Provinces on rails

Take the train heading east!

Move the train from Lévis to Rivière-du-Loup, then on to Halifax.
Discover the railway construction camps and the barriers that had to be overcome to reach the Maritimes.
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The building of the railway network

The Grand Trunk Railway

Conquering winter by rail

The Grand Trunk Railway was created to link the colony’s major towns of Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. The decision in 1852 to extend the railway further east to Halifax was taken more for political than economic reasons. Yet, giving central Canada access to the Atlantic ports in winter would be an enormous strategic and economic advantage.

 A convoy of Temiscouata Railway in winter

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Temiscouata Railway, bl0724.

Station at Lévis

In 1854, the station of Tibbits Cove in Lévis was the terminus of the Grand Trunk line. During the 1850s, railway construction continued in the direction of Rivière-du-Loup.

Station at Lévis, circa 1870

Source: Station at Lévis, circa 1870, BANQ, P 1000, S4, D59, P009.

Station at Sainte-Anne

All the stations in the region were built according to the same architectural model. Those at Sainte-Anne, Saint-Pascal, and Rivière-du-Loup were covered in yellow Scottish brick and provided a shelter for passengers under their projecting eaves.

Workers leaving the station of Sainte-Anne-de-La Pocatière

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Parrot, pa0036.

Station at Saint-Pascal

During the winter of 1859, although the tracks already reached Rivière-du-Loup, the Grand Trunk company decided not to maintain this section of the line. Hence, the trains stopped at Saint-Pascal.

Saint-Pascal Station

Source: Archives of Côte-du-Sud and Collège de Sainte-Anne, Station at Saint-Pascal, 05361.

Station at Fraserville

On August 2, 1860, the Grand Trunk’s eastern line was officially inaugurated and the first train chugged into the Fraserville station.

The presence of the railway gave new importance to the towns on its route and became the principal motor of their economic development. As the plan to build a line all the way to Halifax was postponed for lack of funds, Rivière-du-Loup remained the last station on the Grand Trunk line until 1876.

The train station and a repair shop were built at the end of Chemin du Lac Témiscouata on the west bank of the Rivière du Loup, near the bridge that crossed it.

Fraserville station at Rivière-du-Loup in 1860.

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Thomas Evans Blackwell, Le chemin de fer du Grand Tronc à Rivière-du-Loup, 1860, PA-205428.

Fraserville station for the east bank of the River du Loup.

Source: ©McCord Museum, William Notman, Passenger and freightstation of the Grand Trunk Railway, circa 1860, N-0000.193.53.2.

Train depot of the Grand Trunk Railway, circa 1860

Source: ©McCord Museum, William Notman, Train depot of the Grand Trunk Railway, circa 1860, N-0000.193.51.2.

Locomotive No. 50

The Birkenhead steam engine, No. 50, known as “the Nelson,” was one of the first models to reach Rivière-du-Loup in 1860.

Birkhenhead Locomotive No. 50 at the station Fraserville

Source: ©McCord Museum, “The Nelson,” Birkenhead Locomotive No. 50 of the Grand Trunk Railway, Rivière-du-Loup, QC, circa 1860, N-0000.5.25.

1876 - The Intercolonial Railway: a political will

Railway building in Canada was mainly determined by political imperatives. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald made the sea-to-sea railway link his particular hobby horse. The completion of a track between the central provinces and the Maritimes even became a condition for the provinces to join the Canadian federation.

Cover of the book of Sandford Fleming on the history of the Intercolonial Railway

Source: Sandford Fleming, The Intercolonial: a History. A Historical Sketch of the Inception, Construction and Completion of the Line of Railway Uniting the Inland and Atlantic Provinces of the Dominion. Montreal, Dawson Brothers Publishers. 1876. 268 pages.

John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister of Canada

Source: Library and Archives Canada, John A. Macdonald, PA-006513-v6..

A technical know-how

For seven years, large construction sites covered the whole east between Rivière-du-Loup and Halifax. Sandford Fleming, the project’s chief engineer, led a team of surveyors and engineers who supervised the work. Over a distance of 900 km, the route had to be cleared of forest, natural barriers had to be circumvented, and the ground had to be stabilized. In addition, to prevent the engines from straining too hard, the way had to be as horizontal as possible.

Office of the railway engineers of the Intercolonial

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Engineers’ office, PA-022128.

Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Intercolonial

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Sandford Fleming, C-001164.

The labour

During the great railway adventure, a number of farmers and their sons joined the construction crews. The work was difficult without mechanization. A pick, a shovel, a wheelbarrow, or a horse-drawn wagon constituted the only work equipment. Local manpower was insufficient for the task; workers from other provinces and European immigrants were brought in to make up for the dearth of workers for the construction sites in the Bas-Saint-Laurent.

Construction of the trans-continental railway at the beginning of the 20th century

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, 1907-1911, pl057. Note: Construction of the trans-continental railway at the beginning of the 20th century.

Surveyors to work on the trans-continental railway in the early 20th century

Source : Surveyors, 1907-1911, Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, pl192. Note: Construction of the trans-continental railway at the beginning of the 20th century.


The first railway bridge to cross the Rivière du Loup was made of wood. It was replaced by an iron structure in 1889.

The first railway bridge over the River du Loup

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Rivière-du-Loup, Québec, Alexander Henderson, 1871-1875, PA-022032.


The engineers faced various technical challenges. Embankments and gigantic bridges of wood and iron had to be erected to overcome natural barriers. The Trois-Pistoles railway bridge that crosses the river’s mouth has a span of 1000 feet and is supported by five 100-foot-high piers.

Railway Bridge of the River Trois-Pistoles

Source: Sandford Fleming, The Intercolonial : a History. A Historical Sketch of the Inception, Construction and Completion of the Line of Railway Uniting the Inland and Atlantic Provinces of the Dominion. Montreal, Dawson Brothers Publishers. 1876. p.146.


Sandford Fleming, the project’s chief engineer, favoured iron bridges rather than wooden ones because they were safer and lasted longer. The Rimouski River bridge was built in 1873.

Railway Bridge of the Rimouski River

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, 1907, m05205.


The Robinson line runs along the St. Lawrence shore until Sainte-Flavie Station (later became Mont-Joli). It then veers off towards New Brunswick, crossing the Matapedia valley.

Street Station in Mont-Joli

Source: Postcard, BANQ, c01063.

Temporary camps

The Intercolonial Railway construction gangs occasionally had to shelter in temporary camps with little or no comfort.

Temporary camp at the site of the Intercolonial in 1875

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Camp on the Matapedia River, Fonds Fleming, June-August, 1875, PA-022099.


The small villages of the Matapedia Valley enjoyed an increase in activity and the resulting business opportunities. The arrival of settlers, merchants, and labourers on the region’s construction sites led to the founding of several parishes in the decade that followed the railroad’s arrival. The existence of the Intercolonial Railway line led to the development of the Matapedia Valley. The principal land routes -- Kempt Road and the Matapedia road, were abandoned in favour of the railway, which provided reliable transportation, even in the dead of winter.

Railway bridge to the Matapedia River Causapscal

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Bridge over the Matapedia River at Causapscal, Fonds Sandford Fleming, circa 1875, PA-022098.


Immense stations and repair and maintenance shops were built along the railway in the larger towns of the provinces.

 Deposit of the Intercolonial Railway, Moncton, NB

Source: ©McCord Museum, Intercolonial Railway depot, Moncton, N.B., 1901.VIEW-3397.


The final destination of the Intercontinental Railway line was the port of Halifax. Trains could unload merchandise destined for Europe right on the railway dock.

Railway dock, Halifax, N.S.

Source: ©McCord Museum, Railway dock, Halifax, N.S., MP-0000.25.64..

1883 - The Intercolonial Railway in

Rivière-du-Loup’s railway station was replaced by a new one in 1883. This large building was designed to welcome passengers arriving from the Maritimes or from the western provinces. Hub of the network, Rivière-du-Loup was a station of major importance, with its repair and maintenance shops.

Fraserville station built in 1883

Source: Postcard of the Intercolonial Railway station, Rivière-du-Loup, Private collection.

The railway dock in La Pointe

In 1885, a section of the line was opened between the Rivière-du-Loup station and the dock at La Pointe. The square-timbered wood could reach the dock more quickly and continue its journey by steamboat or schooner on the St. Lawrence.

The steamboat Carolina, docked at Rivière-du-Loup

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, The steamboat Carolina, docked at Rivière-du-Loup, Richelieu Co., 1903, m07083.

1889 - Le chemin de fer du Témiscouata

Ten years after the completion of the Intercolonial Railway, local promoters also embarked upon the railway adventure. Thus, the Temiscouata Railway, linking Edmundston with Rivière-du-Loup, came into being in 1889.

A passenger car at the station of the Temiscouata Railway

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Temiscouata station, bl0031.

Chemin du lac (Lake Road)

The railway line ran along the shore of Lake Temiscouata, providing an alternative to the Chemin du Lac, cut in 1840 southward from Rivière-du-Loup. The Temiscouata Railway link to New Brunswick was faster and more reliable all year round than the old postal routes on Chemin du Lac.

Railway line along Lake Témiscouata

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, bl0717b.


All built in the same style, little wooden stations were erected in the towns along the Temiscouata Railway.

Saint-Honoré Station

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, bl0029b.


Saw mills established near the small towns served by the railroad exploited the immense forestry potential of the hinterland.

Saint-Louis Station

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, bl0028b.


The railway ran along the shore of Lake Temiscouata, serving the lakeside parishes of Cabano, Notre-Dame-du-Lac, and sainte-Rose-du-Dégelis.

Arrival of a train on the station platform of Cabano

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, jab0076.


Edmundston became an important junction in the New Brunswick railway network. South from Edmundston, the tracks ran along the St. John River to St. Andrews in the Bay of Fundy.

Temiscouata Railway station in Edmundston

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Temiscouata station, bl0032.

The coal-fuelled locomotive

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Temiscouata Railway Company possessed five coal-fuelled steam engines. The car holding the coal reservoir was placed right behind the steam engine.

Locomotive coal of the Temiscouata Railway

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, bl0033.

1914 - A direct link to the Maritimes

The Transcontinental line was inaugurated in 1914. Linking Quebec City and Moncton, it passed south of Rivière-du-Loup. It carried merchandise directly to the Maritimes, to the detriment of other railway lines over the subsequent decades, especially the Temiscouata Railway.

A train on a wooden viaduct in Long Lake to 1907-1910

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Wooden viaduct, Long Lake, 1907-1910, pl051.

The temporary camp of railway workers at Baker Lake

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, M.T.C.R. at Baker Lake, 1907-1911, pl056.

Building the track

The tie-laying gang was taking over from the excavation and levelling crews. The steel rails were attached by large spikes nailed into the wooden ties that supported the rails. Various materials, principally crushed stone formed the track ballast that filled the space between the ties so that the rails wouldn’t move when the train passed.

A team of workers in the Transcontinental Railway

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Work crew, Beginning of the 20th century, pl019.

A team of tie-laying of the Transcontinental Railway

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Tie- laying gang, Beginning of the 20th century, pl007.

The mechanization of railway construction

At the beginning of the 20th century, steam-shovels made mechanical excavation possible, speeding up railway construction.

The unloading of the material was done with a crane.

Steam shovel and railway workers

Source: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Steam shovel, Long Lake, 1907-1911, pl003.

Articulated crane on a car

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Crane, pl003.