Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Mystique of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway


The Mystique of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway

By Sora Kazesawa
The Daily Magi
September 3, 2063

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (reporting mark GTP) was a historical Canadian railway. A wholly owned subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), the GTPR was constructed by GTR using loans provided by the Government of Canada. The company was formed in 1903 with a mandate to build west from Winnipeg, Manitoba to the Pacific coast at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. East of Winnipeg, the federal government would build the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) across Northern Ontario and Quebec, crossing the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City and ending at Moncton, New Brunswick. The conceptual plan was to have GTR operate both GTPR and NTR as a single transcontinental railway, competing with the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

At the beginning of the 20th century, the GTR planned a second Canadian transcontinental rail route with a terminal on the Pacific that would be nearer to Asia than Vancouver. It would follow one of the routes surveyed by Sandford Fleming from Winnipeg to Port Simpson at the end of the Portland Canal which formed part of the boundary between British Columbia and Alaska. In 1903 there was resentment in Canada over the Alaska boundary decision which favoured US interests after a British commissioner sided with them. As a result of the clamour in Canada, US President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to send an occupation force to nearby territory. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier considered a new location at Prince Rupert would be more easily defended and decided to build the terminal there rather than at Port Simpson.
Turning of the first sod for the construction of the GTPR, took place at an official ceremony, September 11, 1905, at Fort William, Ontario, by Prime Minister Laurier. From there a 190-mile section of track was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Construction Company, connecting with the NTR, near Sioux Lookout.

Construction began on the Canadian Prairies in 1905, the year that the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were established. Construction proceeded west to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1907, Edmonton, Alberta in 1909, and through Jasper, Alberta into Yellowhead Pass crossing the Continental Divide in 1910-1911. The last spike ceremony heralding completion of the rail line across the prairies, and through the Rocky Mountains to the newly constructed seaport at Prince Rupert, British Columbia was held one mile east of Fort Fraser, British Columbia on April 7, 1914. In 1910, the company also built a dock in Seattle, the Grand Trunk Pacific dock, which was the largest dock on the west coast at the time it was built. On July 30, 1914, the dock was destroyed by fire.

The GTPR did not immediately realize the traffic potential GTR and the federal government had hoped. CPR occupied the more populous southern route in the prairies through Regina, Saskatchewan and Calgary, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia and was using land grants provided by the federal government as well as government incentives to draw immigrants and businesses to settle along its route. GTR did not have a coordinated marketing plan, and efforts at settlement were disrupted by the First World War. GTR rejected operating the NTR for cost reasons, forcing the federal government to assume that operation into Canadian Government Railways.

By 1919 it was obvious that the GTPR was not paying its way. The financial strain broke on March 7 when GTR defaulted on repayment of construction loans to the federal government, whereby the GTPR was nationalized and taken over by a Board of Management operating under the Department of Railways and Canals while legalities were resolved. On July 12, 1920 the GTPR was placed under the management of Crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR) and in 1923 was completely absorbed into the CNR.

The chateau-style hotels of the early 20th century remain iconic Canadian symbols. While the CPR quite rightly receives credit for many of the early hotels of this genre such as The Banff Springs Hotel, The Empress (hotel) in Victoria, The Royal York in Toronto, Hotel Vancouver, Quebec City's Chateau Frontenac and Chateau Lake Louise in The Rockies, it was the GTPR that built Ottawa's Chateau Laurier, The Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, and The Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton. After the nationalization, this tradition continued with construction of The Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon. The GTPR chateau-style hotels remain among the most impressive of these structures in the country.

Today, the majority of the GTPR is still in use as CN's (name change to Canadian National or acronym CN in 1960) main line from Winnipeg to Jasper. West of Jasper, CN's main line swings south on the former Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) to Vancouver, however the GTPR line to Prince Rupert forms an important CN secondary main line. The GTPR's high construction standards and the fact Yellowhead Pass has the lowest elevation of any railway crossing of the Continental Divide in North America gives the CN a competitive advantage in terms of fuel efficiency and the ability to haul tonnage.

Prince Rupert, after a century languishing far behind Vancouver, became an important port in the early 2000s. Congestion at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, the busiest container ports in North America and the primary gateways for East Asian imports to enter the United States, led many shippers to seek out alternate routes to get goods to major inland US distribution hubs such as Chicago and Memphis. CN determined that Prince Rupert—with its deep natural harbor, close proximity to the great circle route from East Asia to North America, and fast connection to Chicago along the former GTPR—would be an ideal terminal for high-value containerized freight. CN opened a highly automated container terminal at Prince Rupert in 2003, marketing it to shippers with the promise that a container could go from shipboard to Chicago in 72 hours. By 2011, the terminal moved over one million twenty-foot equivalent units per year. The acquisition by CN of the former Illinois Central and Elgin, Joliet and Eastern railroads will enable cargo to bypass the congested railway switching system in Chicago proper and reach Memphis and New Orleans within 96 hours of a ship docking at Prince Rupert. The Johnston Terminal at The Forks in Winnipeg was originally a cold storage facility for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Tiles inset into the floors of the building carry the railway's name.

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