The Impact of the GTP
On Rivers and Area


A component of…

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Rivers, Manitoba

A Project of The Rivers Train Station Restoration Committee

The Grand Trunk Pacific in Rivers

Setting the Stage

The settlement of the Rivers area began in the late 1870’s. The deep wooded valley of the Little Saskatchewan River was attractive in that it provided ample water as well logs for building and fuel. Until 1879, settlement focused on the new town of Rapid City and the settlement of Odanah (Minnedosa). By 1880, a trickle of settlers approached the district taking the Assiniboine river steamers up the Assiniboine to Grand Valley or Hall’s Landing, near where Hall’s Bridge stands today – north of Oak Lake. The arrival of the railway to Brandon in late 1881, brought increased settlement.


County Council of County of Brandon (1882)
BACK ROW – Reeve Pettit of Daly Municipality; Reeve Clegg of Elton Municipality;  Reeve Whitehead of Cornwallis Municipality.
FRONT ROW- Reeve Steel of Glenwood Municipality; W.A. Macdonald, County Solicitor (Justice Supreme Court of British Columbia); Reeve Hannah of Whitehead Municipality; J. Weatherall, County Clerk; J.H. Brownlee, County Engineer.

The Rivers area, in its early years, had developed in much the same way as other rural regions of Manitoba. For the first twenty years after farming operations commenced the scattered rural nature of settlement in the area was characterized by various small rural centres. Schools and post offices were the first “community” buildings to appear, while a few churches followed. Soon communities such as Tarbolton, Roseville, and Ancrum evolved around the local church and regional school. These were well known communities without becoming villages. Other communities were identified only by their schools, with Harrow and Hunter being early examples.  The centres of Wheatland and Bradwardine were simply post offices in their early days.


Roseville Mission Hall built in 1884 and shared by four congregations.

Transportation was by foot, ox cart, and horse-drawn wagons. The problems of delivering products to market was a major obstacle to economic development.


Feb. 24, 1887 - Brandon Sun.
Before Town Halls, indeed before there were towns, local governments met in houses and got the jobs done.

In 1891, the R.M. of Daly occupied a middle territory between the original C.P.R. main line (1882) to the south and the newer northern line (1885) through Minnedosa and Birtle. Although this presented some hardship, settlement was progressing.

Note the communities of Lothair, Pendennis and Roden, surrounding the region where Rivers was yet to be.

Post Offices, schools and churches and some general stores were established, but no towns were surveyed or built. If names like Roden, Lothair, or Pendennis appeared on early maps it was likely the location of a Post Office that merited inclusion. Nearby centres, first Rapid City, then Brandon served as both markets for produce and outlets for supplies. For over twenty years, surely a record in southwestern Manitoba, no railway crossed the district. Across the province in the early 1880’s speculative or “paper” town were promoted based on supposed assurances that railways would soon appear. In Daly, perhaps such effort would have been overshadowed by the surprising growth of Brandon, right on its southern border. Perhaps having that excellent source of both supplies and markets, available by the second real harvest, allowed for a certain level of contentment. Progressive municipal government as well as active local communities and school district boards, provided the infrastructure and service that settlers needed.

The growth of towns as commercial centres usually happened, with varying degrees of quickness, after the arrival of rail lines.

In 1902, a much-anticipated C.P.R. branch line connected the district to Brandon and the main C.P.R. line. The communities of Carnegie, Pendennis, Wheatland and Bradwardine were created.


Wheatland was the R.M. of Daly’s commercial centre before the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific.

The branch was no doubt much appreciated. The accompanying establishment of both retail services and elevators made life easier for everyone. It was progress, but perhaps not a big readjustment in social cultural or economic life. Welcome as this connection was it was the second railway endeavour that would have the largest impact on the economic and social development of the area.

By 1902, the Great Northwest Central Railway had built a line from Forrest to Lenore. The new  villages of Bradwardine (1), Wheatland (2) , Pendennis (3) and Carnegie  (4) were established. All of these names except Carnegie were already on the map as Post Offices, but in each case the location was changed as the Post Office moved to the new railway settlement.
The Grand Trunk Pacific in Rivers

That development was given a substantially new direction in 1907, when the Grand Trunk Pacific selected the site of Rivers as a stop on their new trans-continental line. The creation of a second line almost paralleling the first brought further important and lasting changes. Whereas the first line was a C.P.R branch connecting to Brandon, the second line was a new transcontinental railway built by the Grand Trunk Pacific and it established Rivers as the important centre of the region.

The decision of the Grand Trunk Pacific to build a line across the prairies, a decision made far away and likely with no thought or concern about local impact, would bring about substantive and lasting change to the R.M. of Daly. The line proceeded parallel to the C.P.R. main line in an almost straight line from Portage La Prairie westward, so close to the competition that no new towns were required until it passed McGregor where the CP line angles slightly southwards. It then sprouted town and villages in regular steps beginning with Firdale and following the alphabet through to Levine. Because it was decades after the first settlement rush, there was no real need for any these villages to progress commercially beyond an elevator or two with a few other retail outlets. But at the crossing of the Little Saskatchewan there was a need for a significant service centre with roundhouse, yards, and other services. A town was required and almost overnight Rivers, named after a director of the Grand Trunk Railway, went from being farmland to a carefully planed and substantial town.


Second Avenue during the building boom that followed the arrival of the new rail line.  Photo courtesy the Archives of Manitoba

The implications for the entire municipality were far-reaching. With the establishment of rail service and retail establishments, trips to Rivers replaced trips to Brandon. The nearby settlement of Wheatland on the rival C.P.R. branch line was eclipsed. The railway jobs attracted people from a wide variety of places, broadening the social and cultural makeup of the region.

In 1907, the Grand Trunk Pacific entered the municipality from the east with stations at Levine and Myra, and most importantly, a divisional point and major town at Rivers.

The above map, from 1915, shows the two lines crossed the municipality at the height of railway development.

The Grand Trunk Pacific was a widely anticipated and vigorously debated attempt to create a new trans-continental rail line. It was optimistically pursued and for a relatively short time, a very influential factor in the development of Western Canada. This vital connection to the rest of the country forever changed life in Rivers and area.

The arrival of rail lines allowed for much easier shipment of grain and by 1911, these elevators were established and thriving. Aside from grain delivery, the railway was a commercial lifeline in countless ways, while the social implications of this convenient link to the entire nation were far reaching.

This 1917 maps show the available elevators. In the first decade of the twentieth century great strides were made in infrastructure for grain marketing.

The C.N. Years

On July 12, 1920 the GTPR was placed under the management of Canadian National Railways (CNR) and in 1923, was completely absorbed into the CNR. This had little effect on day-to-day operations in Rivers as the C.N. remained committed to maintaining service and upgrading both lines and facilities as needed. The changes that were to come were nationwide changes related to the increased use of the automobile for personal travel and trucks for freighting.


This road map from 1930 shows the network of roads. Increased use of cars led to better roads, which led to increased use of cars, and the cycle continues until this day. Before long railway use was declining.


Rail line expansion reached its peak in western Manitoba by about 1915. This 1935 map shows the extent of rail development.

Rail line development reached its peak in the time of WW1 and the first rail abandonment began in 1936. Grain shipment kept elevators and thus rail lines open for a time but with larger truck and even better roads farmers were able to transport grain longer distances. Another factor was the better maintenance of roads – particularly the practice of plowing in the winter.

The result was that, one by one, prairie towns lost, first their stations and passenger services, then freight service, and finally their elevators. This was all part of a more general re-structuring that left the smaller communities less necessary and less viable while concentrating services in larger communities like Rivers. River’s maintained its economic position largely due to the presence of the divisional point established there by the Grand Trunk Pacific and continued by the Canadian National.

The railway provided jobs, both directly and indirectly. It provided a convenient and reliable contact with the rest of the province and the country. It’s presence shaped the character of the community in ways that went far beyond mere economics.

If a Prime Minister, a Royal Couple, or even a Championship Grey Cup Team were crossing Canada they might well stop at Rivers. If one needed to visit Vancouver or Montreal the station was right there. If your business needed to make or receive regular shipments from Winnipeg or Edmonton, the service made it easy.

The people who came to work on the railway were from all over the world and brought with them customs and skills that fostered a diversity and acceptance.

The Future

The Golden Age of railway travel may seem to be at an end but with the recent interest in railway as an environmentally sustainable transportation option may bring back the Rivers Station as a transportation hub for a new millennium.


The Rivers Train Station Restoration Committee members are dedicated to the Restoration, Renovation & Rejuvenation of the Rivers Train Station to a viable property for heritage preservation and economic development. To ensure the Community & Area have an opportunity to Connect with the Past while creating a Vision for the Future.

The station is a federally designated heritage site.

The method of restoration will be carried out following the most environmentally efficient criteria making this Canada's first 'green' heritage train station!

Funding for restoration is being made possible through grants, corporate and individual support, as well as fundraising.

VIA Rail Canada has sited Rivers as the only boarding station west of Portage la Prairie into eastern Saskatchewan, and between the north and south Manitoba borders.

So the story is not over. It began with the decision by the Grand Trunk Pacific to cross the Little Saskatchewan River here and top create a divisional point. It continued through decades of progress, setbacks, and more progress.

It continues.