WILLIAM CORNELIUS VAN HORNE
William Van Horne was born on 3 Feb 1843 in
Illinois. At the age of 14 William began working to help support his family. This was the start of his career with
railways. In 1857 he left school to work as a telegrapher with Illinois Central Railway. In 1864 he started a new job
as train dispatcher in Bloomington, Illinois. He was married a few years later to Lucy Hurd, the daughter of a civil
engineer involved in railway construction.
He worked as superintendent of transportation on the Chicago & Alton Railway. At age 29 he became the youngest
railroad head through his appointment as general superintendent of the Illinois Central Railway. In 1881 Van Horne was
asked to be the general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was under contract to build the transcontinental
line that would connect British Columbia with the rest of the country. He began his job in January, 1882 and completed
it 3 years later in 1885 when the last spike was driven into the CPR.
Prior to beginning construction, Van Horne explored and surveyed the area. Starting at Winnipeg they built west,
covering 2 or 3 miles a day. The builders were required to overcome difficult sections created by the 600 miles of
mountains and the north shore of Lake Superior which was a wilderness of granite. Van Horne worked himself harder
than his crews, arranging steamship service to distribute materials and supplies, seeing to the opening of stone
quarries and three dynamite factories, which supported the building of the transcontinental railway.
By 1883 there was 1,552 miles of CPR mainline and branches built. It was Van Horne who picked a new site for the
western terminus and named it Vancouver. He managed to continue the building of the railway when there was no money
left for payment. He himself went without pay for months. Directors used their personal fortunes, businessmen advanced
credit and supplies, and construction forces went without pay.
In 1888 William Van Horne was named President of the Canadian Pacific Railway and later became Chairman of the Board.
In 1899 he resigned when his goals of CPR's stock rising to par and its mileage reaching 10,000 miles were completed.
In 1894 he was also awarded a knighthood for his achievements with the railway. Van Horne purchased the southern tip
of Minister's Island near St. Andrews and spent the last 25 years of his life there. Sir William Cornelius Van Horne
died on 11 Sep 1915 in Montreal and was buried in his hometown of Joliet, Illinois.
Source: Canadian Railway Hall of Fame.