New Brunswick's railways of the past
The 1850s ushered in a grand era of railway building in New Brunswick, as in the other Atlantic Provinces and elsewhere in Canada. The need to forge commercial links was a decisive factor in railway expansion. Disembarking from the train during the inaugural trip from Truro, Nova Scotia, to Lévis, Québec, Samuel L. Tilley, a former premier of New Brunswick who had become lieutenant-governor of the province, exclaimed that a barrel of flour would cost a dollar less in New Brunswick! As one condition for its entry into Canadian Confederation, the province had demanded construction of a railroad to allow economic relations with the existing Canadian provinces.
In the 19th century, the railroad was associated with the prosperity of local communities and the province overall. Its arrival on the scene marked the transition from the days of sails and wood to the era of iron and coal. The railroad connected small communities with each other and with larger centres. It facilitated economic relations with Canada, Maine and Europe -England in particular - thanks to the easy complementarity of boats and trains.
The trunk lines and many local lines imprinted our provincial territory before being superseded by modern road transportation, more flexible and better suited to present-day needs.
The trunk lines
One of the first major rail lines across New Brunswick was Intercolonial Railway's Nova Scotia-Lévis line inaugurated in 1876. That route, promoted by Canadian railroad engineer Sandford Fleming, ran through Moncton, Newcastle, Dalhousie, and Campbellton and crossed into the Gaspé Peninsula. Intercolonial connected the Maritimes to the other provinces of the new Canadian Confederation.
The City of Saint John, a major manufacturing and commercial centre, was connected to Intercolonial Railway via the European and North American Railway (ENAR), which made the trip from Saint John to Pointe-du-Chêne and Shediac, an important commercial region. ENAR was built a few short sections at a time over the space of several years and was inaugurated in 1860. That rail line was a shortcut by comparison with the boat route through the Bay of Fundy.
In the south of the province, the Canadian Pacific Railway went through Moncton, Chipman, Fredericton, and Woodstock and along the Saint John River as far as Edmundston in the northwest. Canadian Pacific bought up many local lines until the early 20th century.
Intercolonial's route from Campbellton to St. Leonard was inaugurated in 1910 and completed the railroad quadrangle within the province. The promoters of that route had plans for trade between Europe, the Gaspé Peninsula, New Brunswick, and the northeastern U.S. Intercolonial also provided easier access to the huge forest region between Campbellton and St. Leonard.
At the turn of the 20th century, Transcontinental made its debut in New Brunswick by the Edmundston-Moncton route via Grand Falls, Plaster Rock, and Chipman. That route was somewhat similar to Canadian Pacific's route, which ran along part of the Saint John River. In 1917, the federal government bought up several railway companies, including Transcontinental and Intercolonial, and named the new entity the Canadian National Railway Company, a.k.a. Canadian National. That company set up a large yard of railcar repair, maintenance, and paint shops in Moncton, where they remained in operation until the late 20th century.
Other rail lines
As the main rail lines were being laid, a great many other lines were also being built as connectors, often on shoestring budgets. Those lines, which were narrow-gauged and sometimes not as sturdy, were not necessarily operational in winter. The routes were not that long and even very short at times, e.g. the Hampton-St. Martins route.
There was no provincial plan for building which were laid by local business promoters as local and regional resourcefulness and ambition allowed. They were often the realization of a dream. Some of those lines were in use for only a few years. Others were in service until the mid-20th century and even beyond thanks to the two major railways, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, which bought them out starting in 1890 to capitalize on their presence in New Brunswick.
Redeveloping the natural landscape
The expression "rolling along" is an apt way of describing the history of the railway, which changed the territory even in places where features of the natural landscape were major obstacles. By way of example, it was necessary to build a causeway over the Sackville marshes, excavate the rock in the Campbellton area, and tunnel through Morissey Rock. How could a train cross Saint John's Reversing Falls? What kind of bridge was needed? It was a sizeable challenge for 19th-century knowledge and know-how.
The landscape posed a lesser challenge when the terrain was mostly even and wooded. Railway construction called for felling trees to open the way, then levelling the ground, raising the rail bed slightly higher than the natural grade, and putting down rocks, ties, and tracks. Once the railway was built, the landscape was further altered by the installation of water reservoirs and telegraph wires along the route (adding height to the natural environment) and then telephone lines later on.
Redeveloping the built-up environment
Existing buildings on inhabited, cultivated land had to be relocated. Parcels of cultivated fields disappeared to make way for the tracks. In the early 20th century, an estimated 300 farm buildings were moved in Madawaska County alone to make way for the Transcontinental.
The railway system also involved putting up new buildings along the routes. For example, 25 stations and departure/arrival platforms were built along the route of the Gulf Shore Railway, a local company in the Acadian Peninsula. Some railroad stations were splendid pieces of architecture, e.g. Rothesay Station (ENAR, 1858) and the well-known McAdam Village Station (Canadian Pacific, 1902). These two stations have been designated as national historic sites. The former Kedgwick Railway Station (Canadian National, 1919-1920) is a provincial historic site. Warehouses, lodgings, and restaurants commonly sprang up around the stations, as did a network of small roads leading from the main thoroughfare to the station.
Passage of the railway marked the development of local communities. Indeed, Intercolonial favoured the creation of subsequently prosperous new parishes, such as Saint-Quentin and Kedgwick, both located in the heart of a vast wooded region that was not easily accessible in the early 1900s.
St. Leonard, a farming village back in the 1920s, turned towards business, services, and logging once Transcontinental and Intercolonial arrived. Owing to a combination of all these factors, the village of St. Leonard became a municipality and grew to become the second largest community in the Madawaska region, after Edmundston.
The presence of Intercolonial's head office and machine shops lent strong impetus to the urbanization and industrialization of Moncton. From 1881 to 1891, the population grew 74%, while the New Brunswick population as a whole remained stable. The railway caused rural dwellers in the neighbouring countryside to move to the city, which became a major centre for manufacturing and service jobs.
All things considered, a look at the rail routes throughout New Brunswick in the 19th and early 20th centuries suggests that the province probably had a more extensive railway system than other places. Train services were also extensive. Furthermore, that system contributed to territorial development by adding new features to the natural landscape.
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LAPOINTE, Jacques F. Grande-Rivière : une page d'histoire acadienne. Monographie de la ville de Saint-Léonard, N.- B. 1789-1989, Moncton, Éditions d'Acadie, 1989.
LEBRETON, Clarence. Le " Caraquet Flyer ", Montréal, Éditions du Fleuve, 1990.
NASON, David. Railways of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Ireland Press, 1992.
SOUCOUP, Dan. Looking Back, Halifax, Maritime Lives, 2002.