This Week in History
The West is big, but this is Biggar
For the week of Monday October 23, 2006
On October 24, 1903, Charles Melville Hays was granted the charter to build the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR). Appointed as general manager of the Grand Trunk in 1896 after having proven his talent in the American railroad business, Hays’ purpose was to build a new western line to compete with the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The GTPR was combined with the National Transcontinental Railway that was built by the Government of Canada between Moncton, New Brunswick, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. The GTPR’s portion, from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, was built using federal bond guarantees that led Hays to choose the highest railway standards at an extravagant cost. From the beginning of construction in 1905, the GTPR accumulated an enormous debt, but Hays was still confident that the benefits of economic trade would soon repay the bonds.
The GTPR venture, unfortunately, was not successful. The traffic did not appear in as great numbers as anticipated and Hays did not beat the competition. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 coincided with the GTPR’s opening to traffic, accelerating its’ decline. It was subsequently nationalized in 1919 and became a small part of the Canadian National Railway. The Biggar Railway Station was designated a Heritage Railway Station in 1995. Thanks to Hays’ high standards of construction, the GTPR’s route, now part of the CN, grew to become a very advantageous route adapted to carry trade between Canada and Asia.
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