This little series of blog posts is an effort to explore the railway wonders of Portage la Prairie - where we have spent many happy vacations.
In the future, if someone in Portage looks for an account of local railway history, perhaps they will find this series of posts helpful.
No other railway could be more closely associated with Portage la Prairie than the Canadian Northern Railway.
The CNoR's antecedent began in the immediate area of Portage, as DB Hanna will describe ...
William Mackenzie and Donald Mann left no body of personal papers for historians to examine.
Although DB Hanna is looking back at about age 66, he is a good primary source for some of the CNoR's history.
|Bulman Bros Map of Manitoba by Authority of the Provincial Government Winnipeg, April, 1897.|
On the map above, you'll see the Manitoba & North Western Railway running from Portage la Prairie (in the lower right corner) to Gladstone and through Minnedosa. This was a small independent railway line which the CPR later leased for 999 years.
The Lake Manitoba Railway and Canal Company was built from Gladstone to Dauphin and beyond through Sifton. It acquired trackage rights over the M&NW so its trains could operate to Portage ... through which the CPR mainline passed. Both of these railways were contributing to CPR business. Hanna mentions that the Portage yardmaster on the CPR would smile and look the other way when Lake Manitoba Railway crews were observed quietly 'borrowing' CPR cars for use on their line.
|from: A Statutory History of Railways in Canada 1836-1986; Dorman/Stoltz; 1987; Canadian Institute of Guided Ground Transport.|
Above, is the legislative chain for the Lake Manitoba Railway and Canal Co - until it becomes the Canadian Northern. It is curious in 1889 that investors and politicians still didn't foresee the effect railways would have on canals (which froze in winter) and inland transportation - the era of steamboats on the Prairies was coming to an end.
Below, is the other legislative chain which culminates in the Canadian Northern Railway. If you go strictly by date, you'll see that the idea for a railway to Hudson Bay - to bypass the 'greedy' eastern transportation and grain trading interests - goes way back to 1880. Mackenzie and Mann would often be lobbied to build their Hudson Bay line beyond The Pas. This line was finally completed by the Canadian government via the Canadian National Railways and the first grain was exported from Churchill in 1931.
Hanna continues his story, which often gets nostalgic for some co-workers.
It's not the work you miss ... it's the people, eh?
|First train of the Lake Manitoba Railway & Canal Co arrives in Dauphin 1896.|
from: Canadian Rail, October 1975.
|from: The Last Best West; Jean Bruce; 1976; Fitzhenry & Whiteside.|
Just so you're clear on the facts ... as Hanna noted above ... this is NOT the Sifton for whom Sifton, Manitoba is named.
The person above did NOT obtain salt from the springs near Lake Winnipegosis.
This Sifton was a former CPR construction contractor who became a lawyer, and a provincial and later a federal Liberal politician. He was against the CPR monopoly. He assisted Mackenzie and Mann in their railway building activities and originated the scheme whereby railway construction was funded by provincial guarantees on both the principal and interest of railway bonds. He also negotiated the Crow's Nest Pass Agreement with the CPR. His biography is full of interesting historical actions and events. Some of his other actions were not particularly 'enlightened and inclusive' as we would scrutinize them today.
* * *
And who were 'the Galicians' ?
They were probably not as uniform in their ethnicity as old history books would suggest.
A map appears below which includes a broad overview of parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
That Empire was on the same side as the Kaiser's Empire during World War One - so it was against Our Empire!
If you hope that the Good Ole Sifton approach prevailed: that 'all immigrants are good immigrants' ...
you might not want to learn about the internment camps which Canadian authorities set up.
|from: The Modern Age; Richards & Cruickshank; 1955; Longmans Canada.|
* * *
Hanna gets into some railway running trades details of the Lake Manitoba Railway & Canal Co in winter.
On the map (above) Glenella is shown as the third station beyond Gladstone.
Writing in 1924, about the LMR&C Co in 1897-8 Hanna mentions RJ Mackenzie.
|Photo of RJ Mackenzie's grave in the family plot at Kirkfield, Ontario, taken in June 1992.|
In The Railway King of Canada
(1991, UBC Press) RB Fleming writes:
'On March 1, 1923, Sir William's son RJ died in Los Angeles at the age of forty-nine. He had invested in railways, real estate, race horses, and American oil wells as well as elite clubs and private schools ... In Kirkfield he owned the family racing stables. His 5000 shares of Mackenzie, Mann & Co were, of course, worthless. His death was just as mysterious as his life in the Golden State, and rumours circulated it was suicide. On 11 March, RJ was buried in the Kirkfield cemetery as family members, townsfolk, railway officials and former associates looked on. '
* * *
Returning to Portage la Prairie, and Hanna's 1897 account of the Lake Manitoba Railway and Canal Company ... the whole story of the Canadian Northern Railway still lies ahead - at least as it pertains to the local railway history of Portage.
|from: Canadian Rail, October 1975.|
You can perhaps understand why western farmers were unhappy and suspicious about how much they were being charged for transporting their grain - particularly if it was travelling all the way to the ports with access to the Atlantic Ocean. There was an incredible amount of physical labour (and hail, disease, parasite and frost risk) which went into planting, harvesting and transporting grain. Transporting grain to the railway could involve distances of up to 10 miles, using horse-drawn wagons.
Initially, the big grain companies/millers often provided trackside warehouses at which farmers had to provide their grain in bags. It was stored in the warehouse until being loaded into boxcars for transportation. It was probably the CPR's Van Horne who demanded that these companies should provide proper elevators so the grain could be handled in bulk - without the labour of first bagging it and then unloading it by hand.
Above, you can see the lengths that some farmers went to, to decrease the amount of labour required to get their grain to market. A horse or two would pull the wagons of grain up this precarious 'elevator' so the grain could flow, and be shoveled down, behind grain doors built across the lower boxcar door opening. You can see a grain door in the sunlight in the car at the extreme right behind the horse's head.