9 June

A lone Mountie stands guard as the CPR moves west, 1881-1887

Railways Begin to Boom

There have been a number of exciting booms in Canada: gold, real estate, miniature golf and hula-hoops. In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was railways.

In an effort to stimulate railway building, the government guaranteed interest of not over six per cent on any issue of bonds for half the cost of any railway of 75 miles or more. The effect was magical. Railways sprang up everywhere, starting at one spot and ending nowhere—perhaps in a bush! One of them was the Cobourg-Rice Lake, Plank Road and Ferry Company, which was incorporated on June 9, 1846.

The way to make money was to form a company to build a railway and then borrow from the government. The directors would retain enough shares for control of the company and sell the remainder to the public. Contracts for the building of the railway would then be awarded to companies in which the railway directors held shares.

It was easy to sell shares to the public because most people believed the railways would make great profits. Instead, most of them went bankrupt and had to be bailed out by various governments.

Even so, the boom continued well into World War I. Two of the most spectacular railway barons were William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, both of whom received knighthoods. Mackenzie was a small town teacher who also kept a store. Mann was supposed to enter the ministry, but instead became a lumber camp foreman and construction boss. He could beat most lumberjacks with one hand tied behind his back.

In 1896, Mackenzie and Mann had a railway about 130 miles long, running between Gladstone, Manitoba, and Lake Winnipegosis. They built the Canadian Northern Railway from Quebec to the Pacific coast. By 1914, they owned 10,000 miles of track, hotels, telegraph companies, a transatlantic steamship service, iron and coal mines, sawmills and fisheries. They did this without investing a cent of their own money, except for their original 130-mile railway costs!

The Canadian Northern eventually went bankrupt and was merged with the Grand Trunk, to form the present Canadian National Railways, the largest in the world. Mackenzie and Mann did not go bankrupt. They made fortunes.


9 June

-1775    Governor Carleton declared martial law due to the American Revolutionary War.

-1790    David Thompson began a survey of the Saskatchewan River to Hudson Bay.

-1829    The first public temperance meeting in Canada was held at Montreal.

-1841    The legislative council held its first meeting at Kingston.

-1846    A bad fire at St. John's, Newfoundland, destroyed 2,000 homes.

-1946    William Lyon Mackenzie King established a record for the longest service as Prime Minister of Canada.