Grand Trunk Pacific Railway

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Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
Grand Trunk Pacific Railway herald.jpg
1910 GTP.jpg
Reporting mark GTP
Locale Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia
Dates of operation 1914–1920
Successor Canadian National Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
The Last Spike: Fort Fraser, BC, 1914

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (reporting mark GTP) was a historical Canadian transcontinental railway running from Winnipeg to the Pacific coast at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. East of Winnipeg the line continued as the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR), running across northern Ontario and Quebec, crossing the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City and ending at Moncton, New Brunswick. The entire line was managed and operated by Grand Trunk Railway (GTR).

The GTP was the result of the Government of Canada's desire for a northerly transcontinental route in order to open up new areas of the prairies that were becoming economically valuable with the introduction of new species of cereal grains. The CPR and CNoR both ran southern routes along the Canada–US border in order to serve existing markets as well as US shipping. GTR had been approached on several occasions to build the original "Canadian Pacific Survey" route through Yellowhead Pass, but declined because they felt the traffic would be too low. Increased pressure from the Wilfrid Laurier administration led to the company agreeing to build only the western section, funded entirely by government loans, while the eastern sections would be left to the government to build as the NTR.

Construction began in 1905 and was completed by 1913. By 1914 it was clear there was not enough traffic to pay for the line, and in a war measure the section between Edmonton and Jasper was leased from the CNoR, and the GTP's rails through this section were lifted and sent to France to construct new railways there. In 1918, CNoR failed and was nationalized as the Canadian National Railways, and the GTP followed suit in 1920. A number of GTP subdivisions remain in use as part of the CN mainlines, while others have been abandoned and lifted starting in the 1980s.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the GTR planned a second Canadian transcontinental rail route with a terminal on the Pacific that would be nearer to Asia than Vancouver. It would follow one of the routes surveyed by Sandford Fleming from Winnipeg to Port Simpson at the end of the Portland Canal which formed part of the boundary between British Columbia and Alaska. In 1903 there was resentment in Canada over the Alaska boundary decision which favoured US interests after a British commissioner sided with them. As a result of the clamour in Canada, US President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to send an occupation force to nearby territory. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier considered a new location at Prince Rupert would be more easily defended and decided to build the terminal there rather than at Port Simpson.[1]

Turning of the first sod for the construction of the GTPR, took place at an official ceremony, September 11, 1905, at Fort William, Ontario, by Prime Minister Laurier. From there a 190-mile section of track was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Construction Company, connecting with the NTR, near Sioux Lookout.

From the onset of construction, the GTPR had a variety of socio-economic issues. The GTPR never met the economic expectations set forth by the Grand Trunk Railway. The GTPR also caused the displacement and socio-economic destruction of the native communities in the surrounding area, as many aboriginal communities had differing social and economic views to that of the rail company.[2]

Construction began on the Canadian Prairies in 1905, the year that the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were established. Construction proceeded west to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1907, Edmonton, Alberta in 1909, and through Jasper, Alberta into Yellowhead Pass crossing the Continental Divide in 1910-1911. The last spike ceremony heralding completion of the rail line across the prairies, and through the Rocky Mountains to the newly constructed seaport at Prince Rupert, British Columbia was held one mile east of Fort Fraser, British Columbia on April 7, 1914.

In 1910, the company also built a dock in Seattle, the Grand Trunk Pacific dock, which was the largest dock on the west coast at the time it was built. On July 30, 1914, the dock was destroyed by fire.


The GTPR did not immediately realize the traffic potential GTR and the federal government had hoped. CPR occupied the more populous southern route in the prairies through Regina, Saskatchewan and Calgary, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia and was using land grants provided by the federal government as well as government incentives to draw immigrants and businesses to settle along its route. GTR did not have a coordinated marketing plan, and efforts at settlement were disrupted by the First World War. GTR rejected operating the NTR for cost reasons, forcing the federal government to assume that operation into Canadian Government Railways.

Grand Trunk Pacific boxcars and gondola in Lovett, Alberta. About 1915.

By 1919 it was obvious that the GTPR was not paying its way. The financial strain broke on March 7 when GTR defaulted on repayment of construction loans to the federal government, whereby the GTPR was nationalized and taken over by a Board of Management operating under the Department of Railways and Canals while legalities were resolved. On July 12, 1920 the GTPR was placed under the management of Crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR) and in 1923 was completely absorbed into the CNR.

The chateau-style hotels of the early 20th century remain iconic Canadian symbols. While the CPR quite rightly receives credit for many of the early hotels of this genre such as The Banff Springs Hotel, The Empress (hotel) in Victoria, The Royal York in Toronto, Hotel Vancouver, Quebec City's Chateau Frontenac and Chateau Lake Louise in The Rockies, it was the GTPR that built Ottawa's Chateau Laurier, The Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, and The Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton. After the nationalization, this tradition continued with construction of The Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon. The GTPR chateau-style hotels remain among the most impressive of these structures in the country.

GTP flat-bottomed sternwheelers[edit]

Five Foley, Welch and Stewart sternwheelers went up and down the Skeena River to deliver wood for the rail construction. When the railway was completed these ships were no longer needed.

  • Omineca (1909 to 1914) A fact is that the Caledonia 2's machinery was transferred to this boat in 1908. By 1914, the boat was back on the ways at Dodge Cove in Prince Rupert
  • Conveyor (1909 to 1914)
  • Distributor (1909 to 1914)
  • Operator (1909 to 1914)
  • Skeena (1909 to 1914)

Steamships that were in service for the Grand Trunk Pacific[edit]

These ships served the coast with GTP until CN (Canadian National) took possession of them in 1925.

Current status[edit]

GTPR's oban interlocking tower

Today, the majority of the GTPR is still in use as CN's (name change to Canadian National or acronym CN in 1960) main line from Winnipeg to Jasper. West of Jasper, CN's main line swings south on the former Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) to Vancouver, however the GTPR line to Prince Rupert forms an important CN secondary main line. The GTPR's high construction standards and the fact Yellowhead Pass has the lowest elevation of any railway crossing of the Continental Divide in North America gives the CN a competitive advantage in terms of fuel efficiency and the ability to haul tonnage.

Prince Rupert, after a century languishing far behind Vancouver, became an important port in the early 2000s. Congestion at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, the busiest container ports in North America and the primary gateways for East Asian imports to enter the United States, led many shippers to seek out alternate routes to get goods to major inland US distribution hubs such as Chicago and Memphis. CN determined that Prince Rupert—with its deep natural harbour, close proximity to the great circle route from East Asia to North America, and fast connection to Chicago along the former GTPR—would be an ideal terminal for high-value containerized freight. CN opened a highly automated container terminal at Prince Rupert in 2003, marketing it to shippers with the promise that a container could go from shipboard to Chicago in 72 hours. By 2011, the terminal moved over one million twenty-foot equivalent units per year. The acquisition by CN of the former Illinois Central and Elgin, Joliet and Eastern railroads will enable cargo to bypass the congested railway switching system in Chicago proper and reach Memphis and New Orleans within 96 hours of a ship docking at Prince Rupert.

The Johnston Terminal at The Forks in Winnipeg was originally a cold storage facility for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.[3] Tiles inset into the floors of the building carry the railway's name.


  1. ^ Hayes, Derek (1999), Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver: Cavendish Books, p. 190, ISBN 1-55289-900-4 
  3. ^ The Forks: Johnston Terminal. Accessed January 25, 2009.

See also[edit]