Winnipeg's Railway Town

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Transcaona was built because of the railway shops. And on April 6, 1912 Transcona received its charter. It had been a heady period for businessmen that had enjoyed visions of a second Chicago. Transcona is named for the Transcontinental Railway (TRANS) and (CONA) for Lord Strathcona. It was one of the few places in Manitoba that does not owe its origins to agriculture but to the railway. In 1907 800 acres were acquired for the railway shops. It was soon discovered to be a swamp, part of a natural watercourse running from the Tache municipality to the Red River. As the shops were being built, 4 feet of fill were used to elevate the entire facility. The original town located south of the shops was largely abandoned and a new town was built north for the shops.


There was a wish to create a second national railway at a time when small railways were seeing very difficult days. When the amalgamation finally took place, 3 private, 4 govt and 149 other railways came together to form the Canadian National Railway, complete by 1923. At one time 2,000 found jobs there and the facility was planned to employ 5,000. There was work for trainmen, machinists, blacksmiths, boilermakers, electricians, pipe fitters and upholsterers. Over the years Transcona has had its ups and downs reflecting levels of employment at the shops. Now it employs only 700. It has the second largest Ukrainian community in Winnipeg after the north end. The shop also built locomotives, and No 2747, was the first. Taken out of service in 1960 it has been preserved in a park. Over the years, 37 locomotives were built at the Transcona Shops


The boom was on. Land that had been selling for 100 per lot was now selling for $100 per front foot. The boom did not last. But hard time in the when rail business was low due to the end of the immigration of settlers to the west and low grain prices. In 1920 Transcona had to face hard facts. Dreams of their future had been unrealistic. When it came time for city council to pay for services it found it had $285,00 in expenditures but only $4,485 in revenues. The town's affairs were taken over by the province till 1927 when it began to run its own affairs. Till Regent Ave was paved in July 1931, under a depression works program, most Transcona residents would go to the city, Winnipeg, by train.


On Sept 1, 1947, the country's worst train wreck happened as a train of vacationers returned form Minaki ran into a transcontinental train at the Dugald station a few minutes east of Transcona. It killed 35.




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