Work proceeded vigorously from town to town. Navvies from England swelled the labour force - at one time 14 000 men and 2000 horses were employed in Canada W alone. The line did not face challenges such as those of the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY in the mountains but achieved at least one notable engineering feat in construction of the tubular Victoria Bridge across the St Lawrence R at Montréal. The 2009 m long iron tube rested on 2 abutments and 24 piers designed to resist the crushing ice of the river; it was opened to traffic in Dec 1859. Despite financial difficulties, the GTR expanded steadily, often leasing existing railways as a means of expansion. It eliminated its main competitor and added another 1450 km of track with the takeover of the GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY in 1882. Additional links to the US rail system were established with the International Bridge across the Niagara R, and the impressive St Clair Tunnel beneath the St Clair R. At Confederation the GTR was the largest railway system in the world, with 2055 km of track; by the late 1880s it had grown to over 700 locomotives, 578 cars, 60 post-office cars, 131 baggage cars, 18 000 freight cars and 49 snowplows. The GTR ran unbroken from Sarnia to Portland, Maine.
Cost of construction, absentee management (the head office was in London, Eng) and failure to generate anticipated levels of traffic left the company debt ridden and unable to upgrade its equipment. It suffered bad publicity with several accidents; on 29 June 1864 a GTR train plunged off the Beloeil Bridge into the Rivière Richelieu, killing 99 people. Another incident made headlines around the world when, on 15 Sept 1885, a GTR train was charged by Jumbo, the famous circus elephant, near St Thomas, Ont. The elephant was killed. From the mid-1890s until WWI the GTR undertook a massive betterment program on its property. This included double-tracking of the main line from Montréal to Sarnia, reducing curves and grades to improve operating efficiency, and reconstruction of bridges, buildings and yards. Subsequent rebuilding of the system was not required until after WWII.
Envious of the CPR thrust into the West, the GTR set up a subsidiary, the GRAND TRUNK PACIFIC, to build a transcontinental line. Completed in 1914, the railway was a financial disaster and was largely responsible for the bankruptcy of the GTR in 1919. The federal government, which had already given the GTR some $28 million in subsidies and loans, took over the railway on 10 Oct 1919. It was placed under the management of the CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAYS on 30 Jan 1923.
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
Collection Profile: Rail
An extensive overview of Canada's railway history from the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
Atlas of Alberta Railways
Climb aboard the "Atlas of Alberta Railways" website for a fascinating multimedia tour of Alberta history. This site will take you to a great collection of fascinating maps, old newspaper articles, scenic photographs, charts, graphs, and much more. From the University of Alberta Press.
Canadian Railway Hall of Fame
The Canadian Railway Hall of Fame honours Canadian achievement in the railway business. It fulfills a need to recognize various technology, communities and individuals that have been instrumental in the development of this vital Canadian transportation system.