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Canadian Pacific Railway Facts

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) is known to Canadians as CP Rail. Owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway Limited, this Class 1 Railway has a vast rail network extending from Vancouver to Montreal in Canada. Built between 1881 and 1885, the CP rail route was crucial in connecting Eastern Canada and British Columbia.

A woman in uniform stands on a ladder and washes a Canadian Pacific Rail Car in a dated black and white photo

It is considered a strong symbol of Canadian nationalism. A beaver serves as the railway's logo. It is one of Canada's national symbols and represents the company's hardworking nature. For over 120 years, the CPR has been the subject of both praise and condemnation.

The team at Canadian Train Vacations helps visitors to Canada plan their vacations. Some of our trips follow the historic CP rail route. You can learn some more Canadian Pacific Railway facts in our guide that follows.

What is Canadian Pacific Railway?

In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was established. Canadian Pacific Railway Limited owns the railway. The CPR is a milestone that symbolizes and means various things to different people in Canada. For the first time in Canada's history, its people could travel with their commodities quickly from east to west. The CPR was a game-changer.

Canadian Pacific Railway, or CP, is one of Canada's most influential corporations. It has tracks not only through Canada but also through the United States. It is still one of the most effective transport systems for the Canadian economy. Every day, CP transports a wide range of commodities across the country.

History of the Canadian Pacific Railway

CPR is Canadian railroad history. Back in the late 17th century, the government promised it would build a national railway system within 10 years of July 1871. It was a much-needed connection between the Pacific and Eastern provinces. This project was essential to fulfil the vision of a unified Canadian nation stretching across the continent.

Canadian Pacific Railway Limited is the company that owns the CPR. It was once one of Canada's biggest and most influential corporations. It owns approximately 12,500 miles (20,000 kilometres) of tracks. This extraordinary engineering achievement was accomplished on November 7, 1885, six years ahead of the predicted schedule.

Men next to C.P.R. locomotive 371 at the Port Moody railway station.
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Why was the Canadian Pacific Railway built?

To physically unite Canada and Canadians from coast to coast, the Canadian Pacific Railway was founded in 1881. One reason was to unify the newly formed country of Canada. Confederation was the name given to this union. Territories merged to form provinces, and the provinces united to form a nation. When British Columbia became a province of Canada in 1871, one of the promises made by the government was to connect it to the rest of the nation by rail.

Its construction is regarded as one of Canada's finest engineering feats. There were numerous bases for constructing the transcontinental railway. By 1889, the railway had been extended from coast to coast. The CPR also linked Canada to the rest of the world. Also, the company had grown to include a diverse range of related and unconnected businesses — for example, shipping lines, airlines, hotels, telecommunications and mining industries.

In Canada's war efforts and with the publicity of tourism and immigration, the CPR played a crucial role. As a result, the railway grew and further diversified over time.

The Canadian Pacific Railway has spread its operations over its long history. Let's follow the growth and diversity that happened throughout the years:

  • In early September 1881, the CPR was engaged in land settling and sales.
  • In addition, the company built telegraph lines right next to the primary transcontinental line, sending the first-ever commercial telegram in 1882.
  • CPR steamships sailed to many countries, beginning in the late 19th century.
  • In 1883, CPR began producing its steam locomotives.
  • In 1942, CPR also established an airline.
  • Canadian Pacific Enterprises Ltd. was formed in 1980. Its subsidiaries included PanCanadian Energy, Canadian Pacific Hotels, Fording Coal, and CP Ships.

Why was the Canadian Pacific Railway important?

The Canadian Pacific Railway history is an essential part of Canadian history, as well as the shaping of the nation. Before the completion of the CPR in 1885, British Columbia was difficult to reach from other parts of Canada. Travelling to British Columbia from Hong Kong was easier, cheaper, and faster than from Halifax. To connect the new Confederation, a better transportation system was required. The CPR made cross-country travel economical and convenient. The railway was critical to Canada's success as a nation. Here are some important facts about the Canadian Pacific Railway.

  • The railway created jobs for thousands of individuals. It helped establish Canada's global reputation, inspiring colonization.
  • The railway was necessary for the 1800s because it transported people to other regions of Canada. It was crucial to the settlement and growth of Western Canada.
  • During the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, the CPR permitted soldiers to travel to locations in just 10 days, giving them an advantage.
  • The CPR transported settlers from the Prairies to British Columbia, and it transfered commodities from the west to the east and vice versa.
  • In addition, the CPR is credited with finding natural gas in Alderson, Alberta in 1886. It was an important discover that happened while CPR construction workers were digging for water.

When was the Canadian Pacific Railway built?

The railway construction began in 1881 and took four years to complete in 1885. When was the Canadian Pacific Railway completed? On November 7, 1885, the "Last Spike" was driven at Craigellachie in Eagle Pass, British Columbia, to meet the line all the way to the Pacific coast. On June 28, 1886, the first through passenger train left Montreal and arrived in Port Moody, British Columbia, on July 4.

Later, the company acquired additional railroads, which included a few lines across the United States. It controlled maritime interests, ranging from paddle wheelers and steamships on internal waterways to a Pacific Ocean shipping fleet.

The last spike is driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway

Who built the Canadian Pacific Railway?

The railway was built with Chinese and European labour and funded by American and British investors. When the CPR construction began in the 1880s, Chinese workers were vital to completing the difficult western sections of the railway. Chinese rail line labourers were brought by ship from both China and California to begin construction of the CPR. At the same time, European workers began construction of the eastern section from the east coast.

Building the Canadian Pacific Railway took four years. Many people contributed to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, but a few people had significant contributions.

  • John A. Macdonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada. At the time of Confederation, John A. Macdonald and his Conservative (Tory) Party were in power and decided to construct a new railway.
  • Sandford Fleming worked as a surveyor on the railway construction project. He was also the chief engineer in charge of the design.
Chinese labourers building the Canadian Pacific Railway track through B.C.

Travel tip: plan your vacation reading

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The history of the Canadian railway has inspired many writers, both of fiction and non-fiction works. Enhance your trip by reading themed material.

Blog Author - Athena McKenzie
Athena McKenzie
Content Manager

What did Canadian Pacific Railway symbolize?

After Ottawa pledged to construct a railway to the west coast, British Columbia became a province of Canada in 1871. The railway was completed in 1885 and quickly became a powerful symbol of national unity. The Canadian Pacific Railway also symbolizes the growth of the country's economy and the government's relationship with its citizens.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Canadian Pacific Railway famous?

The Canadian Pacific Railway was founded in 1881. Its construction is regarded as one of Canada's biggest engineering feats, making it famous worldwide. The Canadian Pacific Railway has been in operation for over 130 years.

How long is the Canadian Pacific Railway?

The railway, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, spans approximately 20,100 kilometres (12,500 miles). It connects seven Canadian provinces and goes into the United States.

What were some key events in the Canadian Pacific Railway?

  1. The company built telegraph lines alongside the main transcontinental line. It sent its first commercial telegram in 1882.
  2. The railway was crucial in the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. The railway let soldiers travel from Ontario and Quebec to the Prairies in only 10 days.

How much did the Canadian Pacific Railway Route cost?

At the time, the Canadian Pacific Railway cost around 52 million Canadian dollars to build. That equals well over a billion dollars today.

What is Canada's biggest railway?

Canada has two significant transcontinental freight railway systems: Canadian National and Canadian Pacific. The federal crown corporation Via Rail provides nationwide passenger services. It has an approximate annual ridership of 80 million passengers. Both are Class I railways, which means their revenues in the previous two years exceeded $250 million.

About the author: Carolyn Camilleri is a Contributing Writer with Fresh tracks Canada. A magazine writer and editor since 1996, she loves the discovery that comes from travel. Her work has appeared in several Canadian travel publications, including Where Victoria, Harbour... Read more

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