by Bruce Cherney (part 4)
A correspondent for the (Emerson, Manitoba) Gateway Express, who was part of the Canadian Press Association tour of Winnipeg in 1882, commented that, despite the “chilling wind and mud,” which he termed as “unequalled in tenacity and quality,” he couldn’t “avoid enthusiasm in writing about Manitoba’s bright metropolis.
“As one traverses its broad avenues, sees its fine churches, its numerous hotels, its well-filled stores, its substantial schools, its thousands of homes, some elegant, all comfortable, there is verily room for unbounded enthusiasm, and if this is its infancy what will Winnipeg be in its prime.”
When the party toured Winnipeg, they also saw new sewage works under construction, the city’s newest public buildings, and the entire fire department drawn out in “dress parade” close to the CPR depot.
“The men looked every inch fire fighters, and their apparatus was in excellent shape,” reported the Gateway Express correspondent.
As the carriages approached the station, the Winnipeg Brass Band broke into “martial” tunes.
With the fire fighters lined up and the band providing accompanying music, the 130 press association members — their number had swelled with the addition of local representatives of the fourth estate — “with their lady friends and other guests,” boarded the special train made available to them by the CPR, which departed at 3 o’clock on August 28. According to the September 1 Free Press, the train was made up of two Pullman cars — noted for their luxury and comfort — a sleeping coach, and a first-class passenger coach.
During the hubbub created by the band’s music and hurried process of boarding, five wives were left behind when the train pulled away from the station. “It was very sad, but their husbands did not, I regret to state, appear just as mournful as might have been expected,” wrote the reporter from Emerson.
To explain the progress being made along the route to their final destination of “End of Track,” the press association members were accompanied by John Egan, the general superintendent of the CPR’s Western Division, William Harder, CPR assistant traffic manager, and CPR commissariat R.B. Harstone, all of whom were based in Winnipeg. Harstone was responsible for organizing the food supplies for an army of rail workers, as well as for the guests on the excursion.
“The first stop was made at Portage la Prairie,” reported the Free Press, “nothing eventual having occurred during the interval.” At Portage, the party had supper at the Grand Pacific Hotel before reboarding the west-bound train.
Portage was the first major community to be reached by the CPR west of Winnipeg. By June 1880, the grading and rails to Portage had been completed and regular train service was underway by August of that year. It should be noted that the approximately 98-kilometre rail journey took five hours and 40 minutes, as trains during this period regularly travelled at a speed of only a little more than an average of 16 km/h — the speed
varied up or down depending upon curves, grade and the load being pulled — but it was significantly faster than taking a steamboat down the Assiniboine River from Winnipeg to the community.
After Portage, the press group “commenced the night journey westward to Broadview (428 kilometres from Winnipeg in what is now Saskatchewan), a short stoppage only being made at Brandon ...”
Rail service to Broadview had commenced on June 11, 1882.
David Creighton, an Ontario newspaperman on the tour, had noted that from Brandon to Broadview “hardly a building was visible from the train, the only sign of life being the occasional white tent which showed where an enterprising pioneer was going to make his home on the prairie” (A History of Canadian Journalism, edited by the members of the Canadian Press Association, 1908).
“On Tuesday morning the travellers awoke to find that the name given to the point at which the train service now terminates (Broadview) was not without justification,” reported the Free Press. “The view was certainly broad enough, and very attractive. Southward, the prairie line is broken by the Weed Hills, while away to the north the rolling upland is as far as the eye could reach.”
It was near the townsite of Troy that the group encountered a detachment of North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) led by Major James “Bob” Walsh, who in 1876 had become involved with Sitting Bull and the Sioux who had fled north into Canada to escape the wrath of the U.S. Cavalry following the slaying of Col. George Armstrong Custer and the troopers he led during the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
“A detachment of this fine body of (NWMP) men, prepared for duty and galloping over the prairie is certainly an attractive site,” reported the Free Press on September 1. “The spot on which this detachment was encamped was named Camp Egan, in honor of the genial superintendent.”
At Troy (renamed Qu’Appelle in 1884), Walsh joined the excursion to End of Track.
The Free Press article commented that there was much speculation among the excursionists about what Pile of Bones would be like as they travelled westward from Troy. Actually, Pile of Bones, or Pile o’ Bones, which was named after the abundance of buffalo bones strewn about the site, had already been renamed Regina in honour of Queen Victoria (Victoria Regina), and was designated as the new capital of the North West Territories (Saskatchewan and Alberta didn’t become provinces until 1905).
On Tuesday, August 29, the press train pulled into the station siding at Regina. They were the first group on a passenger train to visit the community. Regular rail service didn’t get underway until October 1, although the first train to the community arrived on August 23, 1882.
At the time of the Canadian Press Association’s visit, the future townsite was little more than a collection of tents, sidings and flat cars.
“The impression made by Regina upon the minds of the excursionists was indicated by two questions which they often asked of each other, but to which they failed to elicit a satisfactory answer. First, why should this particular spot be chosen for the Government headquarters? And next, why should it be given that peculiar name?”
The press association members were far from impressed by Regina. “There is not a tree or bush in sight, nor within some ten miles of the place.”
The small and sluggish Pile of Bones Creek (now Wascana Creek), running through the site, was described by the newspaper as “scarcely sufficient in quantity to supply a locomotive.” Since all trains of the era were powered by steam, it was absolutely essential for water to be supplied to fill boilers at regular intervals along rail tracks.
Creighton said the future capital of Saskatchewan was only “marked by a half a dozen tents and not a single building.”
In fact, Regina “possessed few natural resources as a townsite, situated as it was on a vast treeless plain ...” (Regina Before Yesterday: A Visual History 1882 to 1945, edited by J. William Brennan).
Regina replaced Battleford as the North West Territories’ capital (the region at the time comprised a slice of northern Manitoba and all of what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as an extensive area above the 60th parallel — the spelling for the region in Canada’s north is now Northwest Territories), since the path of the tracks was moved southward and the more northern community was no longer on the main line. The site of the new capital was selected by Edgar Dewdney, the lieutenant-governor and Indian commissioner of the North West Territories, who happened to be part of a syndicate with land interests in the area. Dewdney selected the site knowing that the CPR would not be laying tracks to the more wooded and well-watered community of Fort Qu’Appelle northeast of Regina. The CPR decided the tracks should be laid south of the Qu’Appelle Valley because of the higher costs associated with traversing and bridging the terrain.
Another motive was the CPR policy of avoiding established communities in order to thwart land speculators and to ensure the railway profited from land sales. Even when the cash-strapped CPR sold five-million acres of its extensive land grant of 25-million acres to the Canada North-West Land Company, a combination of British and Canadian investors, for $13.5 million, a condition of the sale was that the CPR would receive half of the net profits when townsites were sold.
(Next week: part 5)