Friday, April 3, 2015

Playing Politics

By 1872, Sanford Fleming - engineer who mapped a lot of the CPR routes - had settled on the Yellowhead Pass approach  for the railway. However, he later abandoned that plan and chose the Fraser route. Why will probably never be known. Fleming's personal memoirs don't shed light on the issue and the official CPR statements were designed to conceal, rather than enlighten. So many  factors come into play. Tremendous political pressure, extreme public agitation and complex and difficult economic considerations may have played a part in the railway sometimes announcing a firm decision. CPR, however, was not averse to prolonging the suspense and concealing its decisions when it could profit from the public uncertainty. As we will see in the case of the railway coming to Vancouver.

All the 70s, controversy raged. During the inquiry into the Pacific Scandal of 1873, Moberly  came close to accusing Fleming of attempted murder during a public testimony. According to Moberly, Fleming had abandoned him and his men for the winter in the Yellowhead pass without adequate supplies.

 By 1874, it was obvious to everyone that they must deal with the possibility of choice of the Fraser route but the Victorians didn't consider the likelihood of a mainland terminal to be a serious threat. In December of 1877, Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie officially announced the adoption of the Fraser route. The  matter was once again up in the air though when the conservatives came to power in Ottawa in the summer of 1878. Later that year, Sir John A. Macdonald confirmed his predecessor's choice.

So now the route is planned but where is the terminus going to be? Macdonald had pledged in 1873 it would be in Esquimalt. James D. Edgar, negotiating on behalf of Mackenzie in 1874, made even more definite promises. He pledged aid to the construction of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway as the CPR's westernmost section. Some Island politicians feared he might be double-crossing them for Mackenzie talked in terms of a transcontinental wagon road and telegraph line instead of a railway.

Premier George A. Walkem broke off the talks with Edgar. Mackenzie's Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway bill, which was passed by the Commons in 1875, specifically stated the E. and N. as not to be considered an integral part of the CPR. The bill was rejected in the Senate.

In 1876, Lord Dufferin, the governor-general, visited BC and attempted to smooth things over. He denounced both Macdonald's and Edgar's pledges as "flagrant bribery". Before the election of 1878, Mackenzie rescinded an order-in-council naming Esquimalt as the terminus.

All hope wasn't lost for Victorians though. The election that  year changed everything. Macdonald suffered a personal defeat in Kingston and Victoria seized on the opportunity. He was offered a seat in Victoria and elected. He restored Esquimalt as the terminus. Construction on the B.C. section of the railway began at Yale on May 14, 1880.

However, it was not to last. In 1881, Colonial Secretary Lord Kimberely decided Vancouver Island was only entitled to a light-gauge line and things got even more darker for Victorians in 1882 when the CPR refused to take any responsibility for the E. and N.

The Beaven government of BC cut Victoria's throat by rescinding the Island railway grants to the Federal Government and turning the E. and N. over to Robert Dunsmuir to complete. Macdonald saw this as reliving both the CPR and the Dominion of Canada from any responsibility in the matter. 

Dunsmuir's acceptance of the E. and N. offer and substantial federal compensation for Vancouver did not become official until 1884, the events of 1882 assured that Burrard Inlet would be the western terminus of the CPR.

But Gastown was not excited and I will tell you why on Monday.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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