Tracks, tunnels and trestles: an environmental history of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway




Longworth, Heather A.

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The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was not a conquest of man over nature as some historians have suggested and the driving of the last spike did not cement that victory. By studying the CPR from an environmental perspective, it becomes obvious that the relationship between the people and the environment in the mountains was two-fold: workers had an effect on the environment through fires, deforestation, excavation, and blasting, and the environment likewise had an effect on workers through the hardships of weather, challenging terrain, avalanches, and floods. Shortcuts, such as steep grades and wooden bridges, taken by the CPR throughout construction to save money and time, as well as the poor route choice, had unintended consequences for the operation of the railway. Massive deforestation and fires had repercussions for the watershed of the eastern Rocky Mountains and the choice of Rogers Pass meant that the CPR had to deal with numerous avalanches and deep snow. Steep grades and lines that were easily flooded or open to avalanches resulted in the deaths of numerous workers and expensive repairs to engines and the track. The construction of the CPR also had a notable impact on western Canada as it opened up the land to tourism, settlement, agriculture, and the lumber and mining industries. In building and operating the line, the CPR had to learn to adapt to the environment in order to carry out repairs quickly and get trains through.



Canadian Pacific Railway, Railways and environment, Construction of railways, Surveying, Railways and Indigenous people, Deforestation, Railways and labour, Spiral Tunnels, Connaught Tunnel