Canadian National Railway

Canadian National Railway (CNR), incorporated on June 6, 1919, took form through a series of mergers between 1917 and 1923, uniting several older and financially troubled railways, many of which had been built between 1850 and 1880. In 1918 the federal government combined the operations of the government-owned Canadian Government Railways and the privately owned Canadian Northern Railway, bringing CNR into existence. CNR then took control of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1919, and of its parent company, the Grand Trunk Railway (eastern Canada's largest and oldest railway company), in 1923. Out of these amalgamations emerged Canada's most extensive railway system, with over 35,000 km of track linking the country from coast to coast and with the United States. As one of Canada's first Crown corporations, the CNR experienced significant growth in the late 1920s, especially on the prairies. Through the vision of its new president, Sir Henry Thornton, CNR expanded its reach in the prairie west in hopes of populating the uninhabited lands along many of its lines, increasing its passenger and freight traffic, and tapping further into the region's forest, fish, mineral, and agricultural resources.

Between 1927 and 1930, CNR constructed more branch lines in Saskatchewan than in any other Canadian province, accumulating a total of 6,730 km of track. CNR also operated 575 stations and shelters, 1,551 elevators, 653 loading platforms, and 437 stock yards in the province. CNR Immigration and Colonization Department offices in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Edmonton recruited thousands of settlers to the west. In Saskatchewan, the districts of Prince Albert, Kelvington, Henribourg, and St. Walburg (all located in the parkland region) were direct targets of CNR's settlement policy and branch line expansion. In the latter half of the 20th century, the face of CNR began to change: many prairie branch lines closed after 1945; the passenger service was terminated in 1978; and in 1995 CNR was privatized after more than seventy-five years as a government-owned railway. Now called Canadian National (CN), the corporation has as its focus in western Canada the bulk transport of coal, potash, sulfur, grain, and forest products; its holdings include marine operations, hotels, telecommunications, and resource industries.

Iain Stewart

Further Reading

Landry, N. 1990. “The CNR and Western Settlement, 1925-1930,” The Archivist 17 (3): 14-16; MacKay, D. 1992. The People's Railway: A History of Canadian National Railway. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.