Abstract: Deconstructing the Railroad Creation Myth of Vancouver

Frank Leonard


During the period 1884-1889, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) located, acquired, and began development of its Pacific terminus at Vancouver, British Columbia. The activities of the first city archivist transformed this historical sidebar into a central civic myth. Handsome real estate returns from this \"CPR town\" encouraged historians to create narratives of terminus development that followed the arc, if not the details, of the mythic interpretation. This analysis reviews the origin of the myth and challenges the academic writing on the Canadian Pacific and Vancouver that it informs. Like several nineteenth-century American transcontinentals, the Canadian Pacific committed a series of actions at its Pacific terminus that delayed location and hindered acquisition and access. These include initial location of company works far to the west of the present site, the dubious acquisition of the right to expropriate an Indian reserve along the CPR\'s urban right-of-way, and conflict with disappointed investors that almost blocked extension to Vancouver. Only through procedural ingenuity, which some have labeled corruption, did the company finally achieve some of its initial goals at the terminus. Yet these miscues have vanished from the accepted story of the origin of Vancouver, the CPR creation myth.