All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Social/Economic Impact

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Social Impact and Economic Growth

From the very beginning, it was anticipated that the railway would transform Newfoundland. The push to modernize was behind much of the late 19th century railway construction, railway politics, and railway financing. Newfoundland had to be "ready" for the 20th century or it would be left behind the rest of the Empire and its North American neighbours.

The railway was intended to make Newfoundland more competitive globally. It was necessary that the "Oldest Colony" be able to compete in the modern world, and it was seen as central to economic development. Development of a mixed economy of land-based resource extraction and manufacturing would replace the almost sole reliance on the cod fishery.

Financial efforts to maintain the fledgling line helped push Newfoundland's public debt from $4.1 million to $17.3 million in 1898. However, the millions that were spent on building the railway - supplies and labour, found their way into the economy that until then had been based largely on barter.

Over the years, the Railway proved a tremendous advantage, and increased growth of communities at the Island's major bays. Important Railway centres were Clarenville, Lewisporte, Bishop's Falls and Humbermouth. Refrigerated car service enabled the shipping of frozen fish, vegetables and other foodstuffs throughout the island. The railway and coastal services were essential in developing Newfoundland's large fishing, forest, mining and hydro-electric industries. The vital nature of those services was proven when the 1948 strike interrupted all mail, commercial, and industrial activities. By 1949, the railway and coastal services themselves were a major industry, with over 2,500 employees.

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Advertisement poster for the S.S. Caribou.
Named to commemorate the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the S.S. Caribou was a source of national pride. It demonstrated the commitment of the Newfoundland Government to provide first-class Railway and Coastal Boat Services. C.N. Pensioners Association.
The S.S. Bruce in Port aux Basques.
The S.S. Bruce commenced ferry service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Port aux Basques in 1887, contributing to increasing tourism in Newfoundland. A.R. Penney Collection.
During the construction of the Pulp and Paper Mill in Corner Brook, c. 1923.
The construction of the railway line led to the start-up of important industries such as the pulp and paper mill in Corner Brook and Grand Falls. Corner Brook Museum and Archives.