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.