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Historic Sites of Manitoba: Grand Rapids Tramway (Grand Rapids)

The first rail line in western Canada was constructed for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1877, under the supervision of former CPR surveyor Walter Moberly. It replaced a much-used portage around rapids on the Saskatchewan River about two miles upstream of Lake Winnipeg. Passengers and freight were carried across 3.7 miles of narrow-gauge track by six horse-drawn cars to the steamboat dock on the river. The first official passengers on the tramway were Governor General and Lady Dufferin, in September 1877. Freight carried on the tramway consisted of supplies for HBC posts, farm implements for Saskatchewan settlers, and Indian Department supplies. Throughout the 1880s the tramway played a vital role in the development of the Saskatchewan River as a northern transport route. It was superseded by other western railways in the 1890s and fell into disrepair.

The Saskatchewan River rapids disappeared with the impoundment of Cedar Lake during the construction of the Grand Rapids Generating Station by Manitoba Hydro between 1960 and 1968. In 1960, two-thirds of the former Tramway tracks in an area due to be flooded were pulled up. By the mid-1970s, about one-third of the original rails were still present but “badly deteriorated and vandalized.” A short section of rails were moved to a Manitoba Hydro building at Grand Rapids and a replica tramcar was set on them. Between 1983 and 1984, students from Grand Rapids restored a short section of the original Tramway. Two of the original tramcars were also restored.

In 1987, a plaque commemorating the former Tramway was unveiled by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. A commemorative plaque at the site was erected in 2001 by the Manitoba Heritage Council.

Grand Rapids Tramway

Grand Rapids Tramway (circa 1883)
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

The restored section of the original Grand Rapids Tramway

The restored section of the original Grand Rapids Tramway (circa 1987)
Source: Grand Rapids Tramway, 1877, The Canadian Society for Civil Engineer, October 1987 [Manitoba Legislative Library TF830 GRA]

The restored section of the original Grand Rapids Tramway

A restored tramcar from the original Grand Rapids Tramway (circa 1987)
Source: Grand Rapids Tramway, 1877, The Canadian Society for Civil Engineer, October 1987 [Manitoba Legislative Library TF830 GRA]

Grand Rapids Tramway

Grand Rapids Tramway plaque (2010)
Source: Heather Docking

Site Location (lat/long): N53.16470, W99.27143
denoted by symbol on the map above

See also:

The Grand Rapids Tramway: The First Railway in the Canadian Northwest by J. A. Rodger Letourneau
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 32, 1975-76 Season.

The Grand Rapids Tramway, An Abandoned Route of the Fur Trade by Marcile
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 6, Number 3, April 1961

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Abandoned Manitoba


This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Heather Docking.

Page revised: 6 August 2017

Historic Sites of Manitoba

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