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PAQUETTE, WILFRID – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 25 May 1917 in Montreal


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Transportation Infrastructure

In 1903 Sir Wilfrid LAURIER, worried about the challenge of continuing the material development of the country and about his re-election, presented Canadians with an impressive plan for a transcontinental railway:

“... with Sifton as his indispensable coordinator, Laurier pursued the great challenge of developing the west, which would soon be the most dynamic element in the country’s economic growth.... This optimism would lead Laurier to design another gigantic project: the construction of a second transcontinental railway. An extravagant undertaking, it would elevate him for the moment to the rank of the Fathers of Confederation.”

The project submitted by Charles Melville HAYS, of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, drew the attention of the prime minister:

“After 1896 Canadian prosperity was based on the settlement of the prairies. To compete effectively with the CPR [Canadian Pacific Railway], Hays believed the GTR [Grand Trunk Railway] had to cross them.… On the failure of the GTR and the … Canadian Northern to unite on such a project, Ottawa threw its support behind the GTR.”

Unfortunately, reality caught up with Laurier, whose government was under various pressures, especially the laying down and financing of the line. Entrepreneurs such as John Duncan McARTHUR saw in this situation a chance to become rich at the expense of the state: 

“McArthur’s most profitable and most controversial contract, signed in 1905, was for construction of the critically important mileage from Winnipeg to Superior Junction, in northern Ontario. His bid, which left blank 48 of the 101 items on the application form, has been described by CPR historian George Roy Stevens as ‘grossly irregular.’ The incomplete bid was for $33,073 per mile, which was three per cent below the costs estimated by the government. In the end he was paid $78,745 per mile, this in spite of the fact that he failed to meet construction deadlines. Difficulties caused by muskeg and heavy rock work, and hence changes in the classifications of work done, were blamed for the higher costs. His failure to complete the work on time proved extremely expensive for the Grand Trunk Pacific because the entire line could not be opened for through traffic as quickly as originally planned. Few railways in Canadian history have as sorry a record of government incompetence and alleged political corruption and patronage as does the National Transcontinental Railway; McArthur’s contract, completed in August 1910, is often cited as an example of what went wrong.”

Laurier’s years in power were also marked by challenges in the shipping industry, which depended on federal subsidies, as the following excerpt from the biography of engineer and manufacturer Franklin Bates POLSON shows: 

“The mainstays of [Polson’s] company during these lean years were engines and boilers, but by the end of the decade it had returned to shipbuilding, turning out at least two or three vessels each year. Polson and others lobbied the federal government almost annually for a bounty on Canadian-built tonnage, to counteract the cheaper iron, coal, labour, and capital available to British shipbuilders, but Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier* refused to act. In 1903, accompanied by John Joseph Long of the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company and other manufacturers, Polson visited Ottawa to request financial support instead for the construction of dry docks. Such subsidization would be legislated in 1910.”

To learn more about the development of transportation infrastructure in Laurier’s time, we invite you to consult the following lists of biographies.


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