Canadian Pacific Railway Collection: Background Info

About the Collection

The Canadian Pacific Railway Collection comprises images depicting the history of the CPR in British Columbia. These images provide a fascinating insight into the role of the railway in the development of the province. The pictures portray rural and urban railway stations; railway bridges that are true engineering feats reaching out across the challenging topography of the province; the workers who laid the tracks and manned the locomotives; the passengers who travelled on the railway; and a myriad of buildings, hotels, yards and ships, all of which were part of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia. The pictures were captured by various photographers and they range in date from the 1880s to the 1950s. Approximately 1,500 images from this collection are now digitized and available online.

View a selection of photographs from the Canadian Pacific Railway Collection in This Vancouver or use the Historical Photographs advanced search to find more photographs from this collection.


The history of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in British Columbia began with the union of the Colony of British Columbia and the Dominion of Canada. The terms of union called for the "construction of a railway from the Pacific towards the Rocky Mountains and from such a point as may be selected, east of the Rocky Mountains toward the Pacific, to connect the seaboard of British Columbia with the railway system of Canada"

In other words, a transcontinental railway linking British Columbia to the rest of Canada. In the initial stages the plan was beset by political infighting and disagreements over every aspect including which route to follow, where to locate the western terminus, and about who should actually construct the railway. After much wrangling and negotiation the government contracted part of the construction to a California-based syndicate led by Darius Ogden Mills and managed by Andrew Onderdonk. Onderdonk supervised the construction of the railway through the Fraser and Thompson Canyons. Then in 1881, a private company, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR), was incorporated with the stated aim in its charter of completing the transcontinental railway by May 1891. In fact, the building of the railway was completed 5 years ahead of schedule when the "last spike" was driven in at Craigellachie on November 7, 1885. In 1886 the Government of Canada handed over the 372 km of operating rail-line to the CPR, and on July 4 1886 the first transcontinental passenger train, travelling from Montreal, arrived at the western terminus of Port Moody. Shortly after this, the railway line was extended by 14 miles to Granville, which was renamed Vancouver. On May 23, 1887 the first passenger train pulled into Vancouver.

The rugged terrain of British Columbia presented formidable challenges to the engineers and the workers on the railway. Many of the workers were Chinese who worked in poor conditions and for very low pay. In addition they had to contend with violence and harassment as a result of racism, and for many years, due to the Exclusion Act, they were unable to bring their wives and children to Canada from China. Despite these hardships many Chinese workers stayed in British Columbia after the completion of the railway; some settled in the small towns served by the railway while others settled in Vancouver and Victoria, both of which developed thriving Chinese communities.

The CPR was not restricted to trains and land transportation. Under the leadership of CPR president Sir William Cornelius Van Horne the company expanded into communications systems such as commercial telegraph and parcel services, both of which were facilitated by the railway. The CPR also built and maintained its own locomotives and passenger cars. In 1891, the CPR launched its own Pacific fleet, and in 1893 it started operating paddle steamers in the interior of British Columbia, expanding to the coast in 1901.

The beautiful and spectacular scenery through which the railway was being built was seen as a great tourist attraction, one which the CPR took full advantage of. Early on, the CPR expanded into building and operating hotels along the railway lines throughout the province. This was done partly to help revenue, but also to help with the logistics of operating the railway. It was significantly easier to operate a small hotel and restaurant and provide dining facilities at the top of a mountain pass, than to haul a heavy dining car up the mountain. In Vancouver, the first Hotel Vancouver was opened in May 1887, and was intended to provide first class accommodation to businessmen and wealthy tourists, travelling on the CPR's Empress liners. As part of the land grant agreement the CPR also built an Opera House adjoining the hotel in 1891.

Under the agreement of incorporation, the CPR was granted 10 million hectares of federal land, which it proceeded to sell to settlers and homesteaders over the next 50 years. The coming of the railway encouraged settlement along branch-lines and the railway was instrumental in opening up the province to agricultural and commercial development as well as to industry. By providing crucial transportation links through what had hitherto been impassable territory the CPR contributed dramatically to the wealth and industry of the province.

In Vancouver, the CPR had been granted a number of parcels of land which they proceeded to develop. Indeed, the CPR , through its surveyor L.A. Hamilton, produced detailed plans for Vancouver and played a significant role in determining the layout of the city. The CPR station, CPR office and the Hotel Vancouver were all located on Granville street, thus pulling the centre of the city further west than the existing townsite. The original townsite continued to develop as the working class and industrial part of the city, while the area west of Granville Street was developed for the more prosperous middle and upper classes. In 1914, the exclusive residential neighbourhood, Shaughnessy Heights was developed from District Lot 542, which had originally been granted to the CPR at the time of the railway line expansion from Port Moody to Vancouver in 1887.

In 1942, the CPR expanded into air travel with the Canadian Pacific Airlines, which was headquartered in Vancouver. CP Air, as it was later called, was bought out by Pacific Western in 1987 when it became Canadian Airlines International.


The Canadian Pacific Railway Collection is a thematic collection of photographs by a number of different photographers, and they range in date from the 1880s to the 1950s. The photographers in the collection include:

Caple, Norman

Born in Bristol, England in 1866, Caple moved to Vancouver it is thought in 1888. He formed a partnership with R.H. Trueman and established a photograph business in Vancouver by 1890. This partnership was dissolved in 1893 and Caple set up on his own, supplementing his photographic income with a stationery supply business. Caple maintained his own business until 1897. He died in Vancouver in 1911.

Devine, Harry Torkington

Born in Manchester England in 1865, H.T. Devine came to Vancouver in 1886 by way of Brandon, Manitoba where he worked for a few years as a photographer. In Vancouver he set up shop with a partner, J.A. Brock, but by 1889 he had stopped working as a photographer. He returned to photography for a short period between 1895 and 1897. Devine's photographs give a fascinating glimpse of early Vancouver, and we are lucky to have a number of them in the VPL Collection. We have about 10 of his photographs of the early days of the CPR in Vancouver, including an image of the first passenger train to arrive in Vancouver in 1887. H.T. Devine died in Vancouver in 1938.

Frank, Leonard

Leonard Frank, the son of one of Germany's earliest professional photographers, was born in Berne, Germany in 1870. In 1892 he was struck with gold fever and emigrated to San Francisco, moving to Alberni on Vancouver Island two years later intending to prospect for gold. Frank never discovered gold, but by chance won a raffle prize of a camera which sparked his lifelong passion. While managing a general store and continuing to prospect, Frank took pictures of the surrounding country until photography became his chosen profession. In 1917, Frank moved to Vancouver and quickly became the leading commercial / industrial photographer in the city. He was frequently commissioned as a photographer for both the provincial and federal governments, as well as being the official photographer for the Vancouver Board of Trade. Frank was an associate member of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, the first in Vancouver to receive the coveted award. Frank died in Vancouver in 1944. See also the Leonard Frank Collection.

Heckman, Joseph W.

Heckman was hired by the CPR as a civil engineer around 1881. His interest in photography led him to undertake extensive photographic tours and from about 1898 to 1916 Heckman set out during the summer months to photograph virtually every station and structure on the line. His background in civil engineering was evident in the 11 meticulous field books he kept of his "Photographic Survey - Canadian Pacific Railway Engineering Works". The books included date, time, camera aperture, number of exposures, plate number, mileage and location of each photo. Heckman often incorporated railway sectionmen, station agents and their families in the photographs, adding life to otherwise cold and static structures. Remarkable contact prints from his 8x10 glass negatives remain bound in heavy annotated albums in the CPR Archives. His technical skills are evident in the sharp and detailed photos. Heckman's photographs are an important record of long-forgotten stations and structures and remain a comprehensive photographic record of CPR beginnings.

Nicholas Morant

In 1929, Nicholas Morant joined the ranks of CPR's Winnipeg press bureau. He left the company briefly to pursue his passion of photography with the Winnipeg Free Press. He rejoined CPR in 1937, this time with the title of 'special photographer'. This title allowed him the latitude to "make" the sort of photographs he liked best. For more than 50 years, Morant crossed the country on assignment for CPR. He had the remarkable ability to blur the distinction between an industrial photo and that of a fine-art photograph. Through the years, Morant's photographs have also appeared in Time, Look, Life, the Saturday Evening Post and the National Geographic magazines. His photos have been used on the backs of $10, $50 and $100 Canadian bills. During the Second World War he was on loan to the Department of Wartime Information. From the late 1930s until his retirement in 1981 Morant documented, with unparalleled ability, the changing face of the railway and Canada. For information on viewing or ordering the more than 9,000 black and white and 3,000 colour photographs by Morant see the The Canadian Pacific Railway History Page.

Notman, William McFarlane

Born in 1857, the son of the famous Montreal-based photographer, William Notman, he made several trips to Western Canada. W.M. Notman's first trip was at the age of 26 when he came out to photograph portions of the Canadian Pacific Railway. His father had arranged with William Van Horne (president of the CPR) that in return for free transportation to any point on the line, Notman would make available to the CPR prints of the photographs he had taken. The CPR would use these for advertising and Notman would retain the negatives and copyright and would be permitted to sell the photographs on the trains, and at the stations and hotels along the railway line. It was during his second trip out in 1887, arranged along the same lines as the first trip, that Notman photographed British Columbia extensively. Notman made several other visits to British Columbia in the early 1900s. He died in Montreal in 1913. For further information on William Notman, Senior, and his family, including William McFarlane Notman see: The Notman Photographic Archives.

Timms, Philip

Born in Toronto in 1874, the son of pioneer music printers who emigrated from London, England, Philip Timms lived to one month short of his 99th birthday having lived a long life filled with many interests and considerable accomplishments. Timms' interests varied from shopkeeper, to professional printer and commercial photographer, to amateur archaeologist, archivist and historian, to musician, vocalist, choir and band leader, projectionist, lecturer and frustrated actor. Timms was keenly interested in all the ways of life in the new frontier that was British Columbia. As a consequence, the photographic record that he left behind affords us a valuable glimpse of the province during its period of growth from a frontier outpost to a well-established centre of industry and tourism. Philip Timms was a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, as well as the official photographer for the Vancouver Museum. Timms died in Vancouver in 1973. See also the Philip Timms Collection.

Trueman, Richard Henry

Born in Brampton, Ontario in 1856, Trueman travelled west first to Brandon, Manitoba and then on to Vancouver, having formed a partnership with Norman Caple. Operating as Trueman and Caple, the duo travelled the Canadian Pacific Railway line for about a year before setting up in Vancouver. Their partnership lasted only a few years, and although Trueman continued to operate a studio in Vancouver and also in Revelstoke, he spent a lot of time travelling throughout the province and beyond. He died in Vancouver in 1911.

Further Information

For further information on these and other photographers working in British Columbia during the period 1858-1950 see:

For an interesting photographic history of the portion of the railway constructed under the leadership of Andrew Onderdonk see:

Further Reading

Viewing and Searching the Collection

View a selection of photographs from the Canadian Pacific Railway Collection in This Vancouver or use the Historical Photographs advanced search to find more photographs from this collection.

Ordering Digital Reproductions

All photographs in the database are available for purchase, and digital reproductions can be ordered from the Special Collections Department at the Vancouver Public Library. Visit Historical Photograph Collections for more information and to access the online order form.