Canadian Pacific Railway opens main line

On today’s date in 1887, the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) 4,700-kilometre main line opened to public traffic about 18 months after the last spike was driven in at Craigellachie, B.C. CPR trains had been running across Canada for a year, but passengers were now able to ride directly to the Vancouver coastline.

In 2005, the CPR was featured on the Royal Canadian Mint’s $8 Silver coin set, marking the 120th anniversary of the historic railway. The CPR will also be featured on the Mint’s annual $15 Fine silver coin — the eighth in the series, dubbed Building the Canadian Pacific Railway — later this year.

The reverse design, by Canadian artist John Mantha, pays tribute to the 30,000 workers who helped complete the transcontinental railway project with a scene embodying the arduous nature of laying railroad tracks through the mountains. Two navigators are driving a spike while another worker hauls gravel to fill the gaps between railway ties. The coin commemorates one of the monumental achievements of post-Confederation Canada – the construction of a trans-continental railway.

From 1899-1913, the CPR increased its trackage from about 11,000 kilometres to nearly 18,000 kilometres. With more than half of the new track in the Prairie provinces, it was intended to provide branch lines into areas of need and to ensure the CPR remained competitive with the developing trans-continental lines of the Canadian Northern Railway and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

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