The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Prairies

by Kiana Stevens

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was Canada’s first transcontinental railway to connect east to west. It was completed in 1885, and it profoundly transformed the prairies.

Workers laying track for the CPR, n.d.; Courtesy of the Hillman Photo Archive.

For many, the CPR was a great invention, connecting the prairies to the rest of the new country and boosting the settler population and economy. Settlers arrived via the new railway. Farmers benefited as they could sell and transport their grain more easily. Communities along the tracks blossomed.

An outing by train to Forrest, MB, 1890; Courtesy of the SJ McKee Archives.

However, not everyone was a beneficiary.  Because of high freight rates (three times those in the east), many prairie farmers struggled to turn a profit. Most profound were the effects on Indigenous communities. The yet incomplete railway allowed for rapid troop deployment that supported the defeat of Indigenous forces during the Northwest Resistance in 1885. During its construction, many First Nations peoples were displaced to make way for the railroad, and, for them,  processes of settler colonialism the railway facilitated brought many terrible consequences.

Bridge over the CPR tracks between 8th and 9th Streets in Brandon, MB; Courtesy of the SJ McKee Archives.

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