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
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
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
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
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
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
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.