All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Social/Economic Impact

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Nation Building

The construction and operation of a trans-insular railway was seen as an exercise in nation building. Having rejected Confederation with Canada in 1869, many Newfoundlanders saw the construction of a railway as a necessary next step. Railway construction crews were crucial in spreading family connections from east to west. The railway in conjunction with the coastal steamer service helped to foster nationhood among Newfoundlanders, and they were vital in connecting the colonial government to the west coast and the interior.

The Railway was largely responsible for the settlements of the island's west coast - the Humber Valley, Bay of Islands, Bay St. George and the Codroy Valley. It opened up new markets for the farmers of the Codroy, an agricultural jewel of the island for many years. Corner Brook, Channel-Port aux Basques and St. Georges became major population centres of the West Coast based in large part on their railway connections and coastal boat services to the rest of the island.

The railway created a new region - the central interior. Inland towns such as Whitbourne, Grand Falls, and Bishop's Falls were not the only creations of the railway; head-of-bay rail and coastal steamer terminals rose to prominence. Modern-day "regional service centres" such as Clarenville and Lewisporte began life as railway centres.

Lewisporte Railway and Coastal Boat Wharf.
Lewisporte Railway & Coastal Boat Wharf. The Railway and Coastal Boat Services were crucial elements in developing regional service centres, such as Lewisporte, in the major bays. This prompted much centralization of Newfoundland's population to larger towns. Fred Chancey Collection.
Ship arriving in Brigus 1930s.
The arrival of the steamer at Brigus, c. 1930. Trains and coastal boats were the only connection to the outside world for the many isolated communities dotting the Island. Dr. Nigel Rusted.
Special train leaving mill construction site in Corner Brook, July 1924.
Special train leaving mill construction site at Corner Brook for the power plant construction site in Deer Lake. The train is carrying a rotor and stator for use in the power plant, July 1924. Corner Brook Museum and Archives.