through its Winnipeg lawyer James Fisher. The company operated under President W. P. Kenney. A second company with some of the same original shareholders, the Brandon Townsite Company, was incorporated to purchase land for the railway and town sites along it. These included Bannerman, Bunclody, and Hayfield.
By late 1905, the Great Northern received approval to begin construction of the southern-most 40 miles of the line, northward from Bannerman, as well as three miles near Brandon. Much of the work in 1906 was done by local farmers. Although the charter allowed the company five years to complete the line to Brandon, the work was done in two years, and it involved among other features the construction of a massive wooden trestle bridge over the Souris River at Bunclody, the earthen approaches to which are still visible today. W. J. McCabe of St. Paul, Minnesota was given a monopoly to build grain elevators along the new line.
Plans to extend the railway north of Brandon never came to fruition despite appeals from communities such as Birtle that would be served by it. For many years, the railway lost money on the existing line. Periodic rumours that the line would be abandoned were finally realized in 1936. By this time, freight trains were running only twice a week over the line and passenger service was once daily, six days a week. McCabe dismantled its elevators and used the lumber to build ones on other lines. The last train ran on 14 June 1936. The company was required to leave its rails in place for one year in hopes it might reconsider the decision to close the line or could sell them to another railway. When this did not happen, salvage operations began in August 1937 and the land was returned to farmers of adjoining property. The Canadian Pacific Railway took over the line’s depot in Brandon.
In 1906, the Midland Railway Company of Manitoba, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway, constructed a branch line from Neche, North Dakota to Portage la Prairie.
Railway Lines (Manitoba)
“Heads rail firm,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 December 1934, page 6.
“Railway head,” Winnipeg Tribune, 24 April 1954, page 38.
“Retired rail official John L. Knight dies,” Winnipeg Free Press, 2 August 1956, page 9.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
Obituary [Joseph Melville Kneeshaw], Winnipeg Free Press, 11 November 1964, page 91.
Obituaries and burial transcriptions, Manitoba Genealogical Society.
This page was prepared by Charles Bohi and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 June 2020