Grand Trunk Pacific
The busy Canadian National Railway line which passes through the
of Daly carries both freight and passengers from coast to coast. The
/ or relocation of the passenger depot from Brandon North to the Town
Rivers has put that town back on the map of important railway
The line has its origins with the Grand Trunk Pacific, a wholly owned
of the Grand Trunk Railway which established the Town of Rivers as a
point on its new line in 1908.
At that point The Grand Trunk Railway was a well-established
it had completed a line between Montréal and Toronto in
expanded rapidly through takeovers and new construction. It built the
Bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Montréal, a bridge
Niagara River and a tunnel under the St. Clair River at Sarnia. By the
it had lines from Chicago to the Atlantic coast, and ranked among the
railway systems in the world.
As the twentieth century approached railway operations in western
Canada were under the control of the Canadian Pacific, which
its cross-country line; and by the Canadian Northern, which had begun
of a second transcontinental route. The Grand Trunk had missed an
expand westward in the 1880's when the Canadian Government was actively
bid for the construction of a transcontinental line.
In 1903 the Grand Trunk established a subsidiary, the Grand Trunk
Railway, to build a line from Winnipeg to the Pacific. This Canadian
was incorporated by act of the Dominion Parliament, 24 Oct. 1903 (The
Transcontinental Railway Act). It was a time of seemingly
and growth, and its creation was encouraged by the newly-elected
government of Sir Wilfred Laurier at the urging of Sir Charles
Chairman of the Grand Trunk Railway.
The line was constructed using loans provided by the Government of
The company had a mandate to build west from Winnipeg, Manitoba to the
coast at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. East of Winnipeg, the federal
would build the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) across Northern
and Quebec, crossing the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City and ending
Moncton, New Brunswick. The conceptual plan was to have GTR operate
GTPR and NTR as a single transcontinental railway, competing with the
Northern Railway (CNR) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
This second Canadian transcontinental rail route would feature a
on the Pacific that would actually be nearer to Asia than was the
terminus of the C.P.R. at Vancouver. It was to follow one of the routes
by Sandford Fleming much earlier for the first transcontinental line
rejected. The original survey ran from Winnipeg to Port Simpson at the
of the Portland Canal, which formed part of the boundary between
and Alaska. At the time, however, there was resentment in Canada over
recent (1903) Alaska boundary decision, which favoured US interests
a British commissioner sided with them. The result was that Alaska
control of a strip of coastline alongside northern B.C. The resulting
clamour in Canada prompted US President Theodore Roosevelt to threaten
send an occupation force to nearby territory. Prime Minister Wilfred
considered that a terminus at Prince Rupert would be more easily
and there it went.
Charles M. Hays, the Grand Trunk's energetic general manager who
became Grand Trunk Pacific's president, the new company pushed its line
Construction began on the Canadian Prairies in 1905, the year that the
of Alberta and Saskatchewan were established with the first sod turned
Carberry, Manitoba on August 29. Construction proceeded west to
Saskatchewan in 1907, Edmonton, Alberta in 1909, and through Jasper,
into Yellowhead Pass crossing the Continental Divide in 1910-1911. The
spike ceremony heralding completion of the rail line across the
and through the Rocky Mountains to the newly constructed seaport at
Rupert, British Columbia was held one mile east of Fort Fraser, British
on April 7, 1914.
In 1910, the
company also built a dock in Seattle, the Grand Trunk
dock, which was the largest dock on the west coast at the time it was
On July 30, 1914, the dock was destroyed by fire.
Passenger service was inaugurated in 1910.
Manitoba villages with either sidings or stations were created in
order, starting just west of Portage la Prairie with the siding known
Arona and continues with Bloom, Caye, Deer, Exira, Firdale, Gregg,
Ingelow, Justice, Knox, Levine, Myra, Norman, Oakner, Pope, Quadra, Rea
Stenberg. The next two letters are reversed, so Uno comes before Treat,
Victor concludes the sequence in Manitoba.
Rivers was an exception and this was fitting in that it was just the
distance from Winnipeg to be designated as a divisional point. It would
a large station, a roundhouse and a host of storage, maintenance and
The GTP proved to be controversial for Hays as he was criticized for
decisions, such as choosing Prince Rupert as the Pacific terminus,
Mackenzie and Mann's competing CNR system, and committing the entire
Trunk company to the GTP project. Hays's zeal to pursue construction of
well-engineered mainline in lieu of developing a network of branch
for feeding local traffic proved to be a considerable hurdle as well.
The railway, although located in a more northerly latitude than any of
existing transcontinental lines, passes through elevated territory in a
altitude, considerably lessening the cost of operation, The line
the extensive region of the Canadian northwest, which is enormously
in agricultural and mineral products.
includeing Hays (second from the left), on the
platform at Rivers, Manitoba, during a tour of inspection, 1910.
(photo from the "The Beaver", Dec 1993)
As president of the Grand Trunk, Hays committed to
competing with the
in a number of other areas, namely shipping and hotels. In fact Hays
while returning from a visit to England to Canada where he was
to attend the 26 April 1912, grand opening of the Château
in Ottawa, Ontario. Hays had chosen to return from England on the
voyage of the ocean liner RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg south of
Grand Banks of Newfoundland the night of 14 April and sank.
Not long after Hays' death, the
Grand Trunk reneged on its agreement to
the federally owned National Transcontinental system east of Winnipeg,
the Grand Trunk soon faced financial ruin over its decision to build
operate the GTP west of Winnipeg, particularly after the First World
caused traffic on the prairies to decline precipitously.
Despite some advantages the GTPR had not immediately realize the
potential that the GTR and the federal government had hoped for. The
more populous southern route in the prairies through Regina,
and Calgary, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia and was using land
provided by the federal government as well as government incentives to
immigrants and businesses to settle along its route. GTR did not have a
marketing plan, and efforts at settlement were disrupted by the First
By 1919 it was obvious that the GTPR was not paying its way. The
strain broke on March 7 when GTR defaulted on repayment of construction
to the federal government, whereby the GTPR was nationalized and taken
by a Board of Management operating under the Department of Railways and
while legalities were resolved. On July 12, 1920 the GTPR was placed
the management of Crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR)
in 1923 was completely absorbed into the CNR.
The chateau-style hotels of the early 20th century remain iconic
symbols. While the CPR quite rightly receives credit for many of the
hotels of this genre such as The Banff Springs Hotel, The Empress
in Victoria, The Royal York in Toronto, Hotel Vancouver, Quebec City's
Frontenac and Chateau Lake Louise in The Rockies, it was the GTPR that
Ottawa's Chateau Laurier, The Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, and The
Macdonald in Edmonton. After the nationalization, this tradition
with construction of The Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon. The GTPR
hotels remain among the most impressive of these structu res in the
Grand Trunk Pacific may not have been successful as a
enterprise, locally it was an important stimulus to the economy, a
to the citizens, and an influential factor in the lifestyle of the
The Town of Rivers owes not only its very existence to the railway, but
great deal it character and success came directly down those rails.