Connecting a Nation


In 1867, Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, knew that the young country’s future existence depended on the successful completion of a transcontinental railway … one that would connect a nation. The dream would allow Canadians to travel from sea to sea and open up access to raw materials and markets all across the country. In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) began the mammoth task of building the railroad.

The laborers who worked tirelessly to build the railroad were called navvies. Chinese navvies were nicknamed coolies and played a key role in building the western stretch of the railway. Coolies were paid poorly and sadly many died completing the most dangerous construction jobs, including working with explosives. Many thousands of European’s also worked on the railway as navvies – including Scottish immigrants. The pick and shovel exemplify the back-breaking labour that each navvy must have endured.

In 1885, the last spike was driven to complete the railroad at Craigellachie, British Columbia. The dream was realized and the nation was now connected. It took 12,000 men, 5,000 horses, and 300 dog-sled teams to build the railway. The first transcontinental passenger train departed from Montreal’s, on June 28th, 1886 and arrived in Port Moody, British Columbia on July 4th, 1886.

Click here for a short audio sample.


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A track from John’s All Through the Ages CD.