The Canadian Pacific Railway


The Canadian Pacific Railway was born out of the government’s wish to connect eastern and western Canada via a continuous rail line spanning the continent. Its history dates back much longer than rival Canadian National’s albeit today the CN is larger and generates higher profits than CP. Still, the railroad is one of North America’s oldest systems at over 125 years of age and one of the most profitable. The CP’s current system stretches from New Brunswick to British Columbia, Canada as well as the northern United States such as Maine, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. For those interested in American railroads the CP also controls lines formerly owned by fallen flags Delaware & Hudson Railway, Milwaukee Road, and Soo Line (and the Class I recently purchased American regional Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad).

What looks like a CP train is actually along CSX's Pittsburgh Subdivision as two AC4400CWs lead a freight along Sanford Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 6, 2004.

As early as 1871 the Canadian government began proposing the idea of building a single rail line to connect the entire country. However, it would take nearly a full decade until the groundwork was laid in the Canadian Pacific Railway being incorporated on February 16 of 1881 and soon after construction actually began. Building this railroad was no small task. Canada is notorious for having brutal weather and the terrain would be equally as challenging in finding a route through the wilderness. The construct the new line the young railroad was given a C$25,000,000 loan from the government and 25,000,000 acres of land.

The CP itself actually began building west of Bonfield, Ontario. This is because the Canada Central Railway, which connected the future capital of Ottawa with the community of Mattawa became part of the CP system. The CP had a route surveyed which would operate through the rich farming areas of the North Saskatchewan River valley, a move that would have given the railroad much more traffic. However, the railroad chose a route running nearer the American border in an attempt to cut-off the US railroads from gaining access to Canadian markets.

The biggest disadvantage to this route was the fact that the CP would be required to navigate the treacherous Kicking Horse Pass in the northern Rocky Mountains on the border of Alberta and British Columbia. In its attempt to finish the line as quickly as possible the CP decided to build a line through the pass that included a maximum grade of 4.5%! By November 1885 the new line was completed to British Columbia with the final spike being driven at Craigellachie. While the railroad was finished more than five years ahead of schedule it took another C$22.5 million in credit to do so because of the rugged topography in which the line was constructed. Furthermore, the route was built so hastily that it took almost another full year to upgrade the line before through transcontinental service could begin.

Still, the new line was complete and over the next forty years the CP began building new lines and expanding its portfolio through outright purchases of smaller railroads. In 1888 the CP purchased several small railroads in the northern plains of the US to form the to form the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway, better known as the Soo Line. The Soo would become the largest railroad the CP would own, which gave it connections to US cities like Minneapolis, Chicago and the ore-rich region around Duluth.

Two Soo SD60s are still adorned in their original paint as they power a CP intermodal freight eastbound through Newtonville, Ontario on March 16, 2005.

The Soo (“Soo” refers to the word "Sault" in the Canadian city of Sault Ste. Marie, is spoken as "Sue") was a medium-sized Class I system that stretched throughout the upper Midwest connecting cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul, with points west in North Dakota and southern Canadian (such as Winnipeg and Sault Ste. Marie). Somewhat of northern granger line the railroad was always a smaller line surrounded by those much larger, such as the Milwaukee Road, Burlington, and Great Northern. However, up until its takeover of the floundering Milwaukee Road in 1985, for most of its life the Soo was a well maintained and managed company, earning healthy profits in a territory blanketed with competitors. Perhaps what makes this railroad so interesting is that its system crossed the U.S./Canadian border and along with serving the northern plains of America also served the southern Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.

Other railroads to fall under the CP banner include the Dominion Atlantic Railway (which operated throughout Nova Scotia); the Quebec Central Railway (which operated between Quebec and Newport, Vermont); the Grand River Railway and Lake Erie & Northern Railway (both of which operated between Waterloo and Simcoe, Ontario); the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway (which operated between Waterford and Toronto, Ontario and Buffalo, New York); the Delaware & Hudson Railway; and the Milwaukee Road through the Soo Line. In all the CP once had lines running throughout Canada reaching as far east as Halifax, Nova Scotia to as far west as Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington.

Through the early 1990s CP still rostered Alco/Montreal Locomotive Works locomotives. Seen here is M630 #4572 and C630 #4503 moving a westbound extra through London, Ontario on May 17, 1981.

As one might expect the CP operated a wide range of passenger trains during its years of service. Most famous of these was probably The Canadian, which was the railroad’s plush train between Montreal and Vancouver operating on a three-day schedule. The streamlined train featured everything one could think of; dining, all-Pullman status, and even “Scenic-Dome” service. It should be noted that the CP also operated RDC, such as between Toronto, Buffalo and New York. Other passenger trains of the CP are listed below:

Notable Canadian National Railway Passenger Trains

The Canadian: Montreal - Vancouver

The Atlantic Limited: Montreal – Halifax

The Viger: Montreal – Quebec

The Frontenac: Montreal – Quebec

RDC Service

Toronto – Buffalo – New York

Montreal – Quebec

Montreal – Mont-Laurier

Montreal – Ottawa

Sudbury – White River

Today, its Canadian system is significantly smaller. It now operates no further east than Montreal and mostly hugs southern Canada along its original main line, although it does reach as far north as Calgary and still terminates in Vancouver.   Along with its aforementioned American buyouts it also recently purchased the DM&E/IC&E, which spreads its reach to Kansas City and Rapid City, South Dakota. At a point between 1968 and 1996 the CP was known as CP Rail with a matching logo. However, this was dropped in favor of a more traditional logo using the beaver and returning to its original name, Canadian Pacific Railway.  In the late 1970s rival Canadian National Railway sold off most of its non-railroad holdings, with CP picking up the company’s hotel chain.


A CP Rail SW1200 performs switching duties as it moves a string of freight cars into the Soo yard at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan during July of 1975.

Then, in 1976, the government took over all passenger operations from and renamed them under one banner, VIA Rail Canada (similar to the Amtrak setup in the US). Like its rival, CP has managed to remain independent and today is one of the seven remaining Class I railroads in North American.  For more reading on the CP you may want to consider the book Canadian Pacific Railway from author Tom Murray, which gives an excellent general history of the railroad and is filled with plenty of historic, color photographs through its 160 pages. It is published by Motorbooks International and as such I can state with near certainty, having owned many of their titles, that the images will be of very high quality. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

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