The building of the C.P.R. transcontinental is one of the most fascinating stories in Canadian history, and many books have been written about it. The agreement creating it was signed in London, England, on September 14, 1880.
The first C.P.R. was organized by Sir Hugh Allan of Montreal, but was disbanded when it was discovered that he had contributed a large sum of money to Sir John A. Macdonald and other members of the Government for an election campaign. The Macdonald government had to resign and was out of office for five years. Strangely enough, the man who struck the last blow forcing the Macdonald government to resign was Sir John’s old friend Donald A. Smith, who had been his emissary in dealing with Louis Riel during the Red River uprising.
When the C.P.R. company was formed in 1881, Donald Smith could not be included among the board of directors because he had defeated the Macdonald government. He and George Stephen of the Bank of Montreal, had made a fortune from the St. Paul and Pacific Railway in the United States, although it had gone bankrupt. George Stephen was president of the new C.P.R. and one of the directors was John Rose, a lifelong friend of Macdonald’s. When they were young they had put on shows in the United States in which Rose acted as a dancing bear while Macdonald provided musical accompaniment. There was more profit in railway building.
The House of Commons passed the C.P.R. bill on February 1, 1881. It gave the company $25 million, and 25 million acres of land for development. The C.P.R. was also given 710 miles of railway that had been built by the Government at a cost of nearly $38 million.
The transcontinental was completed on November 7, 1885, at Craigellachie, British Columbia. Once again Donald A. Smith got in the last blow. By this time he had become one of the directors, and as such, he was given the honour of driving home the last spike.
To read more about today’s post, I recommend a visit to the Virtual Manitoba for an article, “The Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson’s Bay Railway.”
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