Railway Frenzy

Under Premier Richard McBride’s government, the new century heralded a frenzy of railway construction in British Columbia. In 1903, owners of the Grand Trunk, the oldest railway line in Canada, announced plans to extend the line to the Pacific coast. After considerable negotiation and various charges of corruption, the government announced early in 1908 that the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway would be constructed from the Yellowhead Pass through Fort George to terminate at Prince Rupert.

A photograph of Grand Trunk Pacific Railway construction, 1910.Click to enlarge,
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Grand Trunk Pacific construction, 1910. A-00484 – Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

The same year, the Canadian Northern Railway Company declared that it would construct a line running from the Yellowhead Pass down the North Thompson River to Kamloops and then paralleling the CPR to Vancouver. Then, in 1910, the CPR decided to construct a branch line, the Kettle River Valley Railway from Hope to Midway. Later, in 1912, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway Company confirmed that it would construct a line from North Vancouver via Squamish and Lillooet to Quesnel. This railway would unite North Vancouver with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway at Fort George, providing Cariboo-Chilcotin ranchers with easy access to the coastal markets. All of these railways would need huge work crews to complete the construction on time, and the crews would have to be fed. The ranchers of the British Columbia Interior were in a perfect position to supply cattle to each of these markets.

A photograph of 153 Mile House in 1912. Click to enlarge,
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153 Mile House, ca. 1912. Courtesy of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

Pat Burns, the great butcher/entrepreneur, secured the contract to supply beef to the Grand Trunk Pacific, some stretches of the Canadian Northern Railway, the Kettle River Valley Railway, and the Pacific Great Eastern construction camps. He bought up all the cattle he could, and prices rocketed as the market struggled to keep abreast of the demand for beef to supply the railroad builders. Between 1910 and 1912, about 12,000 head of cattle were purchased and driven to the Grand Trunk Pacific railway crews alone. Every rancher in British Columbia was given a boost and the cattle industry became well established.