23 December

Arrival of Canadian Northern Railway at Dauphin, Man., Creates Problems and Prosperity

The railway building of Mackenzie and Mann has already been mentioned (see June 9). On December 23, 1896, their Canadian Northern Railway reached Dauphin, Manitoba.

The story of Dauphin is a good example of what a railway could do for progress. In September, 1896, Dauphin was a wheatfield. When it was announced that the Canadian Northern Railway would go through there, surveyors waited until the crop was harvested and then laid out the town site. Lots were offered for sale in October, and seventy buildings had been put up by the end of the year. Two years later the town had four hotels, a church, school, and a number of businesses. The population jumped from 2,500 to 12,000.

There were still not enough people to harvest the crops. One prairie farmer could seed half a section single-handed but ten more workers were needed to bring in the harvest. There was little help to be had from the Prairies themselves because every farmer was fully occupied with his own problems. Speed was essential if the grain was to be cut, stooked, threshed and taken to railway shipping points before it was spoiled by rain, frost. and snow.

The problem was almost a national emergency. It was solved by running big advertisements in British Columbian and eastern newspapers urging able-bodied men to travel to prairie centres on special excursion trains provided by the Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk Railways. The pay was $1.50 a day!

The first year of the harvest excursions was 1891, and 5,000 men answered the call. By 1929, the last year of the boom, as many as 75,000 workers were making the annual trip to harvest the wheatfields. The pay had risen to the highest in the land, $5 a day on the average, although it went as high as $8 in some localities. But men worked hard for their money, pitching stooks on wagons for 16 hours a day.

The harvest excursions were a feature of Canadian life until the stock market crash of 1929 (see October 29) led to the depression. By the time the depression had ended, giant combines had been invented. They threshed as they reaped, and manpower was no longer necessary. The colourful harvest excursions are now only memories.


23 December

-1855    The Grand Trunk Railway was completed from Lévis to St. 'Thomas, Quebec.

-1869    The Western extension of the European and North American Railroad opened from Fairville (Saint John), New Brunswick, to St. Croix on the American border.

-1871    The Quebec Legislature revised municipal laws and established a code.

-1872    Amor de Cosmos (lover of the world) became Premier of British Columbia (see February 7).

-1963    The Federal Government approved, in principle, the establishment in Ottawa of a National Centre for the Performing Arts, and of an annual National Festival.

-1964    Seven Christian Churches of Canada—Roman Catholic, United Church of Canada, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, and Lutheran— signed an undertaking to share a pavilion at Expo '67. The $3,500,000 building was to be financed by industry and business.