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Railroads Canada - Travels In Canada

( Originally Published 1927 )



THE railroad has made Canada. Without the locomotive that vast area, incalculably rich in natural resources, stretching from the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains north to the Arctic Ocean, would remain largely unsettled, unproductive, inaccessible to the world. Journey across it on the map by railroad. Two daily trains—the "Ocean Limited" and the "Maritime Express"—carry passengers over the Intercolonial Railway from Halifax to Montreal. From Montreal to Ottawa we are in the populous country of the French-Canadian ; beyond Ottawa the farms are more extensive until the train reaches the great forests along Lake Superior. At Sudbury, half-way between Montreal and Fort William, on Lake Superior, long strings of cars are seen, loaded with copper and nickel, for transport east. One of the richest known deposits of nickel in the world is in this territory, and Sudbury is connected with the railroad systems of the United States by a line running to Sault Ste. Marie.

Trains moving east are laden with cattle, grain and flour. From the Lake Superior country vast quantities of lumber are shipped to the Atlantic. Pioneers are making clearings and building villages in this region that was almost impenetrable before the railroad engineers blazed the way. Many tunnels, deep rock-cuttings, long bridges, high viaducts, all bear witness to the gigantic task of making a railroad north of Lake Superior.

Fort William, on Thunder Bay, is the lake ter-minus of the western section of the Canadian Pacific. On the shore are huge grain elevators, each capable of holding almost two million bushels. Some grain goes east by the railroad, some by boats through the Great Lakes ; there is direct water communication from Fort William to Montreal.

More forests, more pioneer stations, with pulp-mills, saw-mills, flour-mills in the vicinity of the Lake-of-the-Woods, which has been made an enormous mill-pond, with an area of 3000 square miles. Four hundred miles west there is a settlement where in 1871 the Hudson Bay Company had a small fort on the Red River at its junction with the Assiniboine. The site of that fort is now the city of Winnipeg, the commercial metropolis of the 'Canadian Northwest. Here is the great depot that supplies the west from the markets of the east in exchange for western produce, here from the far north come the traders in furs. Manitoba, the province in which Winnipeg is situated, is one of the world's richest fur-bearing lands.

West from Winnipeg the railroad runs for 1000 miles through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to the Rocky Mountains. The Canadian government has surveyed these great provinces and, to provide for the inrush of settlers, has divided them like the squares on a chessboard. Each square is six miles on a side; this constitutes a "township." Each town-ship is divided into thirty-six smaller squares, which are called "sections," and each of these sections is itself divided into four squares. A road allowance, one chain in width, is provided between each of the sections running north and south, and between the alternate sections east and west. The sections are numbered and the odd numbers belong to the Canadian Pacific Railway and the even numbers to the govern-ment and the Hudson Bay Company. Two sections in each township are reserved for schools. The lands belonging to the government have been opened for free occupation to properly qualified settlers, each being granted 160 acres.

A plain--a wonderful meadowland for cattle—stretches north and south from the rails as far as the horizon when the train leaves Winnipeg. From Portage la Prairie a branch railroad runs northwest to Prince Albert in Saskatchewan. The next junction is Brandon, situated on the eastern rim of the steppes that rise to the Rockies. This is the land of the buffalo ; here also the soil is very rich and produces splendid wheat, oats, barley, rye, flax, and potatoes.

Regina, the headquarters of the Northwest Mounted Police, 360 miles west of Winnipeg, is a thriving market centre, with railroads running north and south. Moose Jaw is another railroad junction ; west of that is Medicine Hat, where the line forks in two routes to Vancouver. The more northerly road, which was the route of the original through line, goes by way of Calgary and Revelstoke ; the other by Macleod, a ranching centre, and Kootenay in the gold country.

At Calgary the Rocky Mountains come into view and the train climbs upward through scenery unmatched for natural splendor. The government has established a national park near Banff, the point of departure for tourists who wish to explore the Switzerland of Canada. A few miles west of Banff the tracks reach their highest point, a mile above sea-level. From here the road traverses the Kicking Horse Canyon, crossing from ledge to ledge, twisting and turning, cliffs overhead, a roaring river be-low.

A broad valley leads across to the ascent of the Selkirks, covered with thick forests. By many curves the road descends again and rises over the Gold Range. Beyond this range is a plain, then the last mountains, the Cascades, are surmounted, and the train runs to the beautiful harbor of Vancouver on the Pacific coast.

The Canadian government has been a great rail-road builder. The pioneer route of the Canadian Pacific has been supplemented by the Canadian National Railway, builder of what is called the "All-Red Route" across the continent. East and west in the Dominion run the tracks of this government enterprise. In the east they link more securely the Mari-time Provinces with the Province of Quebec. From the Great Lakes and Winnipeg the western division thrusts across the prairies to Saskatoon and Edmonton, crosses the Rockies through the Yellowhead Pass, follows the Fraser River to Prince George, thence swings northwest to the Skeena River,—the "River of the Clouds," as the Indians call it,—and skirts this stream for nearly 190 miles to its Pacific terminus at Prince Rupert.

Meantime two other railroad systems, the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern, were banding outlying points. Presently the Dominion found itself served by three transcontinental roads, competing for traffic. A commission was appointed to study the problem of competition, with the result that the government took over the Canadian North-ern, the Grand Trunk Pacific and its parent road, the Grand Trunk, consolidated them with the Intercolonial and the National Transcontinental, and so formed one great system, the Canadian National Railways.

To serve the "All-Red Route" it was proposed to bridge the St. Lawrence River near Quebec. This was a titanic project. The point of crossing was some eight miles above the city, where the water sweeps between bluffs 200 feet high at a rate of seven miles an hour. The plan called for a bridge of the cantilever type, 3,239 feet in length, with two anchor arms, two cantilever arms, and a central suspended span of 675 feet, making a great channel span of 1,800 feet, or 90 feet more than that of the famous Forth Bridge of the London and North Eastern Railway.

For six years work on the bridge proceeded, until the south anchor arm and almost one-half of its main cantilever span had been built from the south pier; then, on August 29, 1907, while work was in progress, the lower chords in the anchor arms buckled up. The entire 17,000 tons of steel collapsed, and only eleven of the eighty-six men at work were rescued from the ruin.

This catastrophe led to a new consideration of the whole subject of bridge-building on so vast a scale. Many designs were studied and a new plan tried. Again a span fell into the river, with more casualties. Indomitably the engineers persisted, the mighty arch crossed the St. Lawrence, and on October 17, 1917, the first train ran from shore to shore. The Quebec Bridge is the longest and largest bridge of its kind in the world, a structure of great symmetry and beauty, a magnificent link in the transcontinental chain of the Canadian National Railways.



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