Railways and railway technology
have figured prominently in the development of Canada from the 1850s to the present day. Even before
Canada extended its political boundaries across the continent, railways played a unique role in the
birth of a nation that has continually faced the problems created by a comparatively small population
spread out across a diverse and often inhospitable landscape. The Dominion of Canada in 1867 was
based largely upon the willingness of the new central government to encourage and construct a railway
system capable of tying together the Atlantic region to that of the Great Lakes. Once formed, Canada
and Canadians looked to railways as a sole means of political and economic survival and the uniting
of the West with the rest of Canada.
While railways may have been
effective tools of economic and political policy throughout much of the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, they represented some of the best and worst traits of modern industrialism.
For the Canadian public, railways were an obvious example of the economic and social changes brought
about by rapid advances in technology. Steam engines, hidden away in factories and shops, had already
transformed the means whereby goods were produced; yet in the 1860s it was the steam locomotive that
epitomized the rapidly changing pace and apparently irresistible momentum of industrial Canada
(Fig. 1). By the 1890s electric streetcars such as Toronto Railway car No. 361
(Fig. 2) brought the marvel of electrical technology to the streets of Canadian cities
before it made its way into the homes of the average citizen.
Figure 1 The "Toronto", first locomotive built in Canada. (CN000385)
Figure 2 Toronto Railway Company open-air electric streetcar, No. 361, side view, ca 1898. (CN002563)
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