Club learns Canadian Pacific history


By Joyce McClellan

On a balmy Feb. 25 evening, the Arts and Travel train pulled into the home of Sylvia Cahill.
During a short business meeting mention was made of the Library Tour of Tables on April 6 and that they could use six or seven more tables.
The meeting was adjourned and the Canadian Pacific Railroad rolled into Mobridge with Vicki Rothstein as the engineer. Railway mania gripped Canada by the late 1830s and everyone jumped on the railway bandwagon. Despite the need and popularity, most railways had chronic financial problems and eventually went bankrupt or were absorbed by larger companies. It wasn’t until 1880 that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Company was founded and began laying track. In 1885 the eastern and western portions of the CPR met, and within three years the train made its first transcontinental journey and its financial house was in order.
It was the Chinese who came in between 1881 and 1885 to build the railroad and worked under terrible conditions for little or nothing. It was the longest railway constructed at the time.
CPR had been involved in land settlements and land sales long before the railway was completed. Their vision of the future of Canada demanded more people. CPR began an intense campaign to bring immigrants to Canada by offering package deals of free travel and land packages. CPR executives soon realized that steamships could also play an important role in keeping the railway self-sustaining. In 1884, it began to purchase ships to bring goods from Europe and Asia. They began importing tea and silks and found added revenue in the Royal Mail contracts.
They also understood the value of effective marketing and created their own art department for commercial art. They had funeral trains and trains that transported members of the Royal family when they toured Canada. They also ran school trains. In 1952, CPR became the first railway to introduce “piggyback” freight service. And today, over half of the freight traffic is in coal, grain, forest and farm commodities.
In 1976, the movie “Silver Streak” was filmed aboard a CPR train in Alberta and in 1999, The Holiday Train made its debut to celebrate the Christmas season and collect donations for the food banks of the cities it stops in. In 2010, CPR partnered with the Olympic committee to host a Spirit Train tour that featured Olympic-themed events.
Today, the Canadian Pacific Railway is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, and owns approximately 14,000 route miles of track all across Canada and into the United States. Many types of accommodations and destinations are offered from a short scenic trip to an across-the-nation, black-tie every meal event. They range from a few hundred dollars to $9,000. They all sound like “the- trip-of-a-lifetime.”

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