Railway Development Northward in Canada
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
" Railways are the great arteries by which the country's commerce is conveyed to the markets of the world."
THOUGH we have observed the truly wonderful and far-reaching inland water systems of Canada, and their possibilities for affording means of transportation, yet transportation facilities would not be complete, as understood in this age, and especially in a northern climate, without being supplemented by necessary lines of railway. This is emphatically the railway age, an age demanding rapid as well as economical transportation. Therefore, we must have the advantages of both ; the railway is a necessity where the river systems are frozen half the year. The isolation consequent thereupon is so great that it is difficult to induce settlement, and this can only be overcome by the introduction of railways ; neither does this fact minimize the importance of the rivers and canals as a means of freight transportation, or even for local passenger traffic in the summer.
It is not intended in this chapter to make any attempt to indicate the lines of railway possibly needed in time in the country, but merely to point out what might be suggestive of a natural and economical location for the great trunk lines. Spurs and branches from such railways come as the necessity for them arises, until the country is everywhere intersected by railroads. At the present time the only complete transcontinental road the country has is the C.P.R., which runs directly east and west almost paralleling the international boundary. This is highly proper, considering the purposes for which the line was built. The great need at that time, and one of the conditions of Confederation, was to connect British Columbia with Eastern Canada, in order that the country might have union, in fact, as well as in name. Moreover, a secondary condition was the making possible an imperial highway, as well as a commercial route to the Far East. These factors made it imperative that the first of Canada's great transcontinental lines should run as directly east and west as possible ; such a line will always be important for the same reasons.
It will be observed, however, that the geographical features of the country, as well as the summer isotherms which determine its climate, both trend from south-east to north-west. Regarding Quebec City, for instance, as a central point, Canada's place on the North American continent west of Hudson Bay is, generally speaking, triangular, or like an extended fan. It follows, therefore, in order to reach the higher latitudes of the north-west and north, and to cover the country by railways reaching the eastern seaboard by the shortest route, that they also should, if ideally located, extend from the more, contracted East to the broader West somewhat as the spokes of a wheel diverge from the hub.
The products of the West must mainly find their natural markets in Great Britain and many other European countries, and to a very large extent they must reach the eastern seaboard by rail. This is obvious for various reasons. We are now, of course, speaking of the prospective rather than the present needs of the country.
As settlement and development in Canada is destined to proceed from south to north, so the development of trunk railways must proceed in the same manner. Regarding this question, then, from the standpoint of the strictest economy and the highest utility, we would expect the next transcontinental line, starting from some point in the Lower St. Lawrence, to trend more to the north-west in its progress across the continent. Chicoutimi possesses in its location many advantages for the eastern terminus of these inevitably divergent lines that are to spread out over the north and west. Of these advantages we shall speak later on. St. John, N.B., is also strategically situated as the winter terminus of these lines.
A line having its eastern terminus at Chicoutimi, then, would naturally follow as direct a course as practicable to some point on or near the south of James Bay, probably Moose or Nottawa, and would constitute the first section of the road. This would serve at once to open up the Hudson Bay country, making steamer connections possible with all parts ; its next objective point would be westward to Norway House, north of Lake Winnipeg, from which point it would proceed, almost in a direct line, till it reached the Rocky Mountains at the Peace River pass, from whence it would find its way to the Pacific Coast at Fort Simpson or Essington. Such a road would pass through a magnificent country in almost its entire course, and as a means of reaching transpacific points it would have an advantage of probably some seven hundred miles over the C. P. R.
From some point on this road—Norway House, for instance—another line should branch still more to the north-westward, following the valley of the Churchill River, reaching the Athabasca River at Fort McMurray, at the head of steamboat navigation from Lake Athabasca ; thence crossing the territory of Athabasca and reaching the Peace River at Vermilion Falls, the head of navigation on that stream; thence proceeding across the Cariboo Hills and down the valley of the Nelson, and up the valley of the Upper Liard ; thence reaching Pally, and on to Dawson City, by way of the Yukon valley. This road would also travel through a splendid agricultural country all the way to the Rocky Mountains, giving rail communication , to the Peace River country, and the Liard River country, and affording direct rail communication between the Klondike and Central and Eastern Canada. Possibly it may be found necessary in time to build still another line, having its objective point in the Mackenzie Valley and taking a fairly direct course thereto via Moose Factory, Fond du Lac, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.