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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XI. Governments and Railways

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 prospects.

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.

Louis Reil

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.

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