The Last Spike for the Canadian Pacific Railway, 1885
There is no better example in the world of the importance of a well-functioning public transportation infrastructure than Canada. It is a country that was knit together by that very thing. Indeed, it’s fair to say Canada might not exist as coast-to-coast nation it now is – or at all, perhaps – if the Canadian Pacific Railway hadn’t been built 133 years ago.
It was a remarkable achievement for a brand, new country of a few million people in the face of a huge geographic challenge. In 1867, the year Canada was formed, British Columbia, Britain’s west-coast colony north of the 45th parallel international boundary with the U.S., was not included. But Canada promised to build a transcontinental railroad, if B.C. joined the Confederation, which it did in 1871.
Construction was delayed by political controversy and a change in government. But the return of a Conservative government with John A. MacDonald as Prime Minister got things moving, with the eventual help of millions of public dollars.
Thousands of Chinese labourers were brought to Canada to help build the CPR, and, therefore, the country.
Thousands of Chinese labourers were hired to help build the most difficult, Rocky Mountain section, and hundreds died in dreadful working conditions. The last spike was finally driven in 1885.
In the decades that followed an extensive network of rail services connected the towns and cities of the fast-growing country. At one time Canada had more miles of freight and passenger, railroad track than any country in the world.
However, as the end of the 20th century approached, much of that track was abandoned as economically unviable. For a while, highway bus transit took up the passenger slack, in southern Ontario, for example. But that too suffered the same fate. Meanwhile, fiscal conservative political thinking made government investment in public transportation less likely. By the second decade of this century public transportation to and from parts of rural Ontario was in big trouble.
I doubt any other place in rural Canada is a worse example of that than the Owen Sound, Grey-Bruce area of southwestern Ontario. Continue reading