Surveying the Canadian Pacific: Memoir of a Railroad Pioneer

Surveying the Canadian Pacific: Memoir of a Railroad Pioneer

Surveying the Canadian Pacific: Memoir of a Railroad Pioneer

Surveying the Canadian Pacific: Memoir of a Railroad Pioneer

Synopsis

In 1871 R. M. Rylatt, a former sergeant of His Majesty's Royal Engineers, embarked on a new career as an agent of the Canadian Pacific Railroad Survey, searching for a route that would join British Columbia to the rest of Canada. He kept notes of his two years of expeditionary work, which he later revised and expanded, adding numerous colour sketches and line drawings. These memoirs were compiled in a handsome leatherbound journal, which remained in the family for more than a hundred years before being discovered and subsequently published by the University of Utah Press in 1991.

Rylatt's journal provides a valuable first-hand account of the race to mount a transcontinental railway across largely unmapped territory. It is also a great adventure story, full of the trials and tribulations that were so much a part of the everyday existence. In one dramatic encounter, Rylatt graphically describes using an axe to cut off three fingers of a troublemaker in camp. Especially gripping, and the most vivid pure adventure, is the last fifth of the diary describing the trip homeward in May of 1873 when, with three horses and a companion, he travels from Jasper across the Continental Divide and down the Thompson River to Kamloops.

Readers will be captivated by Rylatt's jaunty but dangerous adventures told with sly humour and a canny eye for detail. The compelling text and exceptional colour illustrations give life to the efforts of one individual engaged in a grand enterprise to span a nation. As William Kittredge notes in his foreword to the book: 'Like so many of those who ventured out onto the proving ground of exploration and adventure and settlement in the nineteenth century, Rylatt seems to have been quite aware he was engaged in a great conquest. He also understood he was seeing things that would never be seen again.'

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