Railway History

The development of steam-powered railways in the 19th century revolutionized transportation in Canada.

Historic Railway Trestle

February 25, 1832

Railway History 

First Railway Incorporated in Canada

The Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad Company was incorporated, the first railway legislation in Canada.

July 21, 1836

Railway History 

First Railway Opens in Canada

Canada's first railway, the Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad, officially opened; it began operations on July 25. The railway heralded the most important change in transportation in Canadian history.

September 19, 1839

Railway History 

Albion Mines Railway

A celebration marked the opening of the first 4 kilometers of the Albion Mines Railway in Pictou County, NS. It was the second steam railway in Canada, and the first to use standard gauge.

March 17, 1845

Railway History 

St Lawrence and Atlantic RR

The St Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad was chartered to build a line between Montréal and Portland, Maine, giving Montréal year-round access to the Atlantic.

October 11, 1850

Railway History 

Railway to Longueuil Opens

The St Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad was opened from Longueuil to Richmond, Québec.

January 27, 1854

Great Western Workshop

Railway History 

Great Western Railway Opens

The Great Western Railway opened its main line between London and Windsor, Ont.

October 27, 1854

Railway History 

Rail Disaster at Chatham

At Baptiste Creek, 24 km west of Chatham, Ont, a gravel train was hit by an express train that was running 7 hours late. The accident killed 52 and injured 48 others, the worst rail disaster in North America to that time.

November 17, 1856

Grand Trunk Railway

Railway History 

Grand Trunk Completed

The Grand Trunk Railway was completed from Guelph to Stratford, Ont; the last stretch from St Marys to Sarnia was finished on November 21. The GTR was a significant factor in the economic development of Canada.

March 12, 1857

Railway Disaster, Desjardins Canal

Railway History 

Desjardins Canal Train Disaster

A Great Western Railway passenger train crashed through the rotting timber bridge over the Desjardins Canal, near Hamilton, Ont, killing 59 people.

February 08, 1858

Railway History 

Railway to Truro Opens

A railway opened from Halifax to Truro and Windsor in Nova Scotia.

June 29, 1864

Train Wreck at St-Hilaire

Railway History 

Rail Disaster at St Hilaire

A Grand Trunk Railway train plunged off the Beloeil Bridge into the Richelieu River at St-Hilaire, Qué, killing 99 people and injuring another 100. It was Canada's worst train wreck.

September 01, 1864

Delegates of the Charlottetown Conference, Prince Edward Island, 1864.

Railway History 

Cartier Attends Charlottetown Conference

At the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, Sir George-Étienne Cartier led the Canadian case for a great confederation of all the colonial provinces, inspiring the Maritime delegates with a commitment to build the Intercolonial Railway.

January 01, 1870

Canadian Pacific Railway

Railway History 

Cartier Encourages BC to Join Confederation

Sir George-Étienne Cartier welcomed British Columbia delegates John Sebastian Helmcken, Joseph Trutch and Robert Carrall to Ottawa in June 1870, and promised them a transcontinental railway if British Columbia joined Confederation (the delegates had planned only to ask for a wagon road east).

October 15, 1872

Sir Hugh Allan

Railway History 

CPR Formed

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was formed. The company was given a charter on 5 February 1873. Methods used by Sir Hugh Allan to secure the charter led to the defeat of Sir John A. Macdonald's government.

November 05, 1873

Pacific Scandal Political Cartoon

Railway History 

Pacific Scandal Forces Resignations

In the Pacific Scandal, the Macdonald government resigned over the evidence that members of the government had accepted campaign funds from Sir Hugh Allan in return for the Canadian Pacific Railway contract.

February 09, 1879

Railway History 

North Shore Railway Complete

The North Shore Railway between Montréal and Québec City was completed.

December 23, 1879

Railway History 

Fraser Canyon Rail Extension

Railway contractor Andrew Onderdonk signed an agreement with the Canadian government to extend the CPR through the Fraser Canyon.

February 16, 1881

Ottertail Bridge

Railway History 

CPR Incorporated

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was incorporated.

June 01, 1883

Canadian Pacific Railway, Map

Railway History 

CPR Arrives in Alberta

The Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in Alberta, at Medicine Hat.

January 01, 1885

Constructing the CPR

Railway History 

Chinese Labourers and the CPR

Some 15,000 Chinese labourers completed the British Columbia section of the CPR, with more than 600 of them perishing under adverse working conditions during this essential construction. Largely because of the trans-Canada railway, Chinese communities developed across the nation.

September 15, 1885

Railway History 

Death of Jumbo

A Grand Trunk Railway locomotive struck and killed Jumbo, beloved circus elephant in Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth,” near St. Thomas, ON. The autopsy showed that Jumbo’s stomach contained “a hat-full” of English pennies, gold and silver coins, metal trinkets and a police whistle, among other things. The death of the elephant made headlines world-wide.

November 07, 1885

The Last Spike

Railway History 

Last Spike Driven for CPR

The “last spike” of the Canadian Pacific Railway was hammered by Lord Strathcona at Craigellachie, British Columbia. This fulfilled a government promise to connect BC to Eastern Canada via a transcontinental railway. Among the workers who built the railway were 15,000 labourers from China, many of whom died during the railway’s construction.

August 13, 1886

Railway History 

Macdonald Drives Last Spike

Prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, on his only visit to BC, drove the last spike on the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway at Cliffside near Shawnigan Lake.

November 27, 1891

Railway History 

Railroad Opens from Seattle to New Westminster

A subsidiary of the Great Northern Railroad, an American competitor to the Canadian Pacific Railway, opened from Seattle to New Westminster, BC.

July 29, 1900

Railway History 

White Pass and Yukon Railway

The last spike was driven on the White Pass and Yukon Railway, which ran from Skagway to Whitehorse.

September 10, 1904

Railway History 

First Train Robbery in Canada

“Gentleman Bandit” Bill Miner and two accomplices were involved in Canada’s first train robbery. They robbed a Canadian Pacific Railway car near Mission, British Columbia, of $7,000.

November 24, 1905

Canadian Northern Pioneer

Railway History 

Canadian Northern Completed

The Canadian Northern Railway was completed to Edmonton.

May 17, 1906

Railway History 

Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Begun

Construction on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway began at Prince Rupert with the construction of a tool shed and the erection of tents as accommodation.

August 12, 1909

Railway History 

Freight Handlers Strike

Fort William (Thunder Bay), Ont, was placed under martial law as Greek and Italian strikers engaged Canadian Pacific Railway police in a protracted gun battle.

January 21, 1910

Train Wreck at St-Hilaire

Railway History 

Sudbury Train Disaster

A broken rail caused derailment of a CPR passenger train west of Sudbury, killing 43.

March 12, 1912

Canadian Northern Railway

Railway History 

Fraser River Railway Strikes

Railway workers organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) walked out of construction camps on the Canadian Northern line to protest conditions.

August 19, 1913

Railway History 

Special Railway Fare for Prairie Harvesters

Railways offered a special fare of one cent per mile to the prairies for workers who would help bring in the anticipated record-breaking harvest. The demand was estimated at 40,000 extra harvesters, and thousands of young Canadians, many from the Maritimes, responded to the call.

November 17, 1913

National Transcontinental Railway

Railway History 

National Transcontinental Complete

The last spike was driven on the National Transcontinental Railway, which had begun work in 1903 and ran from Winnipeg, via Sioux Lookout, Kapuskasing, Cochrane and Québec City, to Moncton, NB.

April 07, 1914

Railway History 

Grand Trunk Pacific Completed

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was completed to Nechako, BC. The first train arrived at Prince Rupert on April 9.

January 23, 1915

Canadian Northern Railway

Railway History 

Canadian Northern Railway

The last spike was driven on the Canadian Northern Railway at Basque, BC.

June 06, 1919


Railway History 

Canadian National Railways Incorporated

Canadian National Railways was incorporated. It became the longest railway system in North America, controlling more than 50 000 km of track in Canada and the US.

March 09, 1925

Railway History 

CN Rail Establishes Canadian National Land Settlement Association

The Canadian National Railway (CN) established the Canadian National Land Settlement Association to promote immigration and land settlement in Canada. This increased rail traffic and helped the railway use some of the land granted by the federal government.

September 21, 1927

Railway History 

Rail Disaster in Yale

Ten railway cars carrying a valuable cargo of silk went off the rails east of Yale, BC. Five of them ended up in the Fraser River.

August 22, 1950

Railway History 

National Rail Strike

A national rail strike caused one of the most serious transport crises in Canadian history.

May 28, 1969

Railway History 

Alberta Resources Railway

Alberta premier Harry Strom opened the Alberta Resources Railway, a 378 km line from Grande Prairie north to Solomon.

February 28, 1977

VIA Rail Logo

Railway History 

Via Rail Established

The federal government established Via Rail.

February 23, 1986

Railway History 

Train Disaster at Hinton

Twenty-three people died in a head-on collision between a CN freight train and a Via Rail passenger train at Hinton, Alta.

March 27, 1995

Railway History 

Rail Strike Ends

Parliament passed back-to-work legislation, forcing some 30 000 rail workers to return to their jobs. The strike had begun on March 18 and was having severe economic repercussions.

February 10, 1998

Railway History 

CN Buys US Railway Company

Canadian National announced plans to acquire US rail company Illinois Central Corp for $2.4 billion, making CN the 5th largest railway company in North America with 30 000 km of track.

July 06, 2013

Lac-Mégantic derailment

Railway History 

Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Explosion

A runaway train carrying crude oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Québec, killing at least 47 people. Approximately 2,000 were evacuated after explosions and subsequent fires destroyed the centre of town.

May 13, 2014

Lac-Mégantic derailment

Railway History 

Charges Laid in Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Explosion

Three employees of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway were charged with criminal negligence in the 6 July 2013 oil train crash that killed 47 people in the town of Lac-MéganticQuebec. An investigation into the disaster determined, among other causes, that the handbrakes on the train were insufficient, causing the train to slide down a sloped length of track, derail and explode in downtown Lac-Mégantic. Following a trial, jurors acquitted the three former employees on 19 January 2018.

June 22, 2015

Lac-Mégantic derailment

Railway History 

More Charges Laid in Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Explosion

The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway and six former employees of the railway were charged under the Railway Safety Act and Fisheries Act for their role in the 6 July 2013 oil train crash that killed 47 people in the town of Lac-MéganticQuebec. On 5 February 2018, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act and was fined $1 million. The six former employees pleaded guilty to violating the Railway Safety Act. Five of the former employees were fined $50,000 each. The sixth former employee received a conditional sentence of six months in prison, to be served in the community.