This Week in History (1914) – First train arrives in Prince George

The first train arrived in Prince George on January 30, 1914, three days after construction teams laid the track of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway west across the Fraser River and into town.

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was a government-subsidized venture, eventually connecting Winnipeg to Prince Rupert via Edmonton and the Yellowhead Pass. Construction began in the fall of 1905, but the “steel” did not reach the eastern border of British Columbia until 1912. By the end of 1913, the tracks had hit the eastern bank of the Fraser River, and residents of the newly incorporated town of Prince George waited with bated breath as delays hampered construction of a permanent rail bridge over the Fraser. Eventually a temporary bridge was erected on pilings set beside the permanent foundations. Writes Rev. F.E. Runnalls in A History of Prince George:

At last the track was laid over this temporary bridge, and on January 27th, 1914, the track-layer “Pioneer” with her train of cars moved over the bridge to terra firma and proceeded to swing the rails into position ahead of her, there to be connected and spiked so she could move forward.

The steel had arrived and this day would long be remembered as a red-letter day in the history of Prince George. In spite of the bitter cold — eight below zero at two o’clock — more than 1,500 people turned out to witness the event.1

Photo of the "Pioneer" track-setter arriving in Prince George, January 1914.

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway track-layer “Pioneer” arrives in Prince George on January 27, 1914.
(Photo: The Exploration Place)

Local pioneers, dignitaries, and a ten-piece brass band huddled around a bonfire were also on hand to welcome the track-setting team. Mr. Harry G. Perry, president of the Fort George Board of Trade, summed up the local sentiment as follows:

Judging by the large and enthusiastic crowd gathering here, I think we are all unanimous in the possession of a feeling of pride and satisfaction in seeing the steel right at our doors today. It means that this day marks the greatest epoch in the new history of Central British Columbia. It means the opening up of great possibilities in the development of the resources of this district.2

Ironically, that very night, ice jams and flooding on the Nechako and Fraser Rivers washed away five of the pilings supporting the temporary bridge and damaged another 25.3

But repairs were performed quickly. Three days later, on January 30, the first westbound train arrived in town from McBride — not a Grand Trunk Pacific train, but one operated by the railway construction company Foley, Welch and Stewart, which provided passenger and cargo service on sections of the line as construction moved westward. The first eastbound train, also run by Foley, Welch and Stewart, chugged out of town on February 3.

On April 7, 1914, railway officials drove the last spike in the Grand Trunk Pacific line into the steel just east of Fort Fraser. Regular, cross-country Grand Trunk rail service began that summer. Nine years later, in 1923, the Grand Trunk Pacific was absorbed into the newly formed Canadian National Railway.

Photo of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway bridge under construction, May 1914.

Construction of Prince George’s iconic Grand Trunk Pacific Railway bridge was still under way in late May 1914. The temporary rail bridge is shown at left.
(Photo: The Exploration Place.)

Notes:

1.   Rev. F.E. Runnells, A History of Prince George, 1946.

2.   “Towns turn out en masse to greet arrival of steel,” The Fort George Herald, 28 January 1914 (Vol. 4, No. 22), page 1.

3.   “Temporary bridge across Fraser is swept away,” The Fort George Herald, 28 January 1914 (Vol. 4, No. 22), page 1.

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