100 Years of CN

Happy birthday, CN!
Happy birthday, CN!

On June 6, 1919, 100 years ago, the Canadian National Railways was incorporated. 100 years later, CN, as it is now known, continues to move trains across the country.

CN is shipping a specially decorated and equipped set of containers across the continent to celebrate this – see their web site for details. Matt Landry caught the containers on CN 120 at Fort Lawrence, Nova Scotia on their way toward Halifax.

CN 100 Year Containers

The CNR was formed out of a motley collection of railways inherited by the Canadian federal government. There are three main predecessors: the Canadian Government Railways (CGR), the Canadian Northern (CNoR) and the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), which was absorbed by the CNR after incorporation.

CNR Logo
CNR Logo

The Canadian Government Railways

The Canadian Government Railways were themselves formed from a collection of other railways. The Intercolonial Railway was built between Quebec and Nova Scotia to link the Maritime provinces to central Canada, a requirement for Confederation.

Other components of the CGR included the Prince Edward Island Railway, a railway that nearly bankrupted the island before it joined Canada in 1873.

The CGR also included the National Transcontinental Railway, built as part of the planned second transcontinental railway built in conjunction with the Grand Trunk Railroad. When the GTR reneged on its agreement to lease the NTR, the government stepped in.

Finally, on May 20, 1918, several uneconomic New Brunswick branch lines joined the CGR.

The Canadian Northern

The Canadian Northern Railway (often abbreviated as CNoR to distinguish it from the Canadian National Railways) was built through the prairies as a competitor to the Canadian Pacific Railway. Two branchline contractors, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, assembled a collection of existing branchlines and “paper railways” together to form a prairie branchline network. They built east to Port Arthur to gain access to grain shipping on the Great Lakes, and on to Montreal. On the west side, they built through Edmonton through the Yellowhead Pass to Vancouver.

The CNoR went bankrupt and was nationalized on September 6, 1918. On December 20, 1918 the “Canadian National Railway” name was created to rationalize the CNoR and CGR operations.

CN at 100

CN's short-lived "North America" logo
CN’s short-lived “North America” logo

Today CN is the sole remaining Canadian transcontinental railway, stretching from Vancouver and Prince Rupert on the west coast to Halifax on the east coast. CN also reaches down through the US from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast at New Orleans and Mobile.

The Canadian National Railways have come a long way, baby.

Happy birthday.

See Also

4 thoughts on “100 Years of CN”

  1. Hi Steve,
    Perhaps if you’re looking for a topic for a future TrainGeek why not give a little
    more history of the CNoR and the CGR including the Longlac Cutoff in Northern
    Ontario and the combination of the CGR and ICR near Riviere Du Loup. There’s very little written about the history and it’s amazing how few train buffs know about the history.


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