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The Last Spike: Fort Fraser, BC, 1914


The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was a historical Canadianmarker railway.

A wholly owned subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), the GTPR was constructed by GTR using loans provided by the Government of Canada. The company was formed in 1903 with a mandate to build west from Winnipeg, Manitobamarker to the Pacificmarker coast at Prince Rupert, British Columbiamarker. East of Winnipeg, the federal government would build the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) across Northern Ontariomarker and Quebecmarker, crossing the St. Lawrence Rivermarker at Quebec Citymarker and ending at Moncton, New Brunswickmarker. The conceptual plan was to have GTR operate both GTPR and NTR as a single transcontinental railway, competing with the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

History

At the beginning of the 20th century, the GTR planned a second Canadian transcontinental rail route with a terminal on the Pacific that would be nearer to Asia than Vancouvermarker. It would follow one of the routes surveyed by Sandford Fleming from Winnipegmarker to Port Simpsonmarker at the end of the Portland Canalmarker which formed part of the boundary between British Columbia and Alaskamarker. In 1903 there was resentment in Canada over the Alaska boundary decision which favoured US interests after a British commissioner sided with them. As a result of the clamour in Canada, US President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to send an occupation force to nearby territory. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier considered a new location at Prince Rupert would be more easily defended and decided to build the terminal there rather than at Port Simpson.

Turning of the first sod for the construction of the GTPR, took place at an official ceremony, September 11, 1905, at Fort William, Ontariomarker, by Prime Minister Laurier. From there a 190 mile section of track was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Construction Company, connecting with the NTR, near Sioux Lookoutmarker.

Construction began on the Canadian Prairies in 1905, the year that the provinces of Albertamarker and Saskatchewanmarker were established. Construction proceeded west to Saskatoon, Saskatchewanmarker in 1907, Edmonton, Albertamarker in 1909, and through Jasper, Albertamarker into Yellowhead Passmarker crossing the Continental Divide in 1910-1911. The last spike ceremony heralding completion of the rail line across the prairies, and through the Rocky Mountains to the newly constructed seaport at Prince Rupert, British Columbia was held one mile east of Fort Fraser, British Columbiamarker on April 7, 1914.

The GTPR did not immediately realize the traffic potential GTR and the federal government had hoped. CPR occupied the more populous southern route in the prairies through Regina, Saskatchewanmarker and Calgary, Albertamarker to Vancouver, British Columbia and was using land grants provided by the federal government as well as government incentives to draw immigrants and businesses to settle along its route. GTR did not have a coordinated marketing plan, and efforts at settlement were disrupted by the First World War. GTR rejected operating the NTR for cost reasons, forcing the federal government to assume that operation into Canadian Government Railways.

By 1919 it was obvious that the GTPR was not paying its way. The financial strain broke on March 7 when GTR defaulted on repayment of construction loans to the federal government, whereby the GTPR was nationalized and taken over by a Board of Management operating under the Department of Railways and Canals while legalities were resolved. On July 12, 1920 the GTPR was placed under the management of Crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR) and in 1923 was completely absorbed into the CNR.

Today, the majority of the GTPR is still in use as CN's (name change to Canadian National or acronym CN in 1960) main line from Winnipeg to Jasper. West of Jasper, CN's main line swings south on the former Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) to Vancouver, however the GTPR line to Prince Rupert forms an important CN secondary main line. The GTPR's high construction standards and the fact Yellowhead Pass has the lowest elevation of any railway crossing of the Continental Divide in North America gives the CN a competitive advantage in terms of fuel efficiency and the ability to haul tonnage.

Prince Rupert is the primary marine-railway connection for the Alaska Railroad, and despite having languished as a poor cousin to the Port of Vancouver, there are many opportunities for this port city as a result of the GTPR's foresight a century ago.

References



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