Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rail Line Celebrated as West's First Railway

Countess of Dufferin locomotiveRight on the heels of the transcontinental railroad in America, the first rail line in Western Canada came to be. It connected our neighbors to the north, down into the heart of Minnesota, going right through the Pembina/St. Vincent towns.

From Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press comes this bit of news concerning history of our area...
July 5 at 02:30 PM CDT - A plaque marking Western Canada's first railway was unveiled today in Dominion City by Provencher MP Vic Toews.

The Pembina Branch, completed 130 years ago, connected St. Boniface to St. Paul, Minnesota via Emerson and Pembina, N.D., giving Western Canada its first rail route to eastern Canada, via American lines.

The route brought immigrants and manufactured goods west, while providing a cost-effective way to get western grain and other farm produce to the east.

"The completion of this important rail line in 1878 heralded the era of railways in the Canadian West and represented Canada's commitment to connecting the West and East," Toews said in a news release.

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and British Columbia joined Canada on the promise of a transcontinental railway.

Sir John A. Macdonald had proposed an all-rail link, but his eagerness to realize his vision led to the Pacific Scandal and the downfall of his Conservative government in 1873, according to Parks Canada. That gave Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie's Liberal coalition an opportunity to implement his own vision of a combination of water and rail routes across the continent.

The Pembina Branch, built by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, followed the Red River and old cart paths.

The last spike was driven Dec. 3, 1878, when western Canada's first locomotive -- the Countess of Dufferin -- met an American train at Dominion City.

"It is my hope that the plaque will educate Canadians on the monumental importance that the construction of this railway had for the development of Canada," Toews said in the release.

The Countess of Dufferin steam locomotive, named after the wife of then governor general Lord Dufferin, is on display at Via Rail's Union Station in Winnipeg.
Trivia: October 9, 1877 - Locomotive Countess of Dufferin arrives at St. Boniface on a barge towed by the steamer "Selkirk". It was brought in by the contractor Joseph Whitehead to work on the Selkirk - Emerson line and was the first locomotive in Manitoba and on the Prairies.

From Colin Churcher's Railway Pages