Canadian Railroad Trilogy

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"Canadian Railroad Trilogy"
Single by Gordon Lightfoot
from the album The Way I Feel
Recorded1966 (rerecorded 1975)
Length6:22 (rerecorded 7:04)
LabelUnited Artists
Songwriter(s)Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot singles chronology
"The Way I Feel"
"Canadian Railroad Trilogy"
"Black Day in July"

"Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is 1966 song Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot that was first released in 1967. The song was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to celebrate the Canadian Centennial. "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" describes the building of the trans-Canada Canadian Pacific Railway which was completed in 1881.


This song was commissioned from Lightfoot by the CBC for a special broadcast on January 1, 1967, to start Canada's Centennial year. It took him three days to write the work.[1] It appeared on Lightfoot's The Way I Feel album later in the same year along with the song "Crossroads," a shorter song of similar theme.[2] The structure of the song, with a slow tempo section in the middle and faster paced sections at the beginning and end, was patterned more or less opposite to Gibson's and Camp's "Civil War Trilogy," famously recorded by The Limeliters on the 1963 live album Our Men In San Francisco. In the first section, the song picks up speed like a locomotive building up a head of steam.[3]

While Lightfoot's song echoes the optimism of the railroad age, it also chronicles the cost in sweat and blood of building "an iron road runnin' from the sea to the sea." The slow middle section of the song is especially poignant, vividly describing the efforts and sorrows of the nameless and forgotten "navvies," whose manual labour actually built the railway.

Session personnel for the 1967 recording were: Gordon Lightfoot (12-string), Red Shea (Lead acoustic guitar), John Stockfish (Fender Bass), and Charlie McCoy (Harmonica).


Lightfoot re-recorded the track on his 1975 compilation album, Gord's Gold, with full orchestration (arranged by Lee Holdridge). A live version also appears on two of his live albums, first on his 1969 album Sunday Concert and again on the 2012 release All Live, which consists of songs recorded during the live concerts Lightfoot gave at Toronto's Massey Hall between 1998 and 2001.[4]

According to Lightfoot, Pierre Berton said to him, "You know, Gord, you said as much in that song as I said in my book." Berton was referring to his two bestselling books about the building of the railway across Canada, The National Dream and The Last Spike.[3] In an interview with The Telegraph, Lightfoot indicated that upon meeting Queen Elizabeth, she had told how him much she enjoyed the song.[5]

In 2001, Gordon Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was honoured as one of the Canadian MasterWorks by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada.

The song has been covered by John Mellencamp and George Hamilton IV, among others.[6] James Keelaghan performed the song on the Lightfoot tribute album, Beautiful. In the summer of 2004, the song was performed by that year's Canadian Idol Top 6.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Centennial to Canada 150". Rewind with Michael Enright. CBC Radio. December 29, 2016. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-28. Retrieved 2014-04-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b "Gordon Lightfoot Influences".
  4. ^ "Gordon Lightfoot - Canadian Railroad Trilogy (Lyrics )" – via
  5. ^ Chilton, Martin (2016-01-21). "Gordon Lightfoot: The Queen likes my Canadian Railroad Trilogy song". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
  6. ^ "canadian railroad trilogy john mellencamp - YouTube".
  7. ^ "CI2 - Canadian Railroad Trilogy". April 17, 2008 – via YouTube.

External links[edit]