The Unfolding West
© Cher Gruener
The Railway was what really opened up Canada and allowed the settlement of the western provinces to come about.
The railway throughout Canada can be traced back as far as the late 1830's. There were several companies that merged in order to form the Canadian National Railway. The first railway in Canada was in 1860. The first one was the Grand Trunk line between La Prairie and St. Jean which was outfitted with wood rails and iron strapping. Later that same year, European and North American Railway opened a line between St John and Shediac, New Brunswick.
In 1852, it was announced that the Grand Trunk Railway wished to move west, building a line from Quebec to Toronto. Later, Grand Truck bought out many smaller railway companies. Following Confederation, the two Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) were promised a link between them and the central two provinces (Ontario and Quebec), thus the Canadian National Railway was formed. Manitoba joined Canada in 1870 and British Columbia in 1871, enticed by the promise of the railway that would join them to the rest of Canada.
As the railway spread its spiderweb into the west it was not without difficulty! The western countryside of Canada is flat in places and mountainous in others and the building of the railway was fraught with dangerous conditions, such as avalanches, extreme temperatures, and disease (such as scurvy, influenzas). However, one man was put in charge of finding a passage through the the countryside. His name was Major A. B. Rogers. He was aptly rewarded in his quest with $5,000 and the pass being named after him.
The railway brought thousands of settlers westward, which in turn affected most of the First Nations people. They were no longer free to roam as they once had. Gone were the buffalo, that they relied on for food and clothing, and they felt threatened by the white man.
The last spike was driven in on November 7, 1885 in Craigellachie, British Columbia, thus linking the western portion of the railway to the eastern portion, and finally the two coasts were joined together.