North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955

By Sarah-Jane Mathieu; Waldo E. Martin Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Birth of a Nation

Race, Empire, and Nationalism during Canada’s Railway Age

Smoke belched from the Pacific Express’s engine as it slowly snaked into Winnipeg the morning of 1 July 1886—just in time for Canada Day celebrations. Three thousand excited spectators and an artillery salvo heralded the arrival of Canada’s first transcontinental train, now halfway through its maiden voyage.1 It was, just as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) company had promised, a red-letter day. The procession of train cars spanned seven hundred feet end to end and included a wood-burning locomotive, two firstclass cars, two baggage cars, the “Holyrood” dining car, and the “Honolulu” and “Yokohama” sleeping cars.2 Enthusiasts quickly besieged the opulent sleepers and marveled at their awesome appointments. W. F. Salisbury, a passenger and CPR executive, described the pandemonium over the sleepers in a letter to his wife: “Our car the Honolulu was thronged with admiring visitors during our stay,” and added, “I dare say a hundred or more people passed through it—in fact, I may say we were treated with this kind consideration at almost every place we stopped during daylight. Modesty, I presume, forbade them [from] disturbing us during the night.”3

Canadians had much cause for celebrating the completion of their national railway line. Their first through train signaled the rebirth of Canada as a modern nation and pointed to the country’s maturation into the new industrial era. Accordingly, they made powerful emotional connections between railroad technology and the rise of their new nation-state. Canadian statesmen and railway barons alike looked to the railway as the nation’s guaranteed path to modernity and prosperity, explicitly wedding technology,

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