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RAILWAYS IN CANADA: A BRIEF HISTORY

The Early Years

      Closely following construction in Great Britain, France, and the United States, the first steam-powered public railway in Canada opened for service in July 1836. The Champlain & St. Lawrence Railroad, was typical of early Canadian railways in that it was designed to supplement the existing system of river travel. Constructed between the towns of La Prairie and Saint John, now Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, the railway effectively functioned as a portage between the St. Lawrence and Richelieu River systems.

      Railways later served a similar function and were often seasonal operations providing a means of speeding up the transfer of passengers or cargo between trans-shipment points. Others, such as the Albion Railway in Nova Scotia and the Chemin de fer de L'Industrie in Quebec, were typically short in length and served as resource or mining railways to transport coal or other products to water (Fig. 8). It is indicative of the very limited impact that railway technology had on Canada in this early period that only 50 miles of line were in operation in British North America by 1850. While many railway lines were planned and charters issued, few were built because of inadequate funding. As is often the case with new technology, the early history of railways in Canada was markedly local in extent, derivative by origin and primitive in character.


Figure 8 Steam locomotives Samson and Albion. Originally acquired for the Albion Railway in the 1850s, these are the oldest steam locomotives in Canada today. (CN002078)

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