A Timeline

The story of the Town of Rivers is so closely tied to the story of the Grand Trunk Pacific that a timeline outling that railway’s history also tell the story of the town

The dates and activities have been presented in a decade-by-decade format, which allows us to relive the past through the lens of the flow of time.


In the spring of 1903 a headline in the Brandon Daily Sun read: “G.T. President is Coming West: Sir Charles Rivers-Wilson will visit Manitoba and Inspect the Canadian Northern .” Few details were provided.


Brandon Sun, May 19, 1903
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

A few weeks later the headline in the Sun read: “Will Grand Trunk get Can. Northern?”
The speculation was that two additional transcontinental lines were “not pushed forward at once.” And that amalgamation was the solution.


Brandon Sun, May 30, 1903
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

On July 28, Sir. Wilfred Laurier gave notice of a bill for the construction of a national transcontinental railway. The Grand Trunk Pacific would build the line.


Brandon Sun, July 28, 1903
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

Later that year The Grand Trunk established a subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, to build a line from Winnipeg to the Pacific.

In October  the National Transcontinental Railway Act was passed by Parliament and Charles Melville Hays became heavily involved in supervising construction of the line west of Winnipeg (The Grand Trunk Pacific). While the Grand Trunk agreed to build the line west of Winnipeg, the federal government assumed responsibility for constructing the line from Winnipeg to Moncton, including the infamous and costly Quebec Bridge crossing of the St. Lawrence River, with the Grand Trunk initially agreeing to operate the entire line as a single system.


This Canadian company was incorporated by act of the Dominion Parliament, 24 Oct. 1903, for the purpose of constructing a railroad from Moncton, in the province of New Brunswick, to some suitable port on the Pacific Coast, in the northern portion of British Columbia. It is the joint enterprise of the Canadian government and the Grand Trunk Railway. The route of the line from Moncton to Quebec runs near the northern extremity of the State of Maine; from Quebec the line runs in a westerly direction to a point on the bound ary line between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, south of and near Lake Abittibi, thence in a westerly and northwesterly direction pass ing to the north of Lake Nipigon, to a point in the city of Winnipeg, thence westerly passing Edmonton, and on through the Rocky Mountains to Prince Rupert on the Pacific Coast.


Construction began on the Canadian Prairies in 1905, the year that the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were established with the first sod turned near Carberry, Manitoba on August 29.


On November 9, under the headline: “RUSH WORK ON GRAND TRUNK PACIFIC” the Brandon Sun reported that, Mr. Morse, vice president and general manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific had clarified some questions about the contract for building the line from Portage to Touchwood.


Brandon Sun, November 9, 1903
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca


On April 25, The Minniedosa Tribune reported that, “The Grand Trunk Pacific fired up their first engine on the Lake Superior section yesterday, and commenced switching under their own steam at Fort William.”

The first mention of the new town of Rivers in the media came on July 22 when the Brandon Sun headline decalred: “RIVERS WILL BE GOOD TOWN”
The article went on to report that the track had proceeded 75 miles west from Portage and that the first divisional point would be called Rivers. “It is expected to be quite a centre.”


Brandon Sun, July22, 1907

Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

In anticipation of the coming rail link, Rivers saw a construction boom even though the building material had to be shipped on CPR to Wheatland or Pettapiece. This photo, taken in 1907 shows quite a collection of buildings about a year before the first train was to arrive.

While this one shows the construction of the McKenzie store that same year.



In 1908 a mile-long trestle bridge, the longest of its kind in Western Canada, was completed.

A special train arrived carrying GTP Vice-President F.W. Morse who promised a loading platform would be soon built.

The status of Rivers as a divisional point on the new railway is evident in the scale of construction that took place.

Soon a new a two-story depot complete with stood at the foot on Main Street. It was the most impressive railway building in western Manitoba. During the construction of the line it also served as offices for the Engineering Dept.


The Roundhouse and related shops and terminal yards were extensive and employed over 250 men during the busiest period.

On Sept 21, the first GTP passenger service begins between Winnipeg and Wainright Alberta with a tri-weekly timetable in each direction. The Brandon Sun reported on the complete schedule under the heading : GRAND TRUNK PACIFIC NOW IN OPERATION.”  It added that, “There is a train agent on each train who sells tickets, recieves orders for cars required for loading, and attends generally to business at stations where there are no agents.”



Brandon Sun, Sptember 21, 1908
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

Mail for the first time was brought from Winnipeg by GTP on Oct. 5. The town now had service direct from from Winnipeg and and via the C.P.R. at Wheatland.

W. Buggey was the first GTP Agent.

The new rail line brought politicians. Clifford Sifton and T.C. Norris,  of Laurier's Liberal gov't took full credit, with Sifton claiming that the Conservatives had opposed building the line. Conservative candidate T.Mayne Daly came claiming a Conservative government would be committed to the GTP. P6

Executive head Charles Melville Hays and General Manager F.W. Morse also visited.


Visiting dignitaries at the station.

Accidents were quite common. Twenty-two year old Samuel White had one leg severed by a locomotive and later died. The throttle had been defective according to a coroner's which also noted that no ashpit was provided in the Rivers yard for the safety of those who cleaned out locomotive ashpans. The railway company was found guilty of gross negligence.


On February 9, the Minnedosa Tribune reported that, “Edson Chamberlain, former general manager of the Canadian Atlantic, succeeds F.W. Morse as general manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific.”

A block of GTP land needed for a school was made available for half-price. ($775) and land for the cemetery was donated by the GTP.

The newly-completed school

On June 1, through passenger service was implemented - a 12 ¾ hr schedule between Winnipeg and Melville with no stopover needed at Rivers.

Sir Charles Rivers-Wilson,  chairman of directors of the G.T.P. visited Rivers with Lady Wilson, Charles M. Hays, and other dignitaries. It was the last visit before Mr. Hays took over as President.

They toured the town and spoke of the possibility of extensions to the carshops.

D.E. MacKinnon began his career with the G.T.P. at Rivers were he stayed until 1913 before moving on and eventually becoming Superintendent of Motive Power with C.N. based in  in Trancona. (Winnipeg Evening Tribune, Jan. 31, 1942)


The first local G.T.P. carpenter foreman, I.O. Frost, left for Edmonton to supervise work there.

The G.T.P. offered free transportation to men and trees (to be gathered from Eastern Canada) to beautify the town.

By 1910 the business district on 2nd Avenue was expanding rapidly.

There were rumours of branch lines for the GTP – to Brandon to connect with the Great Northern. To Kamsak and to Regina – crossing the CPR at around Elkhorn.


In August the Brandon Sun reported that the Grand Trunk Pacific was building a spur into Brandon.

In October it followed up that report with one in Octover announcing ANOTHER RAILROAD TO CITY OF BRANDON”. The proposed connection between the G.T.P.  line through Rivers and Brandon was a big issue for Brandon. The article does point out the advantage such a connection would bring. Traces of that unfinished initiaive are still visible on farmland north of Carberry today.

Brandon Sun, August 11, 1911
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

Brandon Sun, August 11, 1911

A strike began against the G.T.P. was declared on Oct. 10 by machinists and boilermakers who sought parity to CP. and CN workers. Objectives included a 9 hour day and a minimum of 45 ½ cents per hour. The conflict escalated and was felt in Rivers, where one altercation between a strike-breaker and a striker ended in gunfire and death.

* See BDS April 20, 1912 for a full report about the incident.


Brandon Sun, October 10, 1911
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

The Winnipeg newspaper, “The Voice”, covered the strike in detail on Oct. 3.

The Brandon Sun on Oct. 18 reported that 100 strike breakers from Montreal had reached Rivers and the the new workers would replace those out at various points. It notes that, “The strikers here are orderly, but the bringing in of strike breakers is strongly resented.”


The Duke and Duchess of Connaught , youngest son of Queen Victoria, were aboard the first Royal train to pass over Grand Trunk Pacific lines.

A number of shack-shelters were erected near the railroad shops for men who had been living in tents.

Construction started on a G.T.P. Freight shed.

The company’s new coal dock was completed.

A Rivers man, Robert McIntyre, slipped beneath wheels of moving train and lost both legs.

Engineer Hartnett was accidentally killed at Edson.

Charles M. Hays died while returning from a visit to England to Canada where he was scheduled to attend the 26 April 1912, grand opening of the Château Laurier hotel in Ottawa, Ontario. Hays had chosen to return from England on the maiden voyage of the ocean liner RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland the night of April 14th and sank.

Brandon Sun, Dec. 6, 1912
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

Brandon Sun, Dec. 6, 1912

In December representatives of the G.T.P. strikers, including William Renton from Rivers, met with the Minister of Labour in Ottawa about the strike, which had now lasted 14 months.


On March 19, The Brandon Sun was still anticipating the connection with the Grand Trunk Pacific, and reporting that service would start on August 1.

On August 2 the Brandon Sun published a letter from Clarence King noting that although the grade was “practically completed” some “tangle to straighten out” was preventing completion of the project. The line was indeed graded from Harte to Currie’s Landing and the piers for a bridge across the Assiniboine were already in place. 

The Dynes Hotel, later re-named the Shore, then the Alexandra, was constructed in 1913. Its location, right across from the Station, and its distinctive style made it a landmark.

The Rivers Banner noted, “ the decision of the Grand Trunk Pacific to locate its B and B department here.”

A yard engine and two cars crashed over the end of the coal dock after the locomotive throttle refused to function, causing serious injuries to brakeman George Hile and forcing engineer Joe Rymal and D.J.D. Ellis to jump for safety.


A new steel water tank was built.


Busy railway yards. Photo from the Archives of Manitoba

The GTP line was completed 7 April 1914, at a point 375 miles east of Prince Rupert, and through sleeping car and freight service began 2 Sept. 1914


W. Files engineer died when his freight train ran into a gap which – prior to a cyclone -had been the 115 foot high Minnewaska bridge near Uno. For a time GTP trains had to be routed over CPR lines via Minnedosa.


Minnedosa Tribune Sept. 9.
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

Owing to the inability of the company to operate the line with any hope of financial success, the eastern section, of the GTP, from Winnipeg to Moncton, a distance of 1,994 miles, was turned over to the Canadian government in 1915, and is was operated as part of the government railways.


The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company requested the government to take over the line from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, but this proposal was declined. An offer by the govenment to advance by way of loan sufficient money to supply any deficiency in the amount required to meet the fixed charges of the Grand Trunk Pacific for a period of (say) five years, "was met by a declination on the part of the company to accumulate further liabilities.”


Aug. 29. Howard G. Kelley succeeded Edson G. Chamberlain as President of the Grand Trunk Pacific.


Brandon Sun, Aug. 29, 1917
Clip Courtesy: manitobia.ca

Shop worker Robert McGregor was killed when caught up in the pumphouse engine.

Fire destroyed the Train Station in what was termed, “the worst conflagration in the history of this decade-old community.”

Jackie Larkin, a youngster, was struck and killed by a train after wandering on to the trestle.

The new railway station was started in July and finished in September. It was presented to the public with a station restaurant (The Beanery) and waiting room dance.


Work began on filling in the trestle bridge and rebuilding of the roundhouse and machine shops.

A fire did some damge to the newly built roundhouse.


Railway Facilities (Photos from The Archives of Manitoba)


R.D. Britton became roundhouse foreman.

The railway station, shops, and office were fitted with electric lights.

By 1919 it was obvious that the GTPR was not paying its way. The financial strain broke on March 7 when GTR defaulted on repayment of construction loans to the federal government, whereby the GTPR was nationalized and taken over by a Board of Management operating under the Department of Railways and Canals while legalities were resolved.


The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway shareholders accepted an offer by the government to take over the line.

On July 12, 1920 the GTPR was placed under the management of Crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR) and in 1923 was completely absorbed into the CNR.

As the transition of ownership proceded, a GTP arbitration board studying the seniority rights of workers visited River.

June 24: A new daily service to Rivers is announced via the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian National. Dual ads regarding rail service began to appear.


A feature of the G.T.P , the “Joyride”, an “irregular” Company pay car was discontinued in favour of a cheque system handled through the Station Agent. Employees welcomed the change but local missed the extra train.


Canadian National Railways agent, A.E. Hedburg arrived.

Improved passenger service was implemented.

A new stores department was built.

The “big fill” started on the longest trestle bridge in Canada.

H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, the future King of England, disembarked from the train and walked the ties for the last mile as it approached Rivers.


In 1924, a portion of the unfilled trestle over the roadway diversion and the
river was replaced with a short piece of steel bridging. From east to west, the
bridge was comprised of the following: 13 timber bents, deck plate girders
(40'+60--40-+60'+40') on steel towers (240 feet long) and 14 timber bents,
total length of the bridge was 584 feet. The steel was fabricated and erected
by the Dominion Bridge Company.


The re-constructed bridge. Photo from The Archives of Manitoba


Mrs. Robert Page, the first operator of the station restaurant in 1909, passed away.


The deepening depression saw the railways used as free transportation as men moved across the land seeking work. They often disembarked from freight trains at this point; hurried calls on local house- holds for handouts were followed by a dash to catch the next outgoing transport. On New Year's Day, 1931, one such traveller, a woman travelling with her son, while trying to board a moving box-car, slipped and fell beneath the wheels.


J.P. Sproule replaced Percy Neville, 14 – year veteran, as railway locomotive foreman.


The depression coninued to bring hardship with seventy persons on relief who had formerly been supported by Railway employment.


Railway postal clerk W. J. Leslie,who brought the first Grand Trunk Pacific-conveyed bag of mail into Rivers, passed away.


A tornado destroyed one end of the building in August.


F.C. Pason took over as railway locomotive foreman.


For the first time in history a reigning monarch was to visit Canada. In Rivers  a royal visit committee was set up to request that the train bearing Their Majesties would stop here. The petition was granted, but the visit was somewhat of a disappointment to the fifteen thousand people who gathered as the King made only the briefest of early-morning appearances to wave from the receding coach platform.


The Canadian National Railway power plant which had supplied the community with electricity, ceased to function and the Railway decided not to continue that service. The Manitoba Power Commission took over.


Each train was eagerly awaited as troops begin to return.


Renovations to the roundhouse and the station.
For the first time in 40 years  “Continental” passengers were afforded a quarter hour stop at Rivers for lunch

Rivers in 1950.


CN 9 day strike.


Locomotives were being converted from coal to diesel. Liquid fuel tanks were installed in the roundhouse.


Steam locomotive at Rivers. Photos from The Archives of Manitoba

At  this time 28 crews, 140 men, were employed on the line between Winnipeg and Melville.

25 year old James White lost both legs to a train accident.


The longest train in CN history passes through Rivers  - 185 pieces of equipment, 2/3 mile long, drawn by dual diesel locomotives on a test run.

A head on crash of two freights occurred on the outskirts of Rivers


By mid February diesel power reduced the running time of trains from Winnipeg   to Edmonton by by several hours – the time was soom cut by almost a day..

The company pile of steam coal was removed.
Freight were cjecked and on their way in 15 minutes.

In late September a diesed hauled passenger train made a test run from Montreal to Vancouver. By the end of the year the local day yard was shut down.


In Mid May 23 men – four roundhouse and 18 car-department employees were terminated.

An old engine well known in the region No. 7398, now refitted with a diesel engine passed through with passengers  who had been prevented from boarding a fog-bound TCA Airliner in Winnipeg.

The Edmonton Eskimos Grey Cup Special stopped in Rivers both going to and coming from their victory. Locals gained souvenirs including a piece of a goal post presented to the mayor, Mr. Stratford. Locals stil remember the chocolate bars with Edmonton Eslimo wrappers being handed out.

Highway 25 opened to traffic, and the first car accident injury on that road occurred.


Rivers is the first place on a main line in Canada to have known coal-burning locomotives, was the last place to see their use. 

The meeting of the east-and west-bound Continental trains came to an end with a new CN Cross-Country Passenger service. – the Super Continental. Twelve hours running time was cut from a montreal – Vancouver trip.


Rivers became the central receiving station for messages from Caye to Uno, with the installation of telephone-teletype facilities here

Plans were made to remove the sixty-foot high smokestack landmark above the roundhouse.


The railway icehouses was demolished. The final steam locomotived passed thorugh the yards.
The beginning of two-way radio radio communication between train crews and station dispatchers.

Continental passengers service was reduced to “local” status.

 From the Rivers Banner


CN Coal Dock demolished, rails that once served the car department and other services were lifted.

Roundhouse sold to Rivers Structural Fabricators.

Roundhouse being demolished in 1961. Photo from The Archives of Manitoba.


The crew and star of The Railrodder, a short film starring Buster Keaton spent several days filming at the trestle bridge.  Mr. and Mrs. Keaton hosted the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce at a special dinner and Mr. Keaton made an appearance at the Rex Theatre where on of his early films, “When Comedy Was King” was showing.


In the early 1990's - Rivers Train Station eventually closes its doors completely after a gradual decline in services. From a full service depot, to a whistle stop and back to a major boarding depot, VIA travelers continue to board or arrive at Rivers depot.

In the late 1990's - Rivers Train Station is designated as a federal heritage site.


In the fall of 2006 a committee was formed to save and restore the Rivers train station. Initiated by the Rivers/Daly Community Development Corporation, the Rivers Train Station Restoration Project committee's mission is to restore Rivers Train Station to a viable property for heritage preservation and economic development.

In September 2006, for the first time in memory, all trains east and westbound on the CN line through Rivers lay quiet for 24 hours as crews made significant upgrades to the trestle bridge at Rivers.


Volunteers from the Rivers Train Station Restoration Project committee begin cleaning up the station as a first step to its complete rehabilitation.


September 9, 2008 - The Rivers train 'stationette' officially opens after the closing of Brandon North station making Rivers the only boarding station in western Manitoba for VIA passengers traveling to points east and west. Close to 2,000 passengers board or arrive on VIA at the Rivers depot annually. VIA and the RTSRP committee anticipate those numbers to increase.

The Great Train Trip Giveaway! This fundraiser offered the chance to win a trip for two on VIA Rail's signature Silver and Blue class from Rivers to either Toronto or Vancouver ~ a round trip valued at nearly $5,000.!


The Rivers / Daly Special Places Project, funded by the Heritage Grants Program,  inventories the historic of the community, including the many sites that relate to the railway


The Rivers / Daly Pivotal Events Project, funded by the Heritage Grants Program,  examines the history of the community with a specific look at the Settlement of the area, The Effect of the Railway, and  the Story of the Rivers Forces Base and catalogues the resources, photos and documents that help illustrate that history.


The Town of Rivers celebrated its 100th Anniversary with a very successful Homecoming  on July 2-7.

The Rivers / Daly Heritage Website, funded by the Heritage Grants Program, began the process of putting all aspects of the Rivers/ Daly story online. An important component being the story of the Grand Trunk Pacific and the C.N.R.


The Rivers Train Station Restoration Project committee continues to work towards restoring the current train station building to be Canada's first 'green' heritage train station. The method of restoration will be carried out following the most environmentally efficient criteria. Funding for restoration is being made possible through grants, corporate and individual support, as well as fundraising. ALL BOARD!