The Winnipeg community of Transcona is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, although at the time of its 1912 incorporation as a town, it wasn’t within the boundaries of the city proper.
The year 1912 was a time of great expansion and population growth in Winnipeg. As the city filled up, people and businesses looked to sites just beyond Winnipeg’s borders to establish new residences and enterprises.
Thanks to the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) railway, it took just a few years for Transcona to become a thriving town.
In 1906, the GTP, which operated the National Transcontinental Railway, surveyed land in the RM of Springfield with the intent of establishing its western repair shops as well as a townsite. The GTP then purchased 800-acres of land from John Henry Kern. Once the GTP confirmed the repair shops would be built, workers flocked to Transcona, which the railway named by combining the first portions of transcontinental and Strathcona. The latter was in honour of Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, who drove the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s transcontinental line in 1885.
In 1909, the GTP announced its repair shops and yards would cost $3 million, a great sum in those days, and a real estate boom got underway in Manitoba’s “New Railway City,” as Transcona was nicknamed. Lots were advertised for sale adjacent to the shop for $2 to $6 per foot of frontage in Springfield Place, a subdivision of the townsite.
H.A.D. Chalmers, a real estate agent based in Winnipeg, said 800 lots had been sold in Transcona, with 200 bought by “GTP men.”
The Lombard Avenue real estate agent offered terms of $5 cash down and $5 per month, interest-free, until the final payment was made.
“To purchasers of five or more $125 lots, I will give a discount of $25 per lot with one-third cash, balance 6, 12, 18 and 24 months. No interest, no taxes,” he announced in a Manitoba Free Press advertisement.
Another advertisement claimed, “Transcona has a future which no other city in Western Canada has. Transcona will have a payroll of $200,000 a month.”
“Building are going up daily,” observed W.J. Christie, a real estate agent.
The Free Press on April 13, 1910, showed a photograph of an 13 automobiles — cars were a novelty at the time —used to transport prospective lot buyers to Transcona. “This is evidence of the interest buyers are taking in the GTP shop townsite,” reported the newspaper.
It was projected at the time that the shops and yards would employ approximately 3,000 men, creating a population of 15,000 people in Transcona, once they were opened. The massive CPR shops and yards within Winnipeg, then employed 3,500 people.
The GTP shops and yards were officially opened on January 18, 1913. The construction cost had doubled from the earlier announced investment to $6 million, and the number of employees expected was increased by 2,000.
The Town of Transcona was incorporated by the provincial government on April 6, 1912. The initial property designated by the GTP soon overflowed, and new subdivisions sprung up on the prairies. As it expanded, the residents came to believe that their community would one day rival Winnipeg in size.
“Rising mushroom-like, almost overnight, the Town of Transcona, located seven miles to the east of the City of Winnipeg, is one of the greatest object lessons of what western perseverance can accomplish,” proclaimed the Winnipeg Telegram on May 3, 1915.
“From little more than a few houses in the middle of a cow pasture at the turn of the (20th) century,” reported the Free Press on June 12, 1935, “the Town of Transcona, which is celebrating its siver jubilee (25th anniversary) ... has doubled and redoubled in size until it is now one of the most active industrial towns in Manitoba.”
In 1918, Canadian National Railway was formed from the GTP, The National Transcontinental Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway, and the shops and yards that started the community are now operated by CN Rail, its modern name.
From June 1 to 3 this year, the highlight of the centennial celebrations will be held in conjunction with the annual Hi Neighbour Festival.
Go to www.transcona100.ca to find out about more centennial events being planned.