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When the Steel Went Through

ON THE steamer coming to Canada, in my conversations with Gibson about the Canadian Pacific Railway, he usually spoke of the company as the Syndicate. I learned from him too, in these talks, that Mr. Angus and Mr. McIntyre, directors of the company — to whom I had letters of introduction — were members of the Syndicate. So I was quite prepared to find, on my arrival in Montreal, that the Syndicate was the designation most frequently applied to the company. The name, Canadian Pacific Railway, evidently had not at that time become deeply impressed on the minds of the public; much less the initials C.P.R., now known the world over.

I knew nothing about the Syndicate then, but I had not been long in Canada before I learned sufficient to enable me to give a brief outline of events leading up to its formation, and to its incorporation later, as the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.

The uniting by rail of all the provinces of Canada, was a natural sequence to Confederation. Quebec had already been linked with Ontario by the Grand Trunk Railway. Then the Maritime Provinces became linked with Quebec, through the construction of the government-owned Intercolonial Railway. But opinion was much divided as to how Manitoba, the North West Territories, and British Columbia should be linked with the Eastern Provinces, to complete the chain; whether by a railway built and operated by the government, or by one built and operated by private interests; so the question became tied up with politics.

In the early 70's Sir John A. Macdonald, when Prime Minister, had tried to get Sir Hugh Allan, of the Allan Steamship Company, to form and finance a company which would undertake to build and operate the railway needed to serve the Western Provinces. But there were certain charges made against him in connection with this attempt which caused Sir John to resign. These charges, however, long known as the Pacific Scandal, could not be downed; even by the time I arrived in Canada, some ten years later, the Pacific Scandal would still crop up in political discussions; and the expression was familiar to me for quite a time before I really knew to what it referred.

On Sir John's resigning, Alexander Mackenzie became Prime Minister. He favoured a government-owned railway; and also the utilization of the Great Lakes for water transport, instead of building a costly railway through the rocky country along the North Shore. Under his government extensive surveys were made of the route chosen across the prairies to the Yellowhead Pass; and from there to the coast. But the only construction work completed was the building of the Emerson branch from the international boundary to Winnipeg, and thence to Selkirk. Some grading too, had been commenced between Selkirk and Port Arthur, when the government was defeated in the election of 1878, and Sir John Macdonald again became Prime Minister.

By this time the people of British Columbia were in serious doubts as to whether the Dominion Government had any intention of carrying out the pledge given them when they entered Confederation, namely, to connect that province by rail with the other provinces, and to commence work within a specified time. This specified time was nearing its close; and threats of withdrawal from Confederation were openly made.

To allay this agitation, the Macdonald government promptly entered into a contract with an American railway contractor named Onderdonk, under which he undertook to build several hundred miles of railway in the mountains, from Port Moody eastward up the Fraser River.

The Onderdonk contract was, however, purely an emergency measure, and in no way changed the policy of the government to get a railway constructed and operated by a private company. So, with this end in view, Sir John kept negotiating with a group of prominent Canadian financiers, later known as the Syndicate, the outstanding members of which were: George Stephen, Donald A. Smith, R. B. Angus, and Duncan McIntyre. By 1880, he had come to an agreement with this Syndicate, which had been incorporated by that time as the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.

The agreement was to the effect that the company would take over those portions of the railway which had been completed by the government, or were under construction; and complete and operate the whole railway for a cash grant and a land grant, each well up in the millions. This agreement was ratified by parliament early in 1881; and the company was thus committed to the great task of building a transcontinental railway.

The first important decision the directors of the company had to make was in the choice of a General Manager. For this office they engaged the services of Mr. W. C. Van Horne, an American with much experience in building and operating railways in the States.

He foresaw strong competition by the American railways for the traffic in the west, which he was confident would follow the construction of the C.P.R.; and in order to forestall such competition, he advocated building the line much nearer to the international boundary, than the one projected by way of the Yellowhead Pass. In this the directors were in accord. So they abandoned the idea of building the railway through the Yellowhead Pass, and decided to push ahead with the work on the prairies from Winnipeg west toward the Kicking Horse.

Van Home arrived in Winnipeg early in 1882 and made all arrangements for an early start on this work in the spring.

So that was the position of the company — but altogether unknown to me — when I called on Mr. Angus and on Mr. McIntyre at the offices of the directors, with my letters of introduction.

It is still a pleasure to recall the kindly way in which I was received by these gentlemen. I met them both together in Mr. McIntyre's office, and they talked with me and questioned me about my experiences, with an evident desire to help me to get a start. Finally, Mr. Angus left the matter to Mr. McIntyre, and he dictated a letter to General Manager Van Horne in Winnipeg, requesting him to give me a trial. But before this letter was written, he said that, on reconsidering the matter, it might be some time before work started in Winnipeg, and as I might have a tiresome wait there with nothing to do, he would also give me a letter to Mr. James Ross in Toronto, General Manager of the Ontario and Quebec Railway, a new subsidiary company in which he was interested; and survey parties on that railway, he said, were already at work. So when Mr. McIntyre handed me these two letters, it was with a deep feeling of gratitude that I thanked him for the kindness he had shown to me.

This interview took place on the 9th February, 1882, as evidenced by the date of the letter to Mr. Van Home, which I still have. I did not need to present it — as I will show farther on.

I was now prepared to start for Toronto immediately, but I did not care to go without Mather; he had yet a visit of a social nature to pay, and wanted me to accompany him.

This visit was to a Mr. Drummond, a farmer at Petite Cote, on the outskirts of Montreal, to whom Mather had a letter of introduction.

Therefore, one afternoon, we hired a sleigh and drove out to the farm. Our route was by a road which I would say is now Guy Street. The farm lay on the slope of the Mountain, for I remember looking down from it on the St. Lawrence River. We were most cordially received by Mr. and Mrs. Drummond. I can't say how many of a family there were, but there was a grown-up son and also an attractive daughter; and a girl cousin, attractive too, who was staying with them on a visit.

In talking with this cousin (sorry, but I don't remember her name) I gathered that she did not belong to Montreal; so I asked her where she came from. "Toronto," she said, and then added the qualification, "the Queen City of the West" — a qualification of Toronto current at the time. Queen City of the West is a fine poetical expression, but applied to Toronto it shows the very restricted conception of Canada then held. Who would now think of Toronto as being in the West? We spent the afternoon and evening at the farm, and needless to say, we had a very happy time.

Drummond junior took us home in the farm bobsleigh—if one can call the Albion Hotel home. It was a crisp moonlight night, and the pleasure of the drive was enhanced by the girls accompanying us, laughing and singing on the way. It was the first time I had heard "Jingle Bells" sung, and I was charmed with it; but whether with the song itself, or by the sweet voices that sang it, may be left to the imagination. Our driver evidently had in mind to give us a new experience for he ran the sleigh into a ditch and tipped us all out into a big snow drift. But he finally landed us at the Albion, greatly delighted with the rare good time we had had.

We saw many novel and interesting sights in Montreal; tobogganing on the Mountain; a parade of the members of the Snowshoe Club, in their gay blanket coats — but we had no time to linger and watch such sights, however interesting; we wanted to get to work. So after having said good-bye to Gibson, who had been a real help to us in many ways, Mather and I packed up and left one evening on the night train for Toronto.

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