ARCHIVED - Transportation - Contact - The Canadian West - Exhibitions - Library and Archives Canada
 Library and Archive Canada - Bibliothèque et Archives Canada Français | Help     Canada  
 Home > Browse Selected Topics > The Canadian West > Main menu
  Important Notices | Proactive Disclosure  

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

The Canadian WestHome
AnticipationContactAccommodationIndexAboutNewSearchSite MapContact Us
Contact - Making the West Canadian


The introduction of railway transportation to western Canada was crucial to the settlement of the landscape by European immigrants and to the very act of nation building itself. The railways played an integral role in western development by tying Prairie communities together and by opening distant markets to western produce. The railways not only had a significant impact on the physical characteristics of Prairie communities  -  the right-of-way, station, and yard works were central features around which other community businesses and industries were often integrated  -  but they impacted local employment as well. A community's proximity to railway facilities could mean the difference between economic prosperity and paralysis (Grouard, Alberta, is a case in point). Given this reality, it is no wonder news of impending rail construction often had western communities competing with one another for the privilege of gaining direct access to the railway's life-giving steel artery.

Great Britain also took an interest in western Canada's railway construction, but for entirely different reasons than those expressed by authorities in Ottawa or by homesteaders on Prairie farms. Reports prepared by the War Office in London, for example, saw the potential of a transcontinental railway for the movement of imperial troops to destinations in the Far East.

The two transcontinental railways, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Grand Trunk Pacific (which was later merged into the Canadian National Railways), wielded considerable economic clout in the Prairie West. The companies undertook their own surveys, maintained their own immigration offices, and hired photographers to help plan railway construction, document their engineering achievements, and promote the image of their companies at home and abroad.

Although ostensibly private companies, the railways sought and received generous incentives from the federal government in the form of land grants, tax concessions, cash infusions, and freight rate agreements. Whether or not the public has been adequately compensated in return through proper rail service has been hotly debated for decades. Yet the railway remains one of the most profound icons of Canadian culture. The photograph of Donald Smith, with his top hat and white beard, driving the last spike in front of railway labourers at Craigellachie is probably one of the most enduring Canadian images from the nineteenth century.

Further Readings

See also

A Town Bypassed: Grouard, Alberta, and the Building of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway



The Canadian Pacific Railway land grant in Manitoba and the North-West Territories, ca. 1882
The Canadian Pacific Railway
land grant in Manitoba and
the North-West Territories,
ca. 1882

Athabasca survey party near Jasper House, Alberta, 1871
Athabasca survey party near
Jasper House, Alberta, 1871

The railway viaduct at Lethbridge, Alberta, 1910
The railway viaduct at
Lethbridge, Alberta, 1910


View all items



Home | Index | About | New | Search | Site Map | Contact Us |  Français
Sections: Anticipation | Contact | Accommodation 
Materials: Reading List | Thematic Research Guides | Links | ArchiviaNet