Manitoba Railway Stories

By George Siamandas


The railways opened up the Canadian west for settlement. They helped deliver goods and grain across the country and they provided boundless employment. Whichever community was lucky enough to see the rails go through came to enjoy great prosperity. Winnipeg became one of these success stories. The railways have left us a legacy in buildings and equipment.

The Countess of Dufferin which arrived in Winnipeg Oct 8 1877 is our oldest locomotive. Ironically it got here on a barge pushed by the riverboat SS Selkirk. Countess was named in honour of the Governor General's wife.

But first the rails had to be laid connecting Winnipeg to St. Paul. About a year later the first train left St. Boniface on Dec 3 1878. The Countess operated in Manitoba for less than thirty years, and spent part of its later life hauling logs in Golden BC where it was eventually scrapped. It was RD Waugh city controller and a future mayor who discovered the Countess in this Golden scrap heap in 1908. He had the Countess donated to Winnipeg and it was subsequently restored by the CPR. It stood in front of the CPR Station for years. It is now on display in an area of the CN Station tracks.


The CPR brought the first Canadian link to Winnipeg in 1881. But it took a while to complete the transcontinental system. The first cross country train arrived in Winnipeg on July 2 1886 headed to Vancouver. It was pulled by an engine a lot like the one that runs the Prairie Dog Central.


The Prairie Dog Central is one of the oldest vintage steam trains in Canada. The locomotive is engine #3 built in Scotland in 1882. It worked between Manitoba and BC. It was taken over by the City in 1920s who operated it for access to the power stations till the 60s. Then it was leased to Vintage Locomotive Society, who have restored it and provided excursions since the 1970s. The city stills owns it. Steam locomotives were a fixture on the prairies till the 1950s.


But all this changed in 1960. The last steam locomotive, No 6043, ran from Thompson to Winnipeg on April 25 1960. Built in Kingston Ontario in 1929 for $175,000, it was to be scraped for $5,000, but in 1962 it was rescued. It is on display at the south end of Assiniboine Park.


Diesel locomotives supplanted steam. One of the earliest diesels a 1954 model is on display at the Manitoba Childrens' Museum Train Gallery. And fittingly, it is housed in the west's oldest surviving railway building. The B&B Building which is home to the Childrens' Museum, was built in 1889 as a locomotive engine repair shop. In this brick structure the story of railroads is played out for and by the young. A generation that will likely never experience them.


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