The history of the CPR in British Columbia began with the union of the Colony of British Columbia and the Dominion of Canada. The terms of union called for the
"construction of a railway from the Pacific towards the Rocky Mountains and from such a point as may be selected, east of the Rocky Mountains toward the Pacific, to connect the seaboard of British Columbia with the railway system of Canada"
In other words, a transcontinental railway linking British Columbia to the rest of Canada. In the initial stages the plan was beset by political infighting and disagreements over every aspect including which route to follow, where to locate the western terminus, and about who should actually construct the railway. After much wrangling and negotiation the government contracted part of the construction to a California-based syndicate led by Darius Ogden Mills and managed by Andrew Onderdonk. Onderdonk supervised the construction of the railway through the Fraser and Thompson Canyons. Then in 1881, a private company, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR), was incorporated with the stated aim in its charter of completing the transcontinental railway by May 1891. In fact, the building of the railway was completed 5 years ahead of schedule when the "last spike" was driven in at Craigellachie on November 7, 1885. In 1886 the Government of Canada handed over the 372 km of operating rail-line to the CPR, and on July 4 1886 the first transcontinental passenger train, travelling from Montreal, arrived at the western terminus of Port Moody. Shortly after this, the railway line was extended by 14 miles to Granville, which was renamed Vancouver. On May 23, 1887 the first passenger train pulled into Vancouver.
The rugged terrain of British Columbia presented formidable challenges to the engineers and the workers on the railway. Many of the workers were Chinese who worked in poor conditions and for very low pay. In addition they had to contend with violence and harassment as a result of racism, and for many years, due to the Exclusion Act, they were unable to bring their wives and children to Canada from China. Despite these hardships many Chinese workers stayed in British Columbia after the completion of the railway; some settled in the small towns served by the railway while others settled in Vancouver and Victoria, both of which developed thriving Chinese communities.
The CPR was not restricted to trains and land transportation. Under the leadership of CPR president Sir William Cornelius Van Horne the company expanded into communications systems such as commercial telegraph and parcel services, both of which were facilitated by the railway. The CPR also built and maintained its own locomotives and passenger cars. In 1891, the CPR launched its own Pacific fleet, and in 1893 it started operating paddle steamers in the interior of British Columbia, expanding to the coast in 1901.
The beautiful and spectacular scenery through which the railway was being built was seen as a great tourist attraction, one which the CPR took full advantage of. Early on, the CPR expanded into building and operating hotels along the railway lines throughout the province. This was done partly to help revenue, but also to help with the logistics of operating the railway. It was significantly easier to operate a small hotel and restaurant and provide dining facilities at the top of a mountain pass, than to haul a heavy dining car up the mountain. In Vancouver, the first Hotel Vancouver was opened in May 1887, and was intended to provide first class accommodation to businessmen and wealthy tourists, travelling on the CPR's Empress liners. As part of the land grant agreement the CPR also built an Opera House adjoining the hotel in 1891.
Under the agreement of incorporation, the CPR was granted 10 million hectares of federal land, which it proceeded to sell to settlers and homesteaders over the next 50 years. The coming of the railway encouraged settlement along branch-lines and the railway was instrumental in opening up the province to agricultural and commercial development as well as to industry. By providing crucial transportation links through what had hitherto been impassable territory the CPR contributed dramatically to the wealth and industry of the province.
In Vancouver, the CPR had been granted a number of parcels of land which they proceeded to develop. Indeed, the CPR , through its surveyor L.A. Hamilton, produced detailed plans for Vancouver and played a significant role in determining the layout of the city. The CPR station, CPR office and the Hotel Vancouver were all located on Granville street, thus pulling the centre of the city further west than the existing townsite. The original townsite continued to develop as the working class and industrial part of the city, while the area west of Granville Street was developed for the more prosperous middle and upper classes. In 1914, the exclusive residential neighbourhood, Shaughnessy Heights was developed from District Lot 542, which had originally been granted to the CPR at the time of the railway line expansion from Port Moody to Vancouver in 1887.
In 1942, the CPR expanded into air travel with the Canadian Pacific Airlines, which was headquartered in Vancouver. CP Air, as it was later called, was bought out by Pacific Western in 1987 when it became Canadian Airlines International.
For an interesting photographic history of the portion of the railway constructed under the leadership of Andrew Onderdonk see: Onderdonk's Way
Turner, Robert D. West of the Great Divide: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia, 1880-1986 Sono Nis Press, Victoria, B.C., 1987. VPL Call #: 385.09 C22t
Eagle, John A. The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Development of Western Canada. McGill-Queen's University Press, Kingston, O.N., 1989. VPL Call #: 385.09 C22e
McKee, Bill and Georgeen Klassen. Trail of Iron: The CPR and the Birth of the West, 1880-1930. Glenbow-Alberta Institute in association with Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, B.C., 1983. VPL Call#: 385.09 C22mk
Lamb, William Kaye. History of the Canadian Pacific Railway. MacMillan, New York, NY, 1977. VPL Call#: 971.05 L21h
Photograph (top): VPL #78880A; Croton Studio; Trains during strike, Surrey, B.C., 1956