New railway preserves sovereignty

On this date in 1898, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) bought the Columbia and Western Railway, a narrow gauge railway that ran through southern B.C. and helped preserve Canadian sovereignty.

The CPR was featured on the Royal Canadian Mint’s (RCM) $8 2005 Silver coin set, marking the 120th anniversary of the historic railway. The CPR will also be featured in the RCM’s annual $15 Fine silver coin series — the eighth coin 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.

After Brooklynite F. Augustus Heinze sold the Columbia and Western Railway on Feb. 11, 1898, the CPR merged it with its Kettle Valley Railway (KVR), which was being built to compete with the U.S. Northern Pacific Railroad (NPR).

After silver was discovered in the southern B.C. region in the late-1800s, thousands of Americans rushed in, all but taking control of the area. The U.S. miners used the faster and more-affordable NPR, which transited through Spokane, to move to-and-from the area more quickly and for less money than Canadians could ever hope — without a railway of their own, that is. Eventually, without quick and easy access for Canadians, southern B.C. essentially became a commercial extension of the U.S.

Canadian officials agreed a second railroad was required to help maintain Canadian sovereignty and keep mining revenues within Canada.

As demonstrated in the RCM coin, the KVR portion of the CPR was one piece of a monumental project. Taking nearly two decades to complete with costs soaring above $20 million, labourers had to work through two mountain ranges to complete the trans-continental railway that eventually united Canada.

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