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Grand Trunk Pacific Railway

Constructed between 1905 and 1914, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway served as a western extension to the Grand Trunk Railway that operated in Quebec, Ontario, and the northeastern United States. The 4,800-km rail line stretched from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, via Melville and Edmonton, and provided Canada with an alternative transcontinental route to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was incorporated in 1903 as a subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway. Both the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway had extensive networks of branch and feeder lines across the Prairies. In order to compete with these companies and provide much-needed rail service to the west, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway spanned the prairies and crossed British Columbia to reach the Pacific Coast. The main branch passed through southern Saskatchewan following a northwesterly course, with Melville and Biggar its two main divisional points. The railway entered Saskatchewan from Manitoba just southeast of Spy Hill, and progressed through Melville, Watrous, Biggar, and on to Edmonton. At Melville, branch lines went north to Canora, southwest to Regina, and further south through Weyburn to the Saskatchewan-United States border. An additional branch continued west from Regina through Moose Jaw. Branch lines also broke away from the main line at Young, going north to Prince Albert, and at Biggar, where additional lines went south to Calgary and north to Battleford.

By 1920 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway had extensive operations in Saskatchewan, with 97 depots, 138 loading platforms, 23 warehouses, and 50 stockyards. When completed on April 9, 1914, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway had more than 1,800 km of track in Saskatchewan. Several Saskatchewan communities along the main line bear the names of Grand Trunk Pacific Railway executives: Biggar is named for the Railway's general counsel William H. Biggar; Melville for president Sir Charles Melville Hays; and Watrous for vice-president and general manager Frank Watrous Morse. An unexpected drop in western Canadian rail traffic - owing to a worldwide economic depression and a slowdown in western Canadian immigration during World War I - and high construction costs ultimately led to the demise of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. With its parent, the Grand Trunk Railway, it eventually went bankrupt and in 1919 the federal government nationalized the troubled company. By 1923, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the Grand Trunk Railway, and the National Transcontinental merged with the Canadian Northern Railway to form the new Canadian National Railway.

Iain Stewart

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Further Reading

Mika, N. and H. Mika. 1972. Railways of Canada: A Pictorial History. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson; Talbot, F.A. 1912. The Making of a Great Canadian Railway: The Story of the Search for and Discovery of the Route. London: Seeley, Service & Co.
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University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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