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Tracking Time

Economy and Economic Transformation

Photograph of the first steam locomotive built in Canada


The first steam locomotive built in Canada (in 1853) was the "Toronto", Northern Railway of Canada's Locomotive No. 2

Railways revolutionized the colonial economy. They provided a faster, cheaper and more reliable method of transporting goods to new markets and sparked a huge rise in commercial farming and trade. This led to industrial development and the creation of related service industries. Jobs were more plentiful, not only in industry but in the construction of new railroads and with the demand for train crew.

Most railways were conceived either as main thoroughfares, with feeder or branch lines connecting to them, or as "spur" lines, which were usually resource railways serving a particular industry. The competition was often brutal however, and despite the benefits, the promise of a new railway masked stark financial realities.

 Brochure of the Grand Trunk Railway, c. 1907, advertising COBALT, THE RICH NEW SILVER DISTRICT


Grand Trunk Railway, c. 1907

Approximately 2 500 companies received charters between 1836 and 1986, but most couldn't complete enough track to run a train. Those that succeeded in building a line usually found that traffic was not sufficient to offset the construction costs, much less generate enough profit. Many were heavily indebted to various levels of government, and most ended up going bankrupt and/or being absorbed by larger companies.

This is what happened to the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk system ( Grand Trunk Railway and the Grand Trunk Pacific ) during the First World War railway crisis. The Canadian government was compelled to step in and remedy the situation by folding the companies into the recently created Canadian National Railways.


Quebec & Lake St, John Railway, 1902, cover and title page

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