Rail line celebrated as the West's first railway
Source: Winnipeg Free Press.
Published: July 5th 2008

A plaque marking Western Canada's first railway was unveiled today in Dominion City by Provencher MP Vic Toews.

The Pembina Branch, completed 130 years ago, connected St. Boniface to St. Paul, Minnesota via Emerson and Pembina, N.D., giving Western Canada its first rail route to eastern Canada, via American lines.

The route brought immigrants and manufactured goods west, while providing a cost-effective way to get western grain and other farm produce to the east.

"The completion of this important rail line in 1878 heralded the era of railways in the Canadian West and represented Canada's commitment to connecting the West and East," Toews said in a news release.

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and British Columbia joined Canada on the promise of a transcontinental railway.

Sir John A. Macdonald had proposed an all-rail link, but his eagerness to realize his vision led to the Pacific Scandal and the downfall of his Conservative government in 1873, according to Parks Canada. That gave Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie's Liberal coalition an opportunity to implement his own vision of a combination of water and rail routes across the continent.

The Pembina Branch, built by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, followed the Red River and old cart paths.

The last spike was driven Dec. 3, 1878, when western Canada's first locomotive -- the Countess of Dufferin -- met an American train at Dominion City.

"It is my hope that the plaque will educate Canadians on the monumental importance that the construction of this railway had for the development of Canada," Toews said in the release.

The Countess of Dufferin steam locomotive, named after the wife of then governor general Lord Dufferin, is on display at Via Rail's Union Station in Winnipeg.