Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards in Winnipeg

Print 3: The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards in Winnipeg      (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

'Reconciliation requires a bigger dream'

The third print in the series represents the Canadian Pacific Railway and yards, constructed in 1882, whose network of tracks still divides and shapes the city to this day, not just in a geographic, but also in a social and economic way. Running through the centre of the print is a digital satellite image of the current day CP Railway yards. The location of the rail yards has been controversial for decades.

The first excerpt I chose to introduce the story is from the Manitoba Free Press, July 22, 1881, which introduces a new bylaw which “forthwith grants to the Canadian Pacific Company a bonus of $200,000 on condition of said company establishing and building their workshops and cattle yards for the lines in the Province of Manitoba in the city of Winnipeg and running their main line through the city of Winnipeg, and centering their workshops, stock yards and main line at the city of Winnipeg forever ...”

Edith Paterson elaborates in the Free Press on December 21,1974: “Manitoba historians have recorded little about the battle Winnipeggers put up to get the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway to cross the Red River here instead of at Selkirk, Man. But it was a struggle that lasted from 1874 when it was announced that the line would miss Winnipeg completely, right up to 1881 when the city fathers concluded an arrangement with the syndicate building the railway ... Finally, after many meetings, the syndicate outlined its terms. It demanded, among other requirements, a bonus of $200,000, also that its property would be exempt from municipal taxes forever. In return it would establish workshops and cattle-yards here... the CPR didn't need Winnipeg but Winnipeg needed the CPR ... And that was how Winnipeg won the railway and was saved from being a ghost town.”

Leo Driedger, Mennonite Sociologist, (At the Forks – Mennonites in Winnipeg, 2010) describes how the rail yards shaped the geography and social demographics of the city. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), the first national railway, came into Winnipeg in 1882, separating the northern part of the city from the central and southern parts ... City developers encouraged the character of the North End as a working class and immigrant area by building cheap houses on small lots north of the tracks ... Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Ukrainians, Poles and Germans [and among them also early urban Mennonite migrants], settled there. While the North End has always been separated from the city's southern, more Anglo-Saxon parts, the railroad assured its spatial and social segregation as hundreds of freight trains choked the tracks, blocking traffic to the North End …”

On September 172016, Free Press Journalist Randy Turner dares to dream about a changed city: “Imagine a Winnipeg without rail lines. It's circa 2035, and the Weston yards that have occupied the steel-lined landscape for more than a century have vanished and reemerged as a new neighbourhood, complete with boutique shops and residential apartments. There is a sprawling park under the shadow of the Arlington Street Bridge ... The original Canadian Pacific Railway line, which since 1882 has served as the great cultural divide between north and south Winnipeg, is no more.”

In the online portal Policy Options, Diane Roussin and Taylor Wilson emphasize the importance of the inclusion of Indigenous voices in decision making: Reimagining urban centres is not new for Indigenous people... As we've grown and adapted to the ever-changing landscapes of our traditional territories, we constantly imagine what these spaces would look like if we had a say in urban planning... We need to include different voices. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada alike are facing complex social challenges, and now we need to deal with them in new ways. Tapping into different kinds of wisdom is essential. Indigenous knowledge, experience, perspective and wisdom are by and large untapped as a source for deriving social challenge solutions.”

For digital access to the book please click here. 

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