This Week in History


From The Pas To The Bay

For the week of Monday March 29, 2004

On March 29, 1929, the steel rails of the Hudson Bay Railway reached Port Churchill, the northernmost terminal of the line. The railroad is unique as Canada's only line built primarily to carry exports from south to north.

"Pioneer Cart" laying tracks at Mile 510 of the Hudson Bay Railway
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-147455
The construction of the Hudson Bay Railway was suggested in 1880 to provide a direct route from the wheat lands of western Canada to the world market in England. Unfortunately, the Hudson Bay Railway faced difficulties with a lack of initial support from the government and from terrain problems. On April 16, 1880, charters were granted to two railway companies to begin construction of the line. Each company sought and gained financial support through land grants, loan guarantees and subsidies. But, after numerous failed attempts at construction, the two companies merged to form the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR).

Under the influence of Manitoba protests and the rising wheat production and prices, the federal government began to support the line to Hudson Bay. In 1905, Parliament passed a bill extending CNR's contract. The date of completion was set for July 20, 1910. Port Nelson was selected as the northern terminus and the government contributed 30 million acres of crown land for settlement. Construction began slowly and by the end of 1913, workers had only laid 177 kilometres of track.

Train arriving at Churchill station in Manitoba
© Parks Canada / J. Hucker / 1992
Declaring the need to economize labour and money for the war effort, the government shut down construction in December 1917. The railway was at Kettle Rapids, mile 333. In 1919, Canadian National took over the uncompleted railway and changed the northern terminus from Port Nelson to Churchill in 1926. Churchill offered lower costs than Port Nelson and the railway could be finished three years sooner. The last spike was placed into the rail in April 1929 with the last 100 kilometres of track being laid directly on frozen ground! The total length of the track was 820 kilometres from The Pas to Churchill.

In September 1931, the Hudson Bay Railway was declared officially open and two vessels carried out 14,825 tonnes of wheat - the first commercial cargo to reach England by the Hudson Bay Railway - fifty years after planning began!

As a major political and engineering achievement in North America, the construction of the Hudson Bay Railway was designated a National Historic Event. Also, for its role as the northern terminus of the line, the Churchill Railway Station was designated a Heritage Railway Station.

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