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
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.
Sun, May 19, 1903
A few weeks later the headline in the Sun read: “Will Grand Trunk get
The speculation was that two additional transcontinental lines were
“not pushed forward at once.” And that amalgamation was the solution.
Sun, May 30, 1903
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.
Sun, July 28, 1903
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
THE GRAND TRUNK PACIFIC RAILWAY COMPANY.
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.
Sun, November 9, 1903
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
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
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.
one shows the construction of the McKenzie store that same
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.”
Sun, Sptember 21, 1908
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.
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
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
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
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
They toured the town and spoke of the possibility of extensions to the
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
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
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.
Sun, October 10, 1911
The Winnipeg newspaper, “The Voice”, covered the strike in detail on
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
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.
Sun, Dec. 6, 1912
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
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.
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
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
Tribune Sept. 9.
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
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.
Sun, Aug. 29, 1917
Shop worker Robert McGregor was killed when caught up in the pumphouse
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.
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
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
In 1924, a portion of the unfilled trestle over the roadway diversion
river was replaced with a short piece of steel bridging. From east to
bridge was comprised of the following: 13 timber bents, deck plate
(40'+60--40-+60'+40') on steel towers (240 feet long) and 14 timber
total length of the bridge was 584 feet. The steel was fabricated and
by the Dominion Bridge Company.
re-constructed bridge. Photo from The Archives of Manitoba
Mrs. Robert Page, the first operator of the station restaurant in 1909,
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
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
In Mid May 23 men – four roundhouse and 18 car-department employees
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
Highway 25 opened to traffic, and the first car accident injury on that
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 –
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 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
Roundhouse being demolished in
1961. Photo from The Archives of
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
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
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
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!