A Thousand Blunders: The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Northern British Columbia

A Thousand Blunders: The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Northern British Columbia

A Thousand Blunders: The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Northern British Columbia

A Thousand Blunders: The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Northern British Columbia


In A Thousand Blunders, Frank Leonard looks at why the 'Road of a Thousand Wonders' failed to live up to the expectations forecast by company president Charles M. Hays and other senior managers. Not only was the railway built through a sparsely settled region, which generated little immediate traffic, but its economic difficulties were also compounded by the numerous mistakes made by managers at all levels: for example, their failure to respond adequately to labour shortages caused serious delays and prevented the company from proving Prince Rupert as an effective alternative harbour before World War I broke out. For this book, Frank Leonard had access to a wealth of original documents, among them the GTP legal department files, providing him with insights into the decisions that formed the basis for policies in townsites and on Indian reserves. A Thousand Blunders is a provocative account of one of the greatest failures in Canadian entrepreneurial history. Richly detailed and thoroughly documented, it makes an important contribution to the fields of railway and business history, as well as to the study of the history of northern British Columbia.


I MUST FOLLOW the example of railway labour historian Walter Licht and confess at the outset that I, too, am not a train buff. Though I had an electric train as a child, I played with it only sporadically. While I enjoyed watching with my parents the steam locomotives chuff back and forth in a West Toronto yard, I turned down the early invitation of a kind engineer to ride in one. And a cross-country trip by day coach from Vancouver to Montreal for Expo 67 led to a firm resolution to fly forever after.

My interest in the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company (GTP) grew incrementally during a teaching sojourn in Prince George, the largest community on the successor CN North Line. I was contemplating prospective dissertation topics, and I needed a demonstration for a local history course. By satisfying the second, the GTP aroused my interest for the first. The discovery of extensive GTP records in the National Archives in Ottawa, though far from complete, convinced me that one could illuminate much of what appeared to be the arrested development of northern British Columbia through an examination of the papers of company managers stationed thousands of miles away.

This book first saw the light of day as a doctoral dissertation for York University, and it is the examining committee members for that work whom I first thank: Christopher Armstrong, John Saywell, Gilbert Stelter, Tom Traves, and John Warkentin. Viv Nelles, the supervisor of the study, offered much good advice throughout the exercise.

Like many historians of British Columbia, I have benefitted from the advice and encouragement of Robin Fisher, Patricia Roy, and Robert McDonald. Pat opened her collection of editorial cartoons; Bob walked the grade and listened with good humour to a disquisition on the finer points of railway cuts, fills, and bridges as we spent a day motoring leisurely from Terrace to Prince Rupert. All have shared their research with me; the notes indicate my debt to each. I have also learned much from discussion and correspondence with historians across Canada and the United States who share an interest in the business of railways. John Eagle . . .

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