THE CANADIAN PACIFIC
IN PEACE AND WAR
By D.C. Coleman LL.D., D.C.L.
Chairman and President Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
One particular book, similar to the Foundation Library series
books but published in 1946, is named "Canadian Pacific Facts and Figures". It contains many short stories
and articles dealing with the company following the Second World War. This month's article is from that book,
"The Canadian Pacific in Peace and War", written by D.C. Coleman and reprinted here for your enjoyment with
the addition of some appropriate images.
The 1946 Article
The early history of the Canadian Pacific Railway is so well known that there is no necessity to undertake here a
detailed recital of the events which led to the organization of the Company, and the construction of its original
main line across Canada.
However, there is one aspect of the question which is so important that it cannot be stressed too often or too
strongly. It is the fact that the Canadian Pacific Railway was not a mere adventure of private capitalists in search
of fortune. Construction of the system was commenced as a Government undertaking, and it was only after experience had
demonstrated that this was a slow method to follow, and that the load imposed on the young nation would be very heavy
that the Government turned to private capitalists and urged them to pledge their resources to the execution of a vital
national policy, one on which depended the creation of a nation out of the then Colonies of British North America.
The men who thus risked their fortunes did so on the clear understanding that they might lose them. While they
received what now looks like minor assistance from the public treasury, they were given no guarantee of profit. They
contracted to furnish the newly born nation with its essential transportation system on conditions which meant that,
should they fail to execute their contract, they would be impoverished, while, should they succeed, they would be
permitted to earn such returns on their investment as fortune might give them, subject always to the necessary
condition that national policy must override private interest in the conduct of the Company's affairs.
An early incident in the Company's history showed that this was no empty theory, and that there must be an entire
willingness to subordinate the interests of private property to the interest of the new nation.
The very existence of the Company was made possible by the confidence which a group of Canadian investors had in
James J. Hill, a Canadian by birth, who had long before this migrated to the United States, and had become a
great figure in the railway history of that nation.
Early in the period of construction, owing to opposition from the friends of the Grand Trunk Railway in England and
opponents of the Government in Canada, the syndicate reached such a point of financial stress that, to take a single
case, the late Lord Mount Stephen not only pledged his cash and
securities but his household furniture, his linen, china, and silverware. Mr. Hill came to the conclusion that it
would be unprofitable to build the original line around the north shore of Lake Superior. He suggested, in place of
this, that the line should be built through Sault Ste. Marie, and the states of Michigan and Minnesota, on its way to
the great plains of Western Canada. He stressed the fact that this would give the new railway access to an established
and productive territory, in place of having it build a costly line through a wilderness of
It was impossible for the Canadian Government to accede to this request. The original proposals of the Grand Trunk
Railway had been to build the new line through the city of Chicago, and this had been rejected by the Government of
Canada, since it was a specific necessity of the Dominion Government that the railway should be built on Canadian
territory. For this reason, Mr. Hill's proposal was rejected by the syndicate and by the Government, although it
would, in all probability, have greatly eased the financial difficulties which the syndicate were meeting. As a
result, Mr. Hill left the syndicate.
Later, as is well known, the Company's contract with the Government was altered on various occasions, always in the
direction of surrendering special rights whenever this was deemed necessary in the general interest of Canada.
In short, it is important to keep in mind that the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was a part of the
public policy of Canada. The railway was conceived as a national undertaking, not merely as a
profit-making enterprise. This constitutes the sole case in history of the creation of a nation by
the construction of a railway. All its history has to be read with this fact in view.
It is not too much to say that, at the insistence of the Government of Canada, and under the supervision of that
Government, the Company in its early days carried a responsibility for developmental policies in Western Canada which
fell to it because of the lack of existing Governmental machinery. In the execution of those policies the Company
engaged in activities which, as Governmental machinery to carry them out was created, have passed, by easy degrees,
first into the hands of the Dominion Government, and then into the control of the Dominion Government and the
Provincial Governments in collaboration.
The contract with the Company was ratified in 1881, construction was started that year, and the line between Montreal
and the Pacific Coast was completed in 1885. The first through transcontinental passenger train left Montreal on
28 Jun 1886 the following year.
The Company now operates 17,106 miles of railway. It has operating control of 3,796 additional miles in the United
States. Before the outbreak of war, it owned an ocean fleet of 18 vessels, with a gross tonnage of 324,738. It also
had half ownership of two vessels plying between Vancouver, Victoria, the Hawaiian Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, and
Australia. It operated its own coastal fleet in British Columbia and Alaskan waters, provided steamship service across
the Bay of Fundy, on the lakes and rivers of southern British Columbia, and on the Great Lakes. Its air lines provided
services to the Yukon, along the route of the Alaska Highway, down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic, to the mouth of
the Coppermine River, to the remote fishing waters, trapping areas, and mining camps in northern Alberta and British
Columbia, in the Barren Lands, in northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador, along the north
shore of the St. Lawrence, and between Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
It operates its own hotel, communication, express, sleeping, and dining car services.
It founded, financed, and still controls a mining and metallurgical company which has made history in its field and
is one of the largest producers of non-precious metals in the world.
The Company's expenditures for immigration, colonization, land settlement, irrigation, and other similar works up to
the end of 1945 totalled more than $130,000,000. In the course of its effort, it built or acquired vast irrigation
works, operated experimental farms, and lent financial aid to settlers until they were firmly established and on the
way to prosperity.
For its services to Canada and to the British Commonwealth in the
1914, 1918 War, it was commended by the King and by the Governments of Canada and of the United Kingdom, but its work
for the cause during World War II was incomparably greater.
At the beginning of the conflict the entire resources of the Company were placed unreservedly at the service of the
Dominion in its war effort. The record of the Canadian Pacific throughout these years is studded with notable
achievements in many fields. In its main task, that of providing the nation with transportation, the Company's rail
facilities handled since the commencement of the war until V-J Day, more than 138 billion ton miles of
freight and 12 billion passenger miles, figures which in their immensity it is almost impossible to comprehend. Peak
traffic loads four or five times normal volume were not uncommon. Express, telegraph, and hotel facilities, similarly,
had all handled record-breaking business volumes. Our railway shops, in addition to keeping the
hard-pressed motive power and rolling stock in serviceable condition, turned out 1,420 Valentine army
tanks, 75 main engines for corvettes, frigates, and heavy armament landing craft, more than 600 other important articles of power
equipment required by naval vessels, 3,000 naval guns, 1,650 naval gun mounts, more than 2,000 intricate anti-submarine devices, and 120 units
of gunnery range-finding and fire control equipment. High tribute to the quality of workmanship was paid
by both military and naval authorities. The adaptation of the Company's shop facilities set an enviable standard of
armament production, using existing buildings and plants. The achievement in this respect undoubtedly saved the
Canadian taxpayer considerable money and the country much valuable time and material.
Another noteworthy chapter in the Canadian Pacific's war story was
the record of the part played by the Company's steamships and the gallant seamen who served in them. These vessels
were engaged in practically all major operations, including those of Singapore, North Africa, the Eastern
Mediterranean, the expedition to Spitzbergen, the capture of the island of Madagascar, and the landings on the Coast
Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities all Canadian Pacific vessels of British registry were taken over by the
British Government under the provisions of the Liner Requisition Scheme. Also taken over, under charter arrangements,
were the Empress of Asia, the Empress of Russia, the Princess Kathleen, and the Princess Marguerite of Canadian
registry. In due course, therefore, all vessels of both our Atlantic and Pacific fleets and two of our coastal
steamships, comprising a gross tonnage of 336,488, were engaged in war service.
The Battle of the Atlantic and actions elsewhere took heavy toll of these ships and their personnel. The Company's
loss in ships was one of the heaviest suffered by an individual company during the war. Altogether, thirteen of them,
representing 209,871 gross tons were lost, and in addition two vessels, the Montcalm and the Montclare, were taken
over permanently by the Admiralty.
The Company's flagship, the Empress of Britain, after putting up an epic
defence against attacks by enemy aircraft, was set afire, torpedoed, and sunk. The Empress of Asia, when engaged in
carrying troops into Singapore, was heavily bombed by Japanese planes, set afire, and sunk. Many of the crew made
their escape in small boats to ports in Java and ultimately reached Canada. The Duchess of York was also the victim of
an air attack, being struck by a stick of bombs from a German plane flying at an estimated height of 15,000 feet. The
vessel was quickly in flames from end to end and was abandoned. The discipline and efficiency of the ship's personnel
under such trying circumstances was particularly lauded by high-ranking military and naval officers. The
Empress of Canada, carrying many Italian prisoners, was attacked in the South Atlantic and was struck by a torpedo
amidships, the explosion blowing a great hole in the hull. Preparations to "abandon ship" commenced
immediately and many were killed when the Italian submarine closed in and fired a second torpedo into the sinking
vessel. Other famous passenger liners which formerly flew the Canadian Pacific house flag, and which were torpedoed
and sunk, were the Duchess of Atholl, and the Montrose. The Princess Marguerite met a similar fate in
Mediterranean waters. All five of the well-known Beaver freighters are gone, the Beaverbrae, Beaverburn,
Beaverdale, Beaverhill, and Beaverford. The last-named was lost with all hands when attacked by the
heavily armed German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer.
The Niagara of the Canadian Australasian Line, in which the Company has a one-half interest, while
proceeding on her lawful occasions in June, 1940, was treacherously sunk in the Tasmanian Sea.
The Company was signally honoured in having its Chateau Frontenac, selected to house the delegates to two
Inter-Allied conferences. The visits of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great
Britain, with their staffs, to Quebec for their deliberations are eloquent tribute to the service and appointments of that renowned Canadian
This brief recital would be incomplete without reference to the valuable work performed by the Company, at the request
of Government authorities, in the initiation at an early stage of the war of the trans-Atlantic bomber
delivery system, now so justly famous for the timely assistance it provided beleaguered Britain. Then, too, there was
the contribution made by the Canadian Pacific Air Lines to the forging of the vital defence chain throughout western
and northern Canada and the important part its training schools and
overhaul plants played in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Officers and employees continue to demonstrate a fine public spirit in their generous response to patriotic appeals
and campaigns. In the nine Canadian Victory Loans to date, the Company and its employees have subscribed a total of
$204,719,100. Of this amount $138,792,000 has been taken by the Company and its Pension Fund, and by the Pension Fund
of the Canadian Pacific Express Company. At the end of 1945 more than 24,000 officers and employees were purchasing
War Savings Certificates under the payroll deduction plan.
Above all, there was the contribution made by the thousands of employees who joined the Armed Forces or engaged in
special war services under the direction of the British Admiralty. A number were decorated by the British or Canadian
Governments for conspicuous service. Many, unfortunately, contributed their lives in the common cause. Others were
made available on loan to the Canadian and British Governments for special services.
It is anticipated that within a reasonably short period the great majority of Canadian Pacific employees will be
released from the armed forces. A warm welcome is assured for all who wish to resume work with the Company. Careful
planning has been done to insure that the progress of such employees will not be hampered as a result of their service
to their country. It is recognized that many employees will have gained valuable training, added skills, and broader
experience and that these can be effectively utilized by a Company whose activities are as widespread and varied as
are those of the Canadian Pacific. The Company also is anxious to place its physically handicapped war veterans in
positions which will do justice to their abilities and thus provide them with a sense of genuine accomplishment, so
essential in the process of readjustment.
It can be deduced from this recital that all employees and officers of the Canadian Pacific, those wearing the King's
uniform, and those who were held to their tasks at home, displayed that
fine spirit and that devotion to duty for which they are renowned. The late Lord Northcliffe speaking to the writer in Winnipeg, some
twenty-five years ago, made this remark: "Mr. Coleman, I want you to explain to me why it is that the employees of the
Canadian Pacific are different to the railway employees in any other country. They have a manner and an air of their
own and you will hear that feature of your system discussed all the way from Shanghai to London".
Regardless of the strain imposed on all by wartime activities, the Company has been looking ahead to meeting the
demands of the future. Preparations have been made for the absorption and rehabilitation of employees who return to
the organization after their war service is concluded. Provision has been made for picking up maintenance deferred
because of shortage of labour during the past six years. Every effort has been made, with a considerable degree of
success, to keep the equipment in first class condition, and necessary replacements have not been neglected. Since
September, 1939, there have been put in service 189 new locomotives, including 28 diesel switching engines, and more
than 8,000 freight cars. Replacement of passenger equipment retired has had to be postponed because of the demand for
steel and lumber for other purposes, but a programme has been prepared and will be undertaken at the earliest possible
The Company's steamship fleet, so heavily depleted by war casualties, is being replaced just as
quickly as conditions will permit. The Beaverdell, the first of our post-war fleet, made her maiden voyage in March, 1946,
followed by the Beaverglen in May, 1946. Two more vessels, the Beaverlake and the Beavercove, will follow later in the
Arrangements have also been made to purchase two vessels, the Empire Kitchener and the Empire Captain, from the
British Government. These vessels, both of which were built in 1944, have a speed of 15 knots and accommodation for
about 30 passengers. Each has a gross registered tonnage of approximately 9,900. They will be renamed the Beaverford
and the Beaverburn and will be placed on the trans-Pacific service as soon as traffic conditions warrant.
The future of the transportation industry in Canada will depend on the support given by the people of the country to
policies that will take due account of the value - the indispensability - of railways in the national economy, and
that will ensure a fair return to investors in such enterprises as the Canadian Pacific.
It is our hope and belief that there is before the world a long period in which international trade will fructify and
expand. In that period, industry, which on this continent and in the United Kingdom rose so magnificently to the
demands of warfare, will be given the opportunity to apply the same inventive genius and power of organization to the
supply of comforts and conveniences that will raise the standard of living and brighten the daily pathway of all
mankind. To carry its full share of the burden and to take its due place in that development, the Canadian Pacific
will be equipped and ready.
Associated Web Sites
Canadian Pacific Railway
Canadian Pacific Historical Association
Additional CPR Web Sites