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Manitoba History: Review: Jon A. Severson, Delivered With Pride: A Pictorial History of the Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railroad

by Francis M. Carroll
St. John’s College, University of Manitoba

Number 63, Spring 2010

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The Duluth Winnipeg and Pacific Railroad (DWP), despite its name, is almost entirely unknown in Winnipeg and Manitoba. Most Canadian railroad histories, even G. R. Stevens’ standard History of the Canadian National Railways (1973), make little or no mention of it. Perhaps that should not be too surprising—it is quite a small railroad, its mainline being only 167 miles long. The line’s locomotives and rolling stock are seldom seen in Winnipeg, and its offices and facilities are elsewhere. In 1995 Don L. Hofsommer published a useful book on all of the Canadian National subsidiaries in the United States, Grand Trunk Corporation: Canadian National Railways in the United States, 1971-1992, which sheds some light on the DWP. Jon A. Severson has now provided a very basic illustrated history of the railroad from its beginnings right up to the present.

Severson explains that the DWP had its origins in 1901 as a logging railroad in northern Minnesota, the Duluth, Virginia and Rainy River Railway. However, as it built track north to Fort Frances, Ranier, and International Falls on the border, it came to the attention of the Canadian Northern, which acquired ownership in 1909 under the new name of Duluth Winnipeg and Pacific. Backed by the resources of the Canadian Northern (from 1918 the Canadian National) the DWP began construction south to Duluth. This was quite a formidable undertaking, especially as the line neared Duluth where the tracks had to follow the contours of the massive escarpment above the city requiring many trestles and even a tunnel. By 1912 the task was completed. Apart from passenger service from Winnipeg to Duluth, with ongoing connections to Chicago, the traffic on the DWP in the early years was largely lumber from the sawmills at Virginia (one of the largest in the United States at the time) and the border area.

As the timber resources in the region were steadily reduced, and the economic impact of the Great Depression of the 1930s was fully felt, the future of the DWP looked bleak. However, the Second World War and the economic prosperity of the post-war era turned things around dramatically for the railroad. The enormous demand in the United States for Canadian raw materials—grain, potash, sulphur, petroleum products, timber, pulp, and paper—enabled the DWP to serve as an increasingly vital transportation link for the CN. During the Second World War, the DWP even shipped iron ore from Ontario into the port of Duluth until ore docks were built at Port Arthur. The DWP became the CN’s gateway into the American mid-west. The shipment of freight into Duluth allowed for reshipment by vessels down the Great Lakes or continuation by rail by means of any one of the seven American railroads that operated out of Duluth or Superior, Wisconsin. The DWP became the most profitable of all the CN subsidiaries. Indeed, it was a proud workman who suggested the motto for the DWP, “Delivered With Pride,” putting new meaning to the initials.

In the sixty-five years since the end of the Second World War the role of the DWP has continued to grow in importance for the CN, right up to the present. Its profitability led to its linkage with the Grand Trunk Western and the Central Vermont under the holding company of the Grand Trunk Corporation in 1971, but in 1992 all of the American subsidiaries were brought under the management of the CN. The combination of NAFTA and the growth of the container trade from Asia have given the CN, with its container facilities in British Columbia, something of a transportation advantage. Prince Rupert is the North American port closest to Asia by ship, and thus it is efficient and economical for containers bound for the central United States to be diverted south from the Winnipeg yards through the DWP link. This connection was made even more efficient in 2001 when the CN bought the Wisconsin Central Railroad and thereby obtained a now fully Canadian-owned route from Winnipeg, through the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior to Chicago and the mid-west. This access to Chicago and beyond put the CN on more-or-less equal footing with the major American railroads, like the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and the Canadian Pacific, which owns the Soo Line and several regional railroads in the United States. (Through its ownership of the Grand Trunk Western, the CN also has access to Detroit and Chicago from the east, as well as from the northwest through the DWP and the Wisconsin Central, and as far south as New Orleans through its ownership of the Illinois Central.)

Severson tells this fascinating story using extended extracts from contemporary newspapers going back to 1901 and filling in the gaps with his own explanations of what was happening. He also provides an outstanding selection of black and white photographs, of excellent resolution, that trace the building and development of the DWP, and the logging railroad that preceded it, right up to the present. The details about the locomotives and the operation of the line make the book particularly attractive to railroad fans. To all readers, Severson provides an interesting glimpse of a vital and on-going Canadian enterprise in the United States, and the only railroad to include Winnipeg in its name.

Page revised: 4 July 2016

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