Hundreds of Spruce Trees On An Angle

27 Sep
Countess of Dufferin

Countess of Dufferin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On September 27, 1825, George Stephenson demonstrated his locomotive in England.  It drew six small freight cars and a coach at 25 kph (15 miles per hour) while a man rode ahead on horseback, waving a red flag, to warn people.  He couldn’t keep ahead of the train for long, and then it was every man for himself.

Strangely enough, the fireman on that first locomotive as a Mr. Whitehead, whose son Joseph was destined to bring the first locomotive into Winnipeg, in October 1877.  The Countess of Dufferin, now on display outside the C.P.R. station in Winnipeg, was bought from an American railway line.  It travelled under its own steam from St. Paul to Fargo, North Dakota, where it was loaded on board a barge with six flat cars.  The 29,483 kg (65,000 pounds) Countess made a triumphant journey down the Red River.  It was draped with flags and hunting, while Joseph Whitehead kept up steam pressure so that its whistle could be sounded along the way.  Forts along the way fired their cannons in salute.  It was the dawn of a new era for Western Canada.  Just as the river boat had ended the days of the Red River carts hauling supplies between Winnipeg and St. Paul, so the railway ended the days of the river boats.

Governor-General and Lady Dufferin were in Winnipeg when the new train arrived.  There was a public holiday, and the railway barge was greeted by the city fathers wearing morning coats and top hats.

Winnipeg wanted to look its best for the visit of the vice-regal party.  It had only been incorporated for three years and was in the process of being built.  The citizens went into the woods and cut hundreds of spruce trees which were set in post holes along the streets.  They looked great until a strong wind blew up.  When Lord and Lady Dufferin arrived, the trees were leaning at an angle of 45 degrees.

The Countess of Dufferin was put to work immediately on the construction of a railway line south to Emerson, where it connected with an American line.  Thousands of settlers came by this route until the C.P.R. reached Winnipeg in 1882.

To learn more about the Countess of Dufferin, I suggest first starting at the Winnipeg Railway Museum. After that there’s the Winnipeg Time Machine, and the Manitoba Heritage Council for a beautiful pic.


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15 responses to “Hundreds of Spruce Trees On An Angle

  1. Maurice A. Barry

    September 27, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I imagine it was a sight to behold.
    And what wonders the railway brought to this great nation…far beyond the dreams of most at the time.
    And now, well into this 21st century I truly believe the time is right for a new revolution in rails…

    • tkmorin

      September 27, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Believe it or not, I still feel wonder when I take the train … So I can imagine when it was a new thing! 🙂

      • Maurice A. Barry

        September 27, 2013 at 5:07 pm

        Sadly, we have no train here. In 1988 as part of a roads for rails agreement with the fed we dismantled ours. It was not a great commercial success anyway and was hopelessly outdated. Now, though we are no further ahead. My province seems chronically incapable of planning for its future. We have lackluster roads that need constant upkeep, partly due to the harsh conditions but also to shoddy practices.

        Incidentally my friend Ken Pieroway just put out a book that looks at the rail bed then and now. See here:

        • tkmorin

          September 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm

          Three years to write? Very good! Sounds like a fantastic book, I’ll have to check it out! Thanks, Maurice! 🙂

          • Maurice A. Barry

            September 27, 2013 at 7:20 pm

            Ken has loved the Newfoundland railway all his life. I ran into him a few days after the train took the last run. He was proud have been on it but… Diminished. I figure the book has been on his mind since that day in 1988.

          • tkmorin

            September 27, 2013 at 7:23 pm

            Well, it indeed looked very cool, so I pre-ordered it. It obviously has to be hardcover 🙂 If you get the chance, ask him to let me know if he ever comes to Ottawa — I would be honoured if he autographed it! 🙂

          • Maurice A. Barry

            September 27, 2013 at 7:51 pm

            I bought it a few days ago. I came upon it unexpectedly at Chapters shortly after they’d shelved it and, so, bought it right away so I’d have bragging rights of maybe having the first copy sold. It’s soft cover and cost $24.10 including taxes. If you’d like I can get a copy here and have him put a message on it & then mail it up to you.

          • tkmorin

            September 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm

            Wow, I hadn’t thought of that (blame it on being Friday and all). I mean, yes, that would be great. What a great Christmas gift that would be for me to buy myself! Does PayPal work for you?

          • Maurice A. Barry

            September 28, 2013 at 3:47 am

            Lol wait until the book is in your hand first. We can sort it out then.

          • tkmorin

            September 28, 2013 at 9:51 am

            I cancelled my order from Amazon. So I’ll wait for you. :1)

          • Maurice A. Barry

            September 28, 2013 at 10:03 am

            I’ll pick it up tomorrow and call Ken during the week.

          • tkmorin

            September 28, 2013 at 10:04 am


          • tkmorin

            September 28, 2013 at 12:42 pm

            Thank you, Maurice! 🙂

  2. L. Marie

    September 27, 2013 at 9:07 am

    The best laid plans of mice and men as they say.
    Always interesting to read about the starts of railways.

    • tkmorin

      September 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, L. Marie! 🙂


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