Canadian Railroad Trilogy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"Canadian Railroad Trilogy"
Single by Gordon Lightfoot
from the album The Way I Feel
B-side"It's My Time"
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 a story song that was written, composed, and first performed in 1966 by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, who released his original recording of it in 1967. The song was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to celebrate the Canadian Centennial in 1967. "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" describes the building of the trans-Canada Canadian Pacific Railway, the construction work on which was completed in 1886. The CPR was incorporated 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. Writing and composing it took him three days.[1] It appeared on Lightfoot's album The Way I Feel 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 Bob Gibson's and Hamilton 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 these: Gordon Lightfoot on 12-string acoustic guitar, Red Shea on lead acoustic guitar, John Stockfish on Fender bass guitar, and Charlie McCoy on harmonica.


Lightfoot re-recorded the track on his 1975 compilation album, Gord's Gold, this time with full orchestration that Lee Holdridge arranged. 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, author of The Last Spike, once said "You did more good with your damn song than I did with my entire book on the same subject."[5][6] In an interview with The Telegraph, Lightfoot indicated that upon meeting Queen Elizabeth II, she had told him how much she enjoyed the song.[7]

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 (#3Can[8]), among others.[9] 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.[10]

"Canadian Railroad Trilogy" has become one of Lightfoot's signature songs, and for years, he has concluded many though not all of his concerts by performing it.[citation needed]

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.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Gordon Lightfoot Influences".
  4. ^ "Gordon Lightfoot - Canadian Railroad Trilogy (Lyrics )". Archived from the original on 2021-12-21 – via
  5. ^ Walker, Morley (2017-09-30). "Sep 2017: Gordon Lightfoot's highs and lows chronicled in thorough new bio". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 2021-05-08.
  6. ^ Jennings, Nicholas (2017). Lightfoot. [Toronto]. ISBN 978-0-7352-3255-6. OCLC 967788148.
  7. ^ Chilton, Martin (2016-01-21). "Gordon Lightfoot: The Queen likes my Canadian Railroad Trilogy song". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
  8. ^ "RPM Top 40 Country Singles - August 3, 1968" (PDF).
  9. ^ "canadian railroad trilogy john mellencamp - YouTube".
  10. ^ "CI2 - Canadian Railroad Trilogy". April 17, 2008. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21 – via YouTube.

External links[edit]