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Canadian Pacific Railway, British Columbia

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y3069A

Scope and Contents

An album containing mounted prints measuring approximately 245 x 190 mm and with handwritten captions beneath the prints. The name J. Walker Marsh is signed inside the front cover. The album shows the path of the railway through the Fraser Canyon.

Origins of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
From its first conception in the 1860s the difficulties attendant on building an ocean-to-ocean railway across Canada centred as much on a complex of economic and political factors as on the physical barriers to be overcome in the actual construction. The railway was inevitably intimately linked with the need to counter U.S. expansion into the western states of Canada. Moreover, the more advanced condition of the American railway system meant that trade had a tendency to drain away from Canada into the States. These factors became even more pressing after the British North America Act of 1867 when British Columbia specifically demanded a railway connection to the east before it would contemplate joining a united Canada: the final terms of the union were that railway construction would commence within two years. Thereafter, the major stumbling-block was finance, a problem which took years to resolve and which, with the breaking of the 'Pacific Scandal' in 1873, toppled the Macdonald government and very nearly destroyed any chances of a trans-continental line.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was finally incorporated in 1881 and the grandiose scheme started to take shape, built on a mixture of government subsidy and the private money and faith of men like George Stephen (a former president of the Bank of Montreal), Donald Alexander Smith (later Lord Strathcona), the financier James Hill and Cornelius Van Horne who was appointed General Manager of the railway. There were numerous times during construction when it seemed evident that the scheme must collapse, but the persistence of these men, coupled with other political crises which underlined the need for, and benefits of the railway finally paid off. The Riel Rebellion in 1885, for instance, came at a fortuitous moment when the company, on the verge of bankruptcy, was able to transport troops to the scene and thus convince the government of its present and future indispensability. The last spike was driven into the line at Craigellachie in the Eagle Pass by Alexander Smith on November 7 1885 and on June 28 1886 the first train of a regular coast-to-coast service left Montreal, arriving at Port Moodie (the Vancouver terminal) 5½ days later.

The building of the Fraser Canyon to Eagle Pass section.
'We suddenly cross the deep black gorge of the Fraser River on a massive bridge of steel, seemingly constructed in mid-air, plunge through a tunnel, and enter the famous canyon of the Fraser. The view changes from the grand to the terrible. Through this gorge, so deep and narrow in many places that the rays of the sun hardly enter it, the black and ferocious waters of the great river force their way. We are in the heart of the Cascade Range, and above the walls of the Canon we occasionally see the mountain peaks gleaming against the sky. Hundreds of feet above the river is the railway, notched into the face of the cliffs, now and then crossing a great chasm by a tall viaduct or disappearing in a tunnel through a projecting spur of rock, but so well made, and so thoroughly protected everywhere, that we feel no sense of danger. For hours we are deafened by the roar of the waters below, and we pray for the broad sunshine once more. The scene is fascinating in its terror, and we finally leave it gladly, yet regretfully ...' (Canadian Pacific Railway 1891).

This breathless piece of tourist literature gives at least some idea of the engineering feats involved in building the final sections of the Port Moodie (Vancouver) to Eagle Pass section of the railroad and the light in which it was viewed by the public; the reality of construction was grimmer. The line was to follow Governor Douglas' Cariboo Road which clings precariously to the cliffs of the Fraser Canyon; turning east along the Thompson River to Kamloops Lake towards the meeting point in Eagle Pass. This first section through the Fraser Canyon was arguably the toughest piece of engineering on the whole line. The man who won the contract for the 127 mile section between Fraser Canyon and Savonas Ferry was Andrew Onderdonk, a reserved and tenacious New Yorker who set up his headquarters in Yale at the southern end of the valley and started construction work in 1880. Progress was painfully slow: for the first year his time and money were eaten away in laboriously blasting tunnels (many of which can be seen in these albums) through the sheer granite walls of the canyons (13 of the 27 tunnel between Kamloops and Port Moody are situated in the 20 miles of line north of Yale). Expensive trestle bridges then had to be built to connect the tunnels, with all the consequent problems of timber supply and transportation (problems partially solved by the erection of his own timber mills and by the shipping of supplies through the ferocious Hell's Gate Rapids). In the first two years Onderdonk had built barely twenty miles of track and was increasingly plagued by mounting expenses, insufficient labour and government demands for economy. It was these last two factors which created Onderdonk's lasting legacy. His importation of Chinese labour caused a political storm but allowed him to complete the section of the railroad while laying some of the foundations of the British Columbian Chinese population. Government demands for economy led Onderdonk to cut corners in the construction of the line, an action which was to cause problems in the future between the government and the CPR management: curves exceeded the specified gradients, tunnel sizes were reduced and certain obstacles were by-passed rather than removed. The line however, was completed to Savona on Kamloops Lake on June 29 1885 and progress on the last stretches was rapid, much of the preliminary work having already been finished: 4½ months later the last spike was being driven home by Donald A. Smith and the undertaking was complete.

David Mattison has identified numbers 6-8 and 14-18 as the work of the British photographer Charles Macmunn (1840?-1903). Macmunn was a native of Manchester, England, who worked out of Victoria, British Columbia, from 1883. In that year he advertised views of the Canadian Pacific Railway and Victoria and its surroundings through the bookseller and stationer T.N. Hibben and Co. Macmunn continued to work as a photographer until his death. His widow Margaret, a dressmaker, may have sold his prints or negatives to the Maynard family of photographers.


  • Creation: 1885

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


1 album(s) (18 images in 1 album)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

good condition.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is available on microfiche: Canada, fiche number 18.

Related Materials

See also Y3069B, a companion album showing the continuation of the line up the Thompson River, past Kamloops and towards Eagle Pass.


For further information about the railway see: Canadian Pacific Railway (1891), 'The Canadian Pacific', New York.


This item level description was entered by SG using information from the original typescript catalogue.

Includes index.
2003-12-17 15:22:26+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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