Trains & Troops
Information provided by Bob Richardson who granted permission to share.
CANADIAN RAILWAYS AND WORLD WAR ONE
I thought I would for a change of pace that I would post on two of my favorite subjects this week, trains and World War One. 100 years ago, there were no automobiles or trucks to speak of, aviation was in it's infancy. The primary method of long distance movement was by ship and rail - usually separately but often in tandem.
Canadian Troops 1916 Golden, BC
So when we generally think of the war and railways, the moving of troops from across Canada to ocean ports and embarking on troop ships to England usually comes to mind. However Canadian railways were active and involved in many other activities other than moving troops. Our railways provided the manpower for the massive Canadian Railway Troops, over 19,000 strong, as well as the 750 strong Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps. Railways moved munitions, foodstuffs, relief goods, military supplies, horses and mules, postal mail, locomotives and rolling stuff and a variety of other goods to Eastern ports for shipping to Europe. Railways operated during all seasons, in every type of weather. They transported and billeted troops, built and supplied arms and munitions, supplied, lent and sold ships, borrowed money and bonds ($100. million), and provided employment to others when the boys headed overseas. In the case of disasters like the Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917, a railway dispatcher for the Inter colonial Railway, Vince Coleman, stayed behind sending an urgent message to hold an incoming express train from St. John with 300 passengers, from arriving at the Port and thus saving hundreds of lives but taking his own life.The railway quickly mobilized aid, sending a dozen relief trains with fire and medical help from towns in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on the day of the disaster, followed two days later by help from other parts of Canada and from the United States, most notably Boston. More than 2,000 lost their lives and many more were badly injured. So in a nutshell, trains were paramount to Canada's part in World War One. The war could not be fought without them.
Canadian Western Railways
In order to get an idea of the complexity and enormity of the involvement of Canadian railways in the war, in particular moving the over 600,000 men and women of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, we will start at the points of departure for Great Britain. The main gateways to the Atlantic in 1914 were the ports of Montreal, Quebec City, St. John and Halifax. That is not to say no other ports were used especially for troops, but these were the main destinations of the railways.
Up until mid 1915, the privately -owned Canadian Pacific Railway was the only transcontinental railway, finished in 1883, It operated a single line track east from across the Prairies to Winnipeg thence to Port Arthur maintaining a monopoly in the transport of wheat with high rates, shipping delays and shortage of box cars and the westward movement of immigrants. Operating from Vancouver to Montreal and ultimately St. John, New Brunswick the railway for years could call its own shots. The CP timetable in 1914 listed the fastest transit time for the 3 times weekly premier train Vancouver to Montreal as 85 hours.
However, early in 1916, the Canadian Northern Railway Company, owned by native Canadians William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, commenced operations operating between Vancouver and Montreal later to Quebec City. At the end of 1915 it operated Canada's second transcontinental line with nearly 10,000 miles of track, starting out as a small pioneer railway in Manitoba in 1896. It rapidly acquired regional small lies so that it became a major operator by 1900 and had reached west to the Saskatchewan border. By that time a wave of expansion was sweeping the country, based on new Federal immigration policies followed in turn by a spectacular boom in the West to which the Canadian Northern Railway contributed a considerable share of business. It encouraged settlers to go further north than ever before by opening up large areas of virgin land on the Great Plains, and gathering with its aforementioned feeder lines, the grain from the great farming districts which developed in the wake of railway construction. So by 1914 and the beginning of World War One it had given life and impetus to hundreds of small communities and shipping points. On its way westward from Edmonton, the Canadian Northern choose the more northerly Yellowknife Pass which was lower in altitude and easier to build than CPR's Kicking Horse Pass west of Calgary. In Ontario lines were built from Toronto via Belleville to Ottawa, and from Toronto via Parry Sound north to Sudbury, while at the same time tracks were laid east from Winnipeg to Port Arthur, Capreol and Ottawa. The fast expansion and its financing however could not be sustained.In 1913 the railway requested additional funding from the Federal Government and was denied due to a recession. A year later funds from the world's markets dried up with the threat of World War One. The flow of emigrants from Europe ceased temporarily, and so did the boom in West Canada. By 1918 the Canadian Northern Railway was bankrupt. It became a major part ot he Canadian National Railways in 1923. Major Western towns served were Winnipeg, Dauphin, Portage la Prairie, Prince Albert, Humbolt, North Battleford, Lloydminster, and Edmonton.
On May 1, 1915, Canadian Government Railways was formed by the Canadian Government to operate both the Intercolonial and the National Transcontinental Railway. On June 1, 1915, the National Transcontinental Railway owned by the Canadian Government opened between Moncton, Edmundston, Quebec and Winnipeg, Manitoba. It connected with the Grand Truck owned Grand Trunk Pacific, running from Winnipeg though Edmonton, Jasper, and Prince George to Prince Rupert, British Columbia on the Pacific Coast. The Government had envisioned a network of grain elevators on the prairies supplying trains to haul the grain to ocean ports in Quebec City and Halifax for export to world markets not realizing this a would be highly unprofitable and inoperable. The line between Moncton, Quebec City and Winnipeg was built as a "bridge line" to connect the Quebec City and Winnipeg by the shortest route. Therefore the line was built through north Quebec and across Northern Ontario. It maintained running rights on the Intercolonial Railway from Moncton to Halifax and St. John. A railway bridge was to cross the St. Lawrence River connecting Levis and Quebec City.The railway bisected the "clay belt" that extended from Barraute, Quebec to Cochrane Ontario.This soil and climate supported agriculture but the line was too far isolated to be attractive to settlement. However this line was supported by the then growing mining operations in the area. It connected with Southern Ontario with running rights over the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario to North Bay then to the parent Grand Truck into Toronto. Construction standards were extremely high along with the resultant expenses. Main Western Canada towns served were Winnipeg, Melville, Watrous, Saskatoon, Biggar, Regina, Yorkton, Edson and Edmonton.
These last two railways generally followed more northerly routes than the CPR. (by 1923 these latter two railways united with Eastern Canada's Grand Trunk Railway to form the government-owned Canadian National Railways). Other influential Canadian railways in 1914 were: the Grand Truck operating from Portland, Maine to Chicago, Illinois via central Canada; the Northern Railway operating Toronto to North Bay; the Great Western Railway operating between Niagara Falls (by the bridge to Niagara Falls, New York), Hamilton, Toronto, Sarnia and Windsor (tunnel to Detroit, Michigan); the Intercolonial Railway operating Halifax, Nova Scotia to Montreal, Quebec; the Grand Trunk Pacific running from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Prince Rupert, British Columbia and the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (later Ontario Northland Railway) from North Bay to Cochrane, Ontario. Most of the foregoing names were made redundant by 1923 with the founding of Canadian National Railway. In 1914 there were 90 railway companies in Canada. The three transcontinental railways controlled more than 80 percent of the total mileage of 34,915 of track. Canada had reached a zenith plateau where only five other countries - the United States, Russia, Germany, India and France possessed a greater mileage, and relative to population none came anywhere near to her.
Clifford Sifton was Prime Minister Laurier's Minister of the Interior and Indian Affairs from 1896 to 1905. He is known for his insights into the Federal Government's potential role to stimulate the economy and he dabbled in railway policy as well resulting in the developing railways to be given monetary grants and thousands of acres along their roadbeds to encourage settlement. He put systems in place to encourage British, American, and Eastern European immigration... primarily for the purpose of populating the Canadian interior. Naturally, the Federal, Provincial and Municipal Governments helped stimulate all of this activity by supporting railway construction. The routes of the various railways, the cities, towns and communities they serviced and the East coast ports that they serviced determined in a great part how railways moved people and materials to the waiting steamships. It certainly was possible to transfer from railway to railway but that would have been discouraged and unlikely in most cases after 1916. Ultimately more than one railway would have served the port cities however the established railway would have the built the main line and less used branch lines of competing railways would be avoided. For instance, the Intercolonial Railway was the prime operator into the port of Halifax (the line remains to this day a main line of CN. They also had a branch leading to St. John, New Brunswick). Therefore all troops and freight destined for a steamship departing from Halifax arrived on the Intercolonial Railway despite the fact it might have originated on another railway such as Canadian Pacific.The Port of Montreal was serviced by several railways most notably CPR and Grand Trunk. Quebec City was pretty much the port for Allan Line steamships and thus served by several railways. Levis, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River across from Quebec City was an Intercolonial stop. St. John, New Brunswick was used during the winter months by the CPR who ran their east coast line from Montreal through northern Maine (infamous by the 2013 Megantic wreck and fire). As mentioned, Halifax was service by the Intercolonial. After the United States entered World War One in 1917, the port of Portland, Maine was used and serviced by the Grand Truck Railway operating through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to Montreal. As the largest railway in 1914 in terms of both mileage, rolling stock, motive power and manpower the Canadian Pacific Railway deserves a paragraph or two on its own. The CPR acquired several smaller railways via long-term leases in 1912. On January 3, 1912, the CPR acquired the Dominion Atlantic Railway, a railway that ran in western Nova Scotia. This acquisition gave the CPR a connection to Halifax, a significant port on the Atlantic Ocean. The Dominion Atlantic connected to the CPR at Saint John with its own car ferry service across the Bay of Fundy. DAR steamships also provided connections for passengers and cargo between Yarmouth,Boston and New York. On July 1, 1912, the CPR acquired the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, a railway on Vancouver Island that also connected to the CPR by car ferry. The CPR also acquired the Quebec Central Railway on December 14, 1912.
"The volume of business greatly expanded the sleeping and dining car department by 1913. In that year 4000 men were employed in that department alone. The number of sleeping cars and dining cars were such that if coupled together, it would have a train 14 miles long. The railway was capable of transporting an army 30,000 men from Vancouver to Halifax, with each person having a berth and supply 90,000 meals a day for the 5 1/2 day journey across the continent. It also gives us an idea of what the railways are capable of, given the equipment, if ever an army had to be moved". Canadian Pacific Railway, Patrick C. Dorin, 1974
As Canada's largest railway and transportation conglomerate, all of CPR's ships, shops, hotels, telegraphs, and most of all, its people, were put at the disposal of the Canadian Government. Aiding the war effort meant transporting and billeting troops; building and supplying arms and munitions; arming, lending and selling ships. Fifty-two CPR ships were pressed into service during World War I, carrying more than a million troops and passengers and four million tons of cargo. Twenty seven survived and returned to CPR. Twelve sank, mostly torpedoed by U-boats; two sank by marine accident; 10 were sold to the British Admiralty; and the Maharajah of Gwalior turned the Empress of India into a hospital ship. But CPR’s most important contribution was its men and women, at home and abroad. 11,340 CPR employees enlisted. A catastrophic 10 percent (1,116) were killed, and nearly 20 percent (2,105) were wounded. Two CPR employees received the coveted Victoria Cross and 385 others were decorated for valor and distinguished service.
CPR also helped the war effort with money and jobs. CPR made loans and guarantees to the Allies to the tune of $100 million. CPR also took on 6,000 extra people, giving them jobs during the war. And when the fighting was over and the troops came home, CPR found jobs for the ex-soldiers. 7,573 CPR enlistees came back to jobs with the company. And CPR gave jobs to an additional 13,112 who made it back from overseas fighting. At the time, CPR was the strongest and most viable railway in Canada. So it set up and formed the major part of the Canadian Overseas Railway Reconstruction Corps – a group of skilled railroaders and engineers who went overseas during and after World War I to rebuild Europe’s railway 92nd (48th Highlanders) Battalion, Toronto, May 1916 infrastructure. As part of the contract for building the railway to the Pacific coast in British Columbia, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was granted 25,000,000 acres, to be selected from the odd-numbered sections (excluding the school lands) in a belt of land 24 miles on each side of the main line. Unlike the American scheme whereby railway companies had to accept all alternate sections on each side of the main line irrespective of the quality of the land, the contract with the CPR specified that the land must be “fairly fit for settlement.” If there was insufficient land (as there was when the CPR abandoned the original designated line from Winnipeg to Jasper House) within the 48-mile belt to meet this criterion the CPR could and did patent land in the fertile belt outside the mainline corridor.This same stipulation was granted to branch lines and later to those known as “colonization” railways. The even-numbered sections were to be set aside as free homesteads. Part of the deficiency was made up by the CPR accepting a large block of land comprising all the odd- and even-numbered sections, including school lands, other than the Hudson’s Bay Company lands between Medicine Hat and Calgary, which came to be known as the Irrigation Block. By exchange with and purchase by the CPR the HBC relinquished its claims in this area.
Eventually, beside the grants to the HBC and other groups, over 31 million acres of land were taken up by the various railways, mostly from the future provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.The land grant system had become thoroughly discredited in the United States by the time the Canadian government adopted it. The last of the statutory land grants to railways in Canada were made in 1894. The last of the railway lands were not patented until the early part of the 20th century. In the Dominion Lands Act of 1908 the land grant system was ended. This distribution of the Canadian west lands was greatly responsible for the arrival of over 4 million settlers between 1900 and 1914, all arriving by train, with the majority from England, Scotland and Ireland. Many of these settlers were to return to the United Kingdom as attested members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and taking trains eastward.
CPR crack express Smith Falls 1914
On December 19, 1916 a Canadian Government order in council gives authority for the shipment of rails and fastenings from Canadian railways to France for war service. Under this and and a subsequent order, some 800 miles were taken up from sidings and divisional yards of the eastern division of the National Transcontinental Railway (98.2 miles from between Moncton and Diamond Jct.; 11.8 miles east of Levis; 206.6 miles from between Quebec and Winnipeg) and a further 300 miles from the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, partly from the portion of line running through the Yellowhead Pass which closely paralleled the Canadian Northern Railway, after they amalgamated in 1916.
The Corps of Canadian Railway Troops were part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War One.Initially known as the Canadian Railway Troops, they were re-designated as the "Corps of ..." on 23 April 1918.
The initial 500 men came from the Canadian Pacific Railway but overall had 13000 members. The main units were:
Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps
1st Construction Battalion
2nd CRT Battalion - formed from 127th York Rangers
3rd CRT Battalion - 239th Battalion
4th CRT Battalion - Depot unit
5th CRT Battalion - Depot unit
6th CRT Battalion - 228th Battalion
7th CRT Battalion - 257th Battalion
8th CRT Battalion - 218th and 211th Battalions
9th CRT Battalion - 1st Pioneer
10th CRT Battalion - 256th Battalion
11th CRT Battalion - 3rd Labour Battalion
12th CRT Battalion - 2nd Labour Battalion
13th CRT Battalion - Depot unit
Fortunately serious mishaps involving Railways and Canadian troops were few and far between but there were a few. The Niagara Fall and Victoria Park Railway was one of the most colorful transportation companies in Canada. Operating from 1893 until 1932, it's electric cars met Lake Ontario excursion steamers at Queenston, ascended the Niagara Escapement loaded with tourists and troops distributing them at the Brock Monument to Niagara Falls and camps at Niagara on the Lake. On July 7, 1915 a car overloaded with about 200 tourists descended the 200 foot drop much too fast in the rain, losing its brakes rounding a curve ending up on its side split by a tree. The first rescuers on the scene were soldiers from the nearby 19th (Lincoln and Welland) Regiment and 98th Battalion. Soon they were followed by doctors from Camp Niagara. Eight people were killed, 95 hurt. The steamer Chippewa, docked at Queenston was transformed into a hospital ship returning the dead and injured to Toronto.
A Canadian Pacific fast express Chicago-Montreal train crashed into the rear of a freight train on December 28, 1916 at St Polycarpe Juction outside of Ottawa. Five were killed and another five seriously. It is believed that this train was carrying troops. It blocked CP's main line for days at a crucial time in the war.
On December 31, 1918, a National Transcontinental train derailed at Glyndyne, Quebec. The train included three colonist cars of troops that had debarked from the SS Carmania in Halifax a day earlier. No details can be found on the mishap. Corporal William Stagg and Corporal George Smith were two of the homecoming several troops that lost their lives.
December 20, 1919 was the date of a severe train wreck that occurred two miles west of Onawa, Maine on Canadian Pacific's St. John-Montreal line. Although this train carried immigrant from the SS Empress of France landing St. John a day earlier, it was reported to be carrying a number of Canadian troops. Although two soldiers and a nurse are listed on the Veterans Affairs Canada Memorial, we cannot confirm that they were involved in the wreck. Certainly there would have been CEF injuries. A total of 21 were killed, 50 injured in this head on crash.
So in a nutshell, Canadian Railways were paramount in World War One. They supplied troops, technology, transportation, and employment. It would have been a very different war without our railways and their expertise.