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A chronology of important dates in Canadian railway history
Posted 08 December 2012
By Colin Churcher and Rick Roberts
Beginning family historians usually focus all of their effort on gathering names, dates and places that relate to the vital events in the lives of their ancestors. Soon a curiousity about how our ancestors lived begins to show itself. We start to think about why our ancestors migrated from place to place. Which historical events influenced their lives? What pushed them to make the decisions that they did, and what pulled them to the lives that they led? This curiousity brings about an interest in the history of the times that our ancestors lived in.
By the mid to late nineteenth century settlement patterns in Canada were forever changed with the introduction of railways. As much as railways eased the movement of people, they dramatically improved the ability of farmers and industry to transport thier products to market. At the same time those railways provided an economical way to bring in the products and raw materials that they needed. In the case of Chinese immigration in the 1890s, the building of railways introduced a whole new immigration wave.
With these thoughts in mind this chronology was asembled to help researchers relate important events in Canadian railway history to the migrations and lives of thier ancestors.
This article was originally published in early 1998 in The Global Gazette, the forerunner to News & How-To's. We've updated and reposted it because so many people continue to find and use the article as a result of Google searches. Colin Churcher's website is a great place to begin your search for more information on railroads and railroad history in Canada.
- 1720 - A short tramway is believed to have been built in connection with the construction of the fortress at Louisburg, Nova Scotia.
- 1762 - The Niagara Incline Plane is constructed. This was a rudimentary tramway or inclined plane over which freight was hauled in wooden sleds (i.e. the vehicles had no wheels).
- 1818 - A tramway was constructed to haul coal at Pictou, Nova Scotia using horses as motive power. A regular rail track was laid in 1829 using rails made at the Albion Mines. These rails were the first metal rails used in Canada and possibly in North America. The tramway was operated by horsepower until 1838.
- 1823 - The Quebec Citadel Incline Plane is opened using two cars on double track. Power was supplied by a stationary steam engine. This was used until the late 1840's.
- 1826 - A tramway using wooden rails is built in Kingsey Township, Quebec.
- 1827 - A tramway is built at Bytown, now Ottawa, from a stone quarry near Hog's Back to the locks at Nepean Point. It was constructed to transport stone for the locks and weirs on the Rideau Canal and was abandoned with the opening of the Rideau Canal in 1832.
- 1830 - The Sydney Mines Railway is opened at Sydney, Nova Scotia. This was a horse drawn tramway.
- 1830 - The two mile Bridgeport Tramway, Nova Scotia, is opened by the General Mining Association. It was abandoned in 1849.
- 1832, February 25 - Incorporation of the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad to build from Dorchester, now St-Jean, to a point on the St. Lawrence River at or near Laprairie. This is the first Canadian railroad charter.
- 1836, March - Incorporation by the Legislature of New Brunswick of the St. Andrews and Quebec Rail Road Company to build from St. Andrews to lower Canada. This is the oldest charter of a Canadian Pacific constituent. Operation was not commenced until spring, 1851.
- 1836, July 21 - Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad opened. This was Canada's first public railroad. The inaugural train was pulled by the locomotive the "Dorchester". In 1857 the Champlain and St. Lawrence became part of the Montreal and Champlain Railroad which was leased to the Grand Trunk in 1864 and now forms part of the Canadian National system. Read about it in Canada's First Railway, an out of print book by Nick and helma Mika.
- 1839, September 19 - Official opening of the Albion Mines Railway between Albion Coal Mines and New Glasgow, N.S.. Operations had started in December, 1838 using theTimothy Hackwork steam locomotives "Samson", "Hercules" and "John Buddle" imported from England.
- 1847, July - Incorporation, by the Legislature of the Province of Canada, of La Compagnie du Chemin à Rails du Saint-Laurent et du Village d'Industrie, to build from Lanoraie, on the Saint Lawrence downstream from Montreal, to Village d'Industrie, 12 miles. Village d'Industrie was later renamed Joliette after its founder, Barthelemy Joliette. This railway originally had wooden rails surmounted by iron straps. It was taken over by the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway in 1878 and acquired by CP in 1884.
- 1851, July 31 - The 5'6" gauge, broad gauge, is adopted as the standard gauge for Ontario and Quebec. The broad gauge was used until about 1870 after which time there was a gradual change to the now standard 4' 8 1/2" gauge.
- The "Lady Elgin". First locomotive in Ontario 1852. Built in Portland Maine, USA.
- 1853, May 16 - The first train in Ontario runs between Toronto and Aurora on the Ontario Simcoe and Huron Railroad Union Company. The name was changed to Northern Railway of Canada on August 16, 1858 and it became part of the Northern and Northwestern Railway on June 6, 1879, now part of Canadian National.
The picture above is of the "Toronto", first engine built in Ontario in James Good's shop on Queen Street near Victoria Street , Toronto. Taken down Yonge Street on temporary rails to Front Street at the end of April 1853. First trip on Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway, to Machell's Corners ( Aurora ) May 16, 1853.
- 1853, July 15 - Grand Trunk Railway is formed by the amalgamation of the following companies:
The Grand Trunk also leased the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railway giving access to Portland, Maine.
- Grand Trunk Railway of Canada
- Grand Junction Railway
- Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada East
- Quebec and Richmond Railway
- St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway
- Toronto and Guelph Railway
- 1853 - The Great Western Railway opens its main line between Windsor and Niagara Falls. The Great Western went on to build, lease or buy other railways throughout Southern Ontario, and it can be claimed to be the first Canadian system. the first sections were opened as follows:
- 1853, November 10 - Hamilton to the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls.
- 1853, December 31 - Hamilton to London.
- 1854, January 27 - London to Windsor.
- 1854, August 21 - Galt branch.
- 1854 - The Great Western Railway opens its main line between Windsor and Niagara Falls. The Great Western went on to build, lease or buy other railways throughout Southern Ontario, and it can be claimed to be the first Canadian system.
- 1854, December 25 - Opening of the Bytown and Prescott Railway between Prescott and Bytown (now Ottawa), 54 miles. First rail service to what is now Canada's Capital. Bytown was renamed Ottawa in 1855 and the railway became the Ottawa and Prescott Railway Company, now part of Canadian Pacific.
- 1855, March 19 - The vehicular suspension bridge across the Niagara Gorge (built in 1848) is strengthened for the passage of railway trains. The original wooden trusses were replaced by steel in 1880.
- 1855, December 3 - The Great Western Railway "branch" between Hamilton and Toronto is opened to traffic.
- 1856, October 27 - The Grand Trunk Railway opens its broad gauge line throughout between Montreal and Toronto. It was opened in sections as follows:
- Montreal to Brockville - November 19, 1855.
- Oshawa to Toronto - August 11, 1856.
- Brockville to Oshawa - October 27, 1856.
- 1856, June 3 - Opening of Windsor Branch Railway from Windsor to Windsor Jc., N.S. by Nova Scotia government. This was the oldest constituent of the Dominion Atlantic Railway.
- 1857, March 12 - A Great Western Railway train breaks an axle while crossing a swing bridge and plunges into the Desjardins Canal near Hamilton. 59 people are killed.
- 1859, December 12 - First train operated over the Victoria Railway Bridge, Montreal. The first passenger train crossed the structure on December 17, 1859 and it was formally opened by the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII, on August 25, 1860. The original structure was a single-track iron tubular bridge. The tube, when first constructed, was entirely enclosed and there were ventilation problems. Later a slit 20" wide was cut in the tube the full length of the bridge to permit the emission of smoke.
- 1859, December 27 - The Grand Trunk Railway completes its line between Toronto and Sarnia and establishes a ferry service across the St. Clair River to Fort Gratiot (Port Huron).
- 1860 - Grand Trunk opens its line between Quebec and Rivière du Loup.
- 1860, August 1 - European and North American Railway opens from Saint John, NB to Shediac. The line became part of the Intercolonial Railway on July 1, 1867.
- l860, December 31 - The Brockville and Ottawa Railway opens a tunnel l/3 of a mile under the town of Brockville. This was the first railway tunnel in Canada.
- l864, June 29 - A railway accident on the Grand Trunk Railway at Beloeil, Quebec, takes ninety-nine lives. This was Canada's worst railway disaster.
- l867, July 1st - Dominion of Canada is formed by Confederation of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. One of the conditions of Confederation was the building of a railway by the newly constituted Dominion Government to connect Halifax with the St. Lawrence at or near Quebec. Sir Sandford Fleming directed the surveying and construction of the trackage to fill in the gap in the railway system between Rivière du Loup and Truro, the Grand Trunk having previously constructed eastwards as far as Rivière du Loup and the Province of Nova Scotia having built a line between Halifax and Truro.
The Canadian Government Railway, also known as the Intercolonial Railway, was formed to take over the lines in Nova Scotia and to construct the trackage between Rivière du Loup and Truro.
- 1871, July 12 - North America's first public narrow gauge railway, the Toronto and Nipissing, is opened for traffic between Toronto and Uxbridge. The 3'6" gauge line was converted to standard by 1884.
- 1871, July 20 - British Columbia is admitted to the Dominion of Canada. One of the conditions of entry is that the Dominion Government should, within two years from the date of union, commence the construction of a railway from the Pacific towards the Rocky Mountains and from a point east of the Rocky Mountains towards the Pacific to connect the seaboard of British Columbia with the railway system of Canada.
- Sir Sandford Fleming was appointed Engineer-in-Chief of this railway which was to be completed by 1881.
- 1872, November - The Grand trunk line between Sarnia and Buffalo via Stratford and London as well as the St. Marys branch is changed from 5' 6" to standard gauge. The actual work was done in 18 hours.
- The book Lovell's Gazetteer of British North America published in 1873 and recently reprinted by Global Heritage Press, contains a 115 page section entitled "The Railway and Steamboat Routes in British North America" It contains a table showing the cities, towns and villages, alphabetically arranged and giving the distance from each place to the nearest sttion of port. An invaluable tool for the family historian who is gaining an understanding of the potential transportation routes used by their ancestor or for the railway enthusiast.
- 1873, July 1 - Prince Edward Island joins Confederation. One of the conditions was that the Dominion Government take over and complete the Prince Edward Island Railway which had been commenced in 1871. The Intercolonial Railway became responsible for the Prince Edward Island Railway and opened the line between Charlottetown and Tignish for traffic on January 4, 1875.
- 1873, October 3-4 - The Grand Trunk Railway converts the gauge of its line between Stratford and Montreal, 421 miles together with 60 miles of sidings, from 5' 6" to the standard gauge of 4' 8 1/2". The track work was completed in 24 hours and occasioned but 16 hours interruption in the use of the main line.
- 1874, September - All Grand Trunk Railway lines east of Montreal, 542 miles, are converted from 5' 6" to standard gauge.
- 1875, April 26 - First scheduled train over the Prince Edward Island Railway from Charlottetown to Georgetown.
- 1875, June 1 - Ceremony of turning the first sod on the Canadian Pacific Railway on the left bank of the Kamistiquia River in the townsite of Fort William about four miles from the river's mouth.
- 1875 - The Intercolonial Railway converts its gauge from 5'6" to 4' 8 1/2".
- 1876, July 1.- Through rail travel between Halifax, Quebec and the rest of the Canadian rail system is made possible.
- 1877, August - First use of the telephone to dispatch trains. This was at the Caledonia Mine at Glace Bay on the Sydney Mines Railway. One of the owners was Gardiner G. Hubbard who was the father in law of Alexander Graham Bell who installed two telephones to control train movements.
- 1877, October 9 - Locomotive Countess of Dufferin arrives at St. Boniface on a barge towed by the steamer "Selkirk". It was brought in by the contractor Joseph Whitehead to work on the Selkirk - Emerson line and was the first locomotive in Manitoba and on the Prairies.
- 1879, May 20 - The Department of Railways and Canals comes into effect with a Minister having jurisdiction over all railways pertaining to the Dominion Government. Previously this function had been covered by the Department of Public Works.
- 1879, August 12 - The Intercolonial Railway gains access to Quebec by purchasing the Grand Trunk line between Quebec and Rivière du Loup.
- l879, December 29 - The locomotive J.G. Haggart is taken over the ice of the Red River into Winnipeg by the contractor Joseph Whitehead to start construction westwards across the Prairies in the spring of 1880.
- 1880, January 31 - An Ice Railway is opened between Longueuil and Montreal by the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway. A railway track was placed on large timbers laid on the ice of the St. Lawrence River. During the summer months the QMO&O used a car ferry. An ice railway was laid each winter until 1883.
- 1880 - The Grand Trunk Railway extends its line to Chicago, thus providing a through route from the American Midwest to the St. Lawrence at Montreal and Quebec and the Atlantic at Portland.
- 1881, February 15 - Canadian Pacific Railway Act receives the Royal Assent. A Royal Charter pursuant to the Act was granted on February 16th - this incorporated the company. The principal terms provided for the payment to the railway of a subsidy of $25,000,000 and 25,000,000 acres of land, plus the railways (Port Arthur-Selkirk-Winnipeg-Emerson and Port Moody-Savona) already contracted for by the government, upon their completion.
- 188l, August 26 - First train into Winnipeg over the Red River Bridge.
- 1882, January 1 - William Cornelius Van Horne is appointed General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Van Horne succeeded in laying 480 miles of track across the Prairies in the summer of 1882.
- 1882, August 12 - Great Western Railway, controlling 1,009 miles of track is merged into the Grand Trunk System.
- l882, September 13 - The Canada Atlantic Railway is opened between Ottawa and Coteau. This line which was built by John R. Booth was extended, within a period of 20 years, into a system stretching from Georgian Bay to the Vermont border.
- 1883, August 10 - First train reaches Calgary.
- 1883, September 22 - The Grand Trunk Railway acquires the 452 mile Midland Railway.
- 1884, November 1 - The Harbour Grace Railway, the first railway on Newfoundland, is opened for traffic between St. Johns and Harbour Grace. The last spike was driven by Prince George, later to become King George V, who was at the time visiting Newfoundland as a midshipman aboard H.M.S. Cumberland.
- l885, April - Second Northwest (Riel) Rebellion. Van Horne moves troops to the west through northern Ontario entirely over Canadian soil. This efficient military movement demonstrated the advantages to Canada of a completed transcontinental railway and prompted the government to grant temporary aid to the CPR to enable completion of the line.
- 1885, November 1 - First train service established over CPR between Montreal and Winnipeg via Ottawa, Sudbury and the Lakehead.
- 1885, November 7 - The last spike is driven in the first Canadian CPR) transcontinental main line at Craigellachie B.C. in the Eagle Pass. Van Horne makes his famous fifteen-word speech "All I can say is that the work has been well done in every way".
- 1885, November 8 - The CPR special train arrives in Port Moody at Pacific Tidewater, the first railway train ever to travel across Canada from sea to sea.
- 1886, June - Contracts are let for the construction of the Chignecto Marine Transport Railway, a 17 mile railway to carry ships across the Chignecto Isthmus between Tidnish on Northumberland Strait and Fort Lawrence on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Work on this double track, standard gauge railway, conceived by New Brunswick engineer Henry George Cloppers Ketchum, commenced in 1887 but was abandoned, three quarters completed, when the funds ran out in the summer of 1891.
- 1887, May - The CPR main line is extended 12.2 miles along Burrard Inlet to Vancouver.
- 1888, February 24 - The 494 mile long Northern and Northwestern Railway is acquired by the Grand Trunk Railway.
- 1889, June 3 - The first Canadian Pacific train arrives in Saint John, NB from Montréal marking the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway as a coast to coast railway.
- l891, September 19 - The single track St. Clair tunnel under the St. Clair River is opened by the Grand Trunk Railway. Construction had commenced in 1888 upon this tunnel which connects Sarnia with Port Huron.
- 1896, March 20 - The Grand Trunk Railway obtains control of the Central Vermont Railway which retained its corporate identity.
- 1897, September 24 - A new double track steel arch bridge is completed by the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company and the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company. The upper floor of the new structure is leased to the Grand Trunk Railway.
- 1898, March 1 - Through service commences over the Intercolonial Railway between Halifax and Montreal. This is achieved through a series of leases and running rights agreements with the Grand trunk Railway.
- 1898, June 29 - First through passenger train across Newfoundland leaves St. Johns at 19:20 and arrives Port aux Basques at 22:45, June 30.
- 1898, December 13 - First passenger train over the newly reconstructed Victoria Railway Bridge, Montreal. The original 1859 tube had been replaced by a double track steel bridge.
- 1899, January 13 - The Canadian Northern Railway is formed by the amalgamation of the Winnipeg Great Northern Railway and the Lake Manitoba Railway and Canal Company. William Mackenzie and Donald Mann then proceeded to expand the Canadian Northern system so that by 1915 the system comprised 9,362 miles of trackage.
- 1899, June 18 - The CPR line from Lethbridge through Crows Nest Pass to Kootenay Landing is opened for traffic. This was built with subsidies afforded by the Crows Nest Pass Agreement of 1897 which also set fixed rates on grain traffic.
- 1900, August 15 - Regular service is commenced over the 3'0" gauge White Pass and Yukon Railway between Skagway, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon.
- 1903, October 24 - The National Transcontinental Railway Act is passed. In order to expand into Western Canada the Grand Trunk Railway agrees to build a line from Moncton, New Brunswick to Quebec, then on a more northerly route than on any other transcontinental line to a point on the British Columbia Coast, which was to become Prince Rupert. The part between Moncton and Winnipeg was to be known as the National Transcontinental Railway and was to be built by the government. The line west of Winnipeg, to be known as the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, was to be built by the Grand Trunk itself.
- 1904, July 3 - First run of The Ocean passenger train between Montreal, Que. and Halifax. N.S. This is the longest running train in Canada having operated continuously over the same 840 mile route.
- 1905, October 1 - The Grand Trunk assumes control of the 460 mile Canada Atlantic system by agreement dated August 15, 1904.
- 1906, July 22 - The Grand Trunk Railway changes from left to right hand running on double track sections. The change involved considerable alteration in crossovers, switches and semaphore signals.
- 1909, August - Canadian Pacific completes the Kicking Horse grade relocation on the main line between Hector and Field, B.C. by substituting two spiral tunnels and lengthened line on a grade of 2.2% compensated, for the old "Big Hill" straight grade of 4.5%.
- 1909 - Canadian Pacific completes the viaduct on the Crows Nest Pass Line at Lethbridge, 5,327 feet long and with a maximum height of 314 feet above Oldman River. This is the highest railway bridge in Canada.
- 1910 - The last remaining broad gauge (5'6") line in North America, the Carillon and Grenville Railway, is abandoned. It was a portage railway opened on October 25, 1854. The railway lay idle from late 1910 until July 25, 1911 when it was bought by the Canadian Northern Railway as part of its new Montreal to Ottawa line.
- 1912 - Canadian Pacific leases the following companies:
- Dominion Atlantic Railway Company, Nova Scotia, on January 3.
- Quebec Central Railway Company, Quebec, on December 14.
- Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway Company, Vancouver Island, on July 1.
- 1914, January 1 - The first part of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway is opened for service between North Vancouver and Horseshoe Bay, 12 miles.
- 1914, April 9 - Grand Trunk Pacific Railway main line is completed between Winnipeg, Melville, Edmonton, Jasper and Prince Rupert.
- 1914, October 13 - The Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway is opened throughout between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Ont. Construction was started in 1899. The name was shortened to Algoma Central in 1965.
- 1914, December - The Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway is opened to service the aqueduct between Winnipeg, Man and Shoal Lake, Ont.
- 1915, June 1 - The National Transcontinental Railway is completed between Moncton and Winnipeg via Edmundston, Quebec and Senneterre. Because of the high cost the Grand Trunk refused to lease the line which was operated as a component of the Canadian Government Railways until the formation of the Canadian National System.
- 1915 - The Canadian Northern Railway completes its transcontinental main line from Vancouver to Quebec via Edmonton, North Battleford, Dauphin, Winnipeg, Fort Frances, Capreol, Ottawa, Hawkesbury and Montreal.
- 1915 - Canadian Government Railways are formed to operate the Intercolonial and the National Transcontinental Railways.
- 1916, December 9 - Canadian Pacific inaugurates the 5-mile Connaught Tunnel which eliminated the old route over Rogers Pass and shortened the line through the Selkirk Mountains by 4 1/2 miles.
- 1917, May 2 - The Drayton-Acworth report is produced being the findings of two out of three members of a Royal Commission which was set up in 1916. Sir Henry L. Drayton was Chairman of the Board of Railway Commissioners for Canada while William Ackworth came from London. The third member, who produced a minority report, was Alfred H. Smith, President of the New York Central Railway. The report recommends that the Government take over the Grand Trunk, the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern companies and operate them as one system together with the Intercolonial and the National Transcontinental Railway. The recommendations are accepted by the Government.
- 1917, October 17 - First train over the Quebec Bridge over the St. Lawrence. This was constructed by the Dominion Government for use by the National Transcontinental Railway. This bridge was notorious in that it fell down twice during construction:
- On August 29, 1907 the south cantilever arm collapsed killing 65 or more workmen.
- On September 10, 1916 the suspension span, which was being lifted, buckled and fell into the river killing 10 - 12 workmen.
- 1917, October 23 - The Canadian Railway War Board holds its first meeting in the Canadian Pacific Boardroom in Windsor Station, Montreal. The name was changed to the Railway Association of Canada in 1919. The RAC represents the interests of all railways operating in Canada.
- 1918, October 21 - The Mount Royal Tunnel, Montreal, is opened for regular traffic by the Canadian Northern Railway.
- 1918, November 20 - By order in Council P.C. 2854 the management of the Canadian Government Railways is entrusted to the Board of Directors of the Canadian Northern Railway Co. On the same day the Government takes over the Canadian Northern Railway and appoints a new Board of Directors.
- 1918, December 20 - The use of the collective title "Canadian National Railways" is authorized by order in council P.C. 3122.
- 1919, March 7 - The Minister of Railways is appointed as receiver for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.
- 1919, June 6 - Canadian National Railway Company is incorporated.
- 1920, March 8 - The management of the Grand Trunk Pacific is entrusted to the Board of Directors appointed for the Canadian National Railways.
- 1922, October 4 - The Canadian National Railway Company becomes a corporate entity (order in council P.C. 2094).
- 1923, January 19 - The Grand Trunk Railway is amalgamated into the Canadian National System by order in council P.C. 114. By 1923 the system included the Canadian Government Railways (including the Intercolonial, the Prince Edward Island and the National Transcontinental Railways); the Hudson Bay Railway; the Canadian Northern and its subsidiaries; the Grand Trunk Pacific; and the Grand Trunk (including the Grand Trunk Western and the Grand Trunk New England lines).
- 1927, August 6 - The third Toronto Union Station is opened officially by Edward, Prince of Wales. It was opened to the public on August 11, but passengers had to walk across to the old station tracks. The first day on which trains used the new, elevated, tracks through the new station platform was January 31, 1930.
- 1927, October - A report prepared by Frederick Palmer of London recommends that Churchill should be selected as the terminal port for the Hudson Bay Railway. As a result, the work previously carried out at Port Nelson is abandoned in favour of Churchill.
- 1929, June 26 - The following railways are jointly acquired by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific and operated under a newly incorporated company, the Northern Alberta Railways:
A total of 857 miles.
- Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia Railway (447 miles)
- Alberta & Great Waterways Railway (286 miles)
- Central Canada Railway (98 miles)
- Pembina Valley Railway (26 miles)
- 1929 - Canadian National Railways place in service the first road diesel electric passenger locomotive. This consisted of two units, weighing a total of 335 tons.
- 1929, September 28 - The Hudson Bay Railway reaches its northern terminus at Churchill, Manitoba. This was originally operated by Canadian National on behalf of the Government. It became part of the CNR system on September 5, 1951.
- 1930, September 29 - The final section of the 3'6" gauge railway on Prince Edward Island is converted to standard gauge. The conversion work on the island had started in 1919.
- 1932, July 15 - The Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway is opened throughout between North Bay and Moosonee, Ont. Construction was started on May 10, 1902. The name was subsequently changed to Ontario Northland Transportation.
- 1933, April - Canadian National and Canadian Pacific pool certain passenger services as a result of the Canadian National Canadian Pacific Act, 1933.
- 1936, September 18 - On test a new lightweight streamlined passenger train attains an officially recorded speed of 112 1/2 mph on the Canadian Pacific Winchester Subdivision near St. Telesphore, Quebec, with 4-4-4 locomotive no. 3003.
- 1937, December - Canadian Pacific takes delivery of its first diesel electric locomotive, a switching unit numbered 7000.
- 1949, April 1 - Newfoundland becomes the tenth province of Canada and the Newfoundland Railway becomes part of the Canadian National system. This narrow gauge system had been operated by the island government since 1923.
- 1949 - Canadian Pacific accepts its last new steam locomotive (in March) class T-l-c 2-10-4 no. 5935 from Montreal Locomotive Works, and acquires its first road diesel-electric locomotives nos. 8400-8404 (in September) for conversion of motive power on the Montreal-Newport-Wells River line.
- 1950, February 10 - The Temiscouata Railway is entrusted to Canadian National. This line, which was opened throughout on October 1, 1891, ran from Rivière du Loup to Edmundston and from Edmundston to Connors.
- 1951, February 9 - The Royal Commission on Transportation, the Turgeon Commission produces its report.
- 1951, August 26 - Canadian railways adopt the Uniform Code of Operating Rules for train operation purposes.
- 1952, October - The Pacific Great Eastern Railway opens between North Vancouver and Prince George.
- 1953 - Budd-built rail diesel cars (RDC) introduced on several Canadian runs. These are called "Railiners" by CNR and "Dayliners" by CPR.
- 1954, February 13 - The Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway is opened between Sept Isles, Que. and Schefferville, Labrador, construction having commenced in 1950.
- 1954, March 30 - Toronto Transit Commission opens the first part of the Toronto subway, the first subway in Canada.
- 1955, April 25 - Canadian Pacific inaugurates its new stainless steel, scenic-domed transcontinental passenger train "The Canadian" between Montreal/Toronto and Vancouver.
- 1955, May 14 - A causeway is completed across the Strait of Canso between Cape Porcupine and Balache Point, Nova Scotia. This involved a 14 mile main line diversion for the rerouting of railway traffic linking directly Cape Breton Island with the mainland. Previous movements were by car ferry across the Strait of Canso.
- 1957, May 17 - Canadian National opens a 40 mile diversion of its Montréal to Toronto main line required in the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
- 1960, April 25 - Locomotive number 6043 makes the last scheduled run of a steam locomotive on Canadian National on train 76 between The Pas and Winnipeg.
- 1960, November 6 - The last steam locomotive to operate officially on Canadian Pacific pulls a special train to St. Lin from Montreal. Locomotive is class A-l-e no. 29, 4-4-0 built in 1887.
- 1961, March - The Royal Commission on Transportation, the MacPherson Commission, publishes its report. These recommendations lead to the National Transportation Act of 1967.
- 1964, November - The Great Slave Lake Railway, operated by Canadian National is opened for traffic from Pine Point, Northwest Territories, to Roma Junction, Alberta. The open for carriage order is not issued by the Canadian Transport Commission until 7 July, 1967.
- 1965, October 30 - The Canadian National-Canadian Pacific passenger pool train arrangement is terminated.
- 1965, October 31 - Canadian National introduces "Rapido" passenger service between Montreal and Toronto. This was extended to Quebec in the following year.
- 1966, October 14 - first day of operation of the Montreal subway operated by la Société de Transport de la Communauté Urbaine de Montréal (STCUM).
- 1967, May 23 - "GO Transit" is inaugurated by the Province of Ontario under an operating agreement with Canadian National.
- 1967, July 11 - The first major "unit train" movement in Canada is inaugurated by Canadian Pacific - 3,700 tons of sulphuric acid from the Copper Cliff plant of CIL nr. Sudbury to Sarnia, Ontario.
- 1967, November 16 - Canadian Pacific begins testing Canada's first remote-controlled mid-train diesel locomotives in regular freight service, using new "Robot" radio-command system.
- 1968 - Canadian National introduces the "Tempo" service between Toronto-Windsor-Sarnia using new light-weight cars.
- 1968, December - Turbo train is placed in limited service between Montreal and Toronto, but because of technical problems the service is suspended on January 7, 1969.
- 1969, July 2 - Canadian National abandons Newfoundland passenger trains 101-102.
- 1970, April 21 - Canadian Pacific unveils Canada's first double-deck passenger train comprising nine air-conditioned cars built by Canadian Vickers Limited at a cost of $2.8 million. The cars went into operation April 27 on the Montreal Lakeshore suburban service.
- 1970, April 30 - The first CP coal unit train, comprising 88 cars and carrying more than 9,000 tons of coking coal destined to Japan, arrives at Roberts Bank superport after a 700-mile run from Sparwood, B.C.
- 1971, September 10 - Pacific Great Eastern Railway extension from Fort St. John to Fort Nelson, B.C. is opened for traffic.
- 1972, April 1 - Pacific Great Eastern Railway changes its name to British Columbia Railway.
- 1972, October 16 - The Commission of Inquiry in the Matter of the Employment Practices Relating to the Running-Trades' Employees in the Railway Industry, the Gallagher Commission publishes its report. This looked at the employment practices, particularly hours of work.
- 1974, March 17 - A CP Rail freight train hits a rock slide and derails at Spences Bridge, BC killing two crew members. This lead to the eventual installation of ditch lights on Canadian trains.
- 1976, October - The Commission on the Costs of Transporting Grain by Rail, the Snavely Commission produces its report.
- 1977, January 12 - Via Rail Canada is incorporated to operate inter-city passenger rail service.
- 1977, April 18 - The Hall Commission Report on Grain Handling and Transportation is published. This recommends limited branch line abandonment on the prairies.
- 1979, November 10 - CP Rail no. 54 suffers a hot axle box and derails 24 cars containing dangerous commodities, in Mississaugua, Ont. Almost a quarter of a million people were evacuated for periods of up to five days. The Grange Commission report on the acident is published in December, 1980.
- 1981, November 14 - VIA cuts nearly 20% of its services.
- 1983 - BC Rail begins operating the Tumbler Ridge line, Canada's first railway electrified at 50kv AC.
- 1986, January 3 - The Skytrain commences operation between Vancouver and New Westminster, BC.
- 1986, February 8 - A head on collision between a freight train and a passenger train near Hinton, Alberta claims 23 lives.
- 1986 - The Central Western Railway commences operation by acquiring the CN Stettler subdivision in Alberta.
- 1986, December - The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Hinton Train Collision, the Foisy Report is published.
- 1988, October - The last part of the railway on Newfoundland, operated by CN Rail, is abandoned.
- 1989, November 14 - CP Rail commences cabooseless train operations. CN Rail follows on February 1, 1990.
- 1989, December 12 - First revenue train runs through the CP Rail 9.1 mile Mount MacDonald Tunnel. This is the longest rail tunnel in the Americas.
- 1989, December 31 - The last part of the railway on Prince Edward Island, operated by CN Rail, is abandoned.
- 1990, January 15 - VIA cuts half of its passenger network. Included in these cuts are a decision to run just one transcontinental train between Toronto and Vancouver via CN through Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper.
- 1990, January 16 - Canadian Rail Operating Rules are approved by the Minister of Transport
- 1992 - The Central Western Railway expands its operation by acquiring the CP Coronation and Lacombe subdivisions in Alberta.
- 1992, April 6 - The Goderich Exeter Railway commences operations over the former CN line between Stratford Junction and Goderich and from Clinton Junction to Centralia in Ontario.
- 1993, January - The report of the National Transportation Act Review Commission, the Rivard Commission is published.
- 1993, October 1 - The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway commences operation over the former CN line between Sydney and Truro, Nova Scotia.
- 1994, August 29 - The Windsor and Hantsport Railway commences operation in Nova Scotia.
- 1994, December 1 - the Société des chemins de fer du Québec commences operation over the former CN line from Limoilou to Clermont, Québec.
- 1995, January 7 - The New Brunswick Southern Railway commences operation over former CP trackage from McAdam to Saint John, N.B. with a branch from McAdam to St. Stephen.
- 1995, May 5 - Official CN opening ceremony for a new tunnel between Sarnia, Ont and Port Huron, MI. The tunnel can handle full height double stack container cars.
- 1995, October 26 - The CN commuter line between Montréal Central station and Deux Montagnes is reopened with modernized equipment. The new electric multiple unit trains, operating at 25 kv AC, replace aging equipment, some of it going back to the opening of the line in 1918.
- 1995, November 1 - Commuter service commences over CP Rail between Vancouver and Mission, BC.
- 1995, November 19 - Canadian National shares begin to trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
- 1996, September 12 - Rocky Mountain Railtours runs the longest passenger train in Canadian history. Three GP40 locomotives hauled 34 cars from Vancouver to Kamloops.
- 1996, September 14 - York - Durham Heritage Railway commences operation over the former CN line between Uxbridge and Stouffville, Ont.
- 1996, September 28 - Iron Road Railways, under the name Quebec Southern Railway commences operation over the following former CP lines in Quebec:
- Lennoxville - St-Jean
- Brookport - Wells River (VT)
- Farnham - Ste-Rosalie Jct
- Farnham - Stanbridge
- 1996, October 1 - The St. Lawrence and Hudson Railway is formed by merging the CP Rail routes in southern Ontario and Quebec with its Delaware and Hudson subsidiary in northern USA. The STLH name was first used about June 1 although the legal entity was not established until October 1.
- 1996, October 30 - Ottawa Valley RaiLink takes over operation of the former CP line between Smiths Falls and Cartier, Ont as well as the Mattawa to Temiskaming branch in Quebec.
- 1996, November 2 - Ontario L'Orignal Railway (RailTex) commences operation over the former CN line between Glen Robertson, Hawkesbury and L'Orignal, Ont.
- 1996, December 1 - Chemin de fer Baie des Chaleurs commences operation over the former CN line beween Matapedia and Chandler, Que.
- 1997, June 16 - Corporation du chemin de fer de la Gaspésie takes over the former CN line between Chandler and Gaspé, Que. This is a non profit corporation owned by local municipalities. Operation of the line is sub-contracted to the Chemin de fer Baie des Chaleurs which commenced operation between matapedia and Chandler, Que in December 1996.
- 1997, June 24 - Port Colborne Harbour Railway, a division of the Caledonia and Hamilton Southern Railway, starts operation between Welland and Port Colbourne on the following lines in Ontario:
- CN Port Colbourne Spur (6.6 miles).
- Macy Spur (west of the Welland Canal).
- Government Spur (off Macy Spur).
- a new 1.1 mile connection between the Port Colbourne Spur and the Macy Spur.
- 1997, July 12 - Waterloo - St. Jacobs Railway commences passenger service over the former CN Waterloo Spur between Waterloo and Elmira, Ont.
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