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Red River: Trails to Rails

Railways replace wagon routes

More on the Red River:
Red River:
The Passageway to the prairies

Bison Hunters:
How the Métis dominated the bison hunt

Red River Colony:
A brave experiment in westward expansion

Dig at the Forks:
Unearthing Winnipeg's Human Heritage

Duff's Ditch:
A Drain for the flood plain

First Farmers:
Aboriginal people pioneered grain growing

Fish Tales:
Chasing catfish to track the river's health

Just Plains Folks:
Winnipeg welcomes the world

Trails to Rails:
Railways replace wagon routes

Prairie Sea:
The Great Flood of 1950

Economic exchanges among First Nations

Louis Riel leads the Red River Rebellion

Wagons West:
Red River carts tracked the grasslands

Before the creation of Canada in 1867, riverboats and trains of creaking, ox-drawn Red River carts hauled freight between the United States and Winnipeg. Trade was developing from South to North, and many Americans were settling on Canadian territory.

It seemed likely that American trade and immigration would lead inevitably to the absorption of the Canadian West into the aggressively-expanding United States. To save the West from the threat of American takeover, the Canadian government promoted the laying of a railway from sea to sea.

Through grants of land and money, the government encouraged the privately-owned Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) company to lay track across the Prairie and over the Rocky Mountains to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

The tracks arrived in Winnipeg in 1879. Then, still a rough frontier town, Winnipeg became the transportation gateway to the West.

To create customers for its new railway, the Canadian Pacific promoted immigration from Europe and eastern Canada to the West. People and the goods they needed would be carried westward. Agricultural products and livestock would be freighted east, back to the markets of Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

The government in Ottawa promised the CPR a monopoly in the West and a guarantee that fares and freight rates would stay high. For many Westerners, the CPR became a symbol for exploitation of the West by eastern business and political powers.

In defiance of the national government and the CPR, the young government of Manitoba authorized construction of a competing railway, the Northern Pacific and Manitoba. This railway was taken over by the Canadian Northern which made downtown Winnipeg its main terminal.

The bankruptcy of several of the CPR's competitors in 1923 resulted in the federal government creating Canadian National Railways. The CNR was the first strong, national competitor to the CPR and this increased the importance of downtown Winnipeg as the railway hub of the West.


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