Trains of Fame

CANADA’S RAIL­WAYS HAVE BEEN TRA­VERSED BY SOME NOTE­WOR­THY TRAINS. SOME WERE FA­MOUS, WHILE OTH­ERS TOILED IN ANONYMITY AND EVEN SE­CRECY.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS 20 - by Kevin J. Hol­land

Canada’s rail­ways have been tra­versed by some note­wor­thy trains. Some were fa­mous, oth­ers toiled in anonymity, even se­crecy.

CANADA’S RAIL­WAYS CAN BE VIEWED AS THE CAT­A­LYST that made Con­fed­er­a­tion pos­si­ble. The rail lines ex­panded with the Do­min­ion to even­tu­ally link At­lantic, Pa­cific, and Arc­tic tide­wa­ter. Built on a foun­da­tion of lo­cal and re­gional com­pa­nies, by 1915 three transcon­ti­nen­tal routes con­nected the na­tion — phys­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally, and so­cially.

Fore­most among the rail com­pa­nies was the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way (CP). The prom­ise of its com­ple­tion to the Pa­cific coast se­cured Bri­tish Columbia’s 1871 en­try into Con­fed­er­a­tion. While it took an­other fif­teen years for the first cross-coun­try CP train to reach the Pa­cific, its ar­rival at Port Moody, Bri­tish Columbia, al­most im­me­di­ately opened up a lu­cra­tive source of rev­enue — silk. Bales of raw silk im­ported from Ja­pan aboard CP steamships were con­veyed from their Van­cou­ver land­fall to eastern tex­tile mar­kets. Speed and se­cu­rity were im­per­a­tive for this valu­able cargo (as ex­am­ined in the De­cem­ber 2005 -Jan­uary 2006 is­sue of The Beaver).

The silk trains op­er­ated by CP and, af­ter 1925, by Cana­dian Na­tional Rail­ways (CN) are re­mem­bered for their speed and spe­cial­iza­tion. Un­til the 1930s, they were the fastest things on Cana­dian rails and were given pri­or­ity over other traf­fic. While de­mand for silk dropped with the rise of syn­thet­ics, the op­er­a­tion of the silk trains as sin­gle-com­mod­ity “unit trains” cre­ated a traf­fic-man­age­ment legacy that per­sists to­day in the ef­fi­cient move­ment of coal, ore, grain, and other com­modi­ties.

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