The great question of transportation now began to
assume large proportions and attract attention. So far the "Red River
Carts" had been the means of carrying freight into Manitoba and the Far
West. In the State of Minnesota was to be found the nearest railway point.
Thence supplies were carried in carts to the Red River, and one steamer,
belonging to the Hudson Bay Company, plied it trade on that river, but
only carried Hudson Bay goods. A brief competition followed on the
introduction of an American steamer, but an understanding was soon
reached. The rate for freight from St. Paul to Winnipeg was 10s. per 100
lbs., payable in cash. It is interesting to note that Mr. Smith and Mr.
Hill—who since then has become a great railway magnate—met for the first
time. They were to have many meetings in after years.
The attention of Parliament was now turned to this
question of transportation and a proposition to construct a railway system
across the continent which, in its whole length, would be in Canadian
territory, was up for consideration. We have grown familiar with the idea.
We think, not of one, but of three trans-continental railways on Canadian
soil. But it gives us a glimpse of the stature of the men of that time,
that they could even think of it. Truly, "there were giants in those
days"—men of great vision, of a daring and enterprising spirit and an
amazing confidence in the future of the country, for it must be remembered
that the population was meagre and scattered. The resources of the country
were but slightly known and capital was scarce. The West was a vast plain,
empty of all humanity save Indians, half-breeds, fur-traders and a
sprinkling of English and Scotch, while in the Far West there towered
range after range of mountains, forming seemingly an insurmountable
barrier to engineering skill. To build such a railway seemed an
impossibility and, if possible, an absurdity in view of the conditions and
It was the original intention that the Government
should build and own the road. Mr. Smith was strongly in favor of this
procedure. He believed that it was a matter that should he kept out of
party politics and should be the work of the whole country, without any
reference to political views. There is no doubt that this was the wiser
policy. Had the Government of the day been possessed of the necessary
spirit of enterprise, joined with sufficient ability, and had carried the
work through, the benefit to the country would have been immense. Millions
would have been saved to the people that went into the pockets of private
capitalists, and, what is of far greater importance, the power to regulate
rates would have been in the hands of the Government, whose sole object
would be the serving of the people rather than raising dividends on
inflated stock. But it was not to be, and Mr. Smith reluctantly
acknowledged that without private capital and private ability the project
would prove a failure.
Those were days of great political excitement,
arising out of this very proposition. The Government of Sir John A.
Macdonald became involved in what is known as the Pacific Railway
Scandals. These created a tremendous excitement through the country and
led to the resignation of the Government in the Autumn of 1873. A
generation has grown up since then, but there are many still living who
can remember the great sensation of that year, when the country was roused
from end to end. It was charged that the Government had sold the charter
to a company in return for moneys that were to be used to corrupt the
electorate and establish the Government firmly in the place of power.
Whether the charge were true or false, the people believed it to be true,
and by an overwhelming majority the Government was swept out of power.