“Danger! Railway Crossing” is a familiar sign. On October 20, 1888, a railway crossing nearly caused civil war in Manitoba. The provincial government had broken the C.P.R. monopoly and arranged to have a railway built from Winnipeg to the American border where it would connect with the Northern Pacific Railway. It was hoped that the competition would lead to lower freight rates, and the C.P.R. was determined to fight the measure to the last ditch to prevent this.
One track of this new Red River Valley railway was to go to Portage la Prairie, and would have to cross C.P.R. tracks. As the Red River Valley workers got close to Heardingly, where the crossing was to be made, they saw a derailed locomotive blocking the way. It had been placed there by order of C.P.R. superintendent William Whyte. There were also five railway cars nearby carrying about 250 workmen who had been sworn in as special constables.
There was consternation in Winnipeg. Fifty-three men were sworn in as special constables. A train carrying the constables and another 200 citizens left the city at 3:30 p.m. and stopped about 1 mile south of St. James’ Bridge, where the two railways were supposed to cross. The situation was tense. Chief Clark of the Provincial Police told the C.P.R. men that their appointments as special constables had been cancelled. Alderman T. Nixon, a justice of the peace, promptly swore them in again.
Meanwhile the Red River Valley track-layers were getting closer to the crossing. The Winnipeg citizens were determined that the C.P.R. men should not stop them, and a special train was sent to Winnipeg to bring back soldiers.
The expected “war” did not take place because the Red River Valley track-layers were still several hundred yards from the crossing when darkness fell. Most people went back to Winnipeg for the night, and cooler heads had prevailed by morning. The matter was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada which ruled that the Legislature of Manitoba had the power to charter railways within the bounds of “old Manitoba.” The new railway was allowed to go through.