Society

Changes in Canadian Society

New Jobs

New Leisure Activities

New Communications

Immigration Patterns Change

Religion Iron Wheels

Economic

Wealth & Jobs

Exports & Imports

Environment

Geographic

New Towns & Buildings

Pollution

 


Railways Promoted Vast Changes in Canadian Society

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New jobs, new leisure and educational activities came about because of the railway. The new communications made possible by rail created mass newspaper readership. Religion took on a new shape because of rail too. Patterns of immigration changed and altered Canadian society completely.

New Jobs

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Train crews were among the elite of manual workers.

New industries created a need for new skills.

  • Railroad financiers, designers, engineers, signalmen, and navvies were only some of the new jobs created.
  • Old jobs (farming, lumbering, stonework) continued and often expanded because of the railway.

Regions began to specialize and export goods (Niagara fruit, Maritime fish, Quebec milk & cheese, Ontario minerals, Prairie wheat, BC fish, fruit, and lumber).

New Leisure Activities

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Toronto vs Montreal for the world championship of lacrosse, promoted as the Canadian national game.

Railways changed the way we spent our leisure time.

Train travel over a wider area meant that sports became standardized because of the need to play by the same rules and were no longer localized activities. Sports were also popularized and professionalized because gate-paying crowds and professional teams were encouraged and carried by the railway company.

Cheap excursions for the day were promoted by the rail companies so that mass transit even for the working classes became possible. This meant that tourist regions grew because of the railway:  Thousand Islands, Niagara Falls, Lake Magog, the Laurentians, Muskoka, Breton Woods NH, Old Orchard, ME became major tourist spots for Canadians.

Highland Games and exhibitions grew.  The Crystal Palace of 1860 became the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) of the 1890’s. Theatre troupes and circuses toured by railways and international entertainers were attracted to Canada.  The French performer, Blondin, as early as 1860, tight-roped  across Niagara Falls in front of vast crowds brought by rail.

There were religious pilgrimages to local and international sites (Rome).

New Communications

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Mass transit by rail created mass communication in several social ways.

Newspapers became cheaper, more widely accessible and more widely read. This encouraged literacy in society and the growth of newspaper barons as a power in Canada. (George Brown, a Father of Confederation and editor of The Globe newspaper).

Canada Post used railways, and became much faster and cheaper. Ordinary people started using the post for everyday life (Eaton’s Catalogue to order goods and services).

The telegraph was used by the railway and also linked ordinary people locally, nationally, and internationally.

Immigration Patterns Change

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Improved transit changed patterns of immigration from the second half of the 19thc.

East and Northern European joined the British as immigrants to Canada.

Jewish, Chinese, and Ukrainian groups also came resulting in an important demographic shift.

Immigrants from industrial Britain continued coming to Canada and brought important new skills and initiated new jobs.

New ideas from urban industrial Britain added new social institutions (YMCA) to Canada.

 

The Salvation Army from Britain, with its radical ideas about the equality of men and women, was arguably the most contentious late 19thc group to arrive in Canada. Yet, their ideas were also some of the most effective and long lasting.

Religion Iron Wheels

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The railways allowed religious leaders and their followers to travel more widely. Pilgrimages within Canada and to religious sites outside the country grew enormously.

The railways brought in new religious groups such as Jews and Russian Orthodox followers. New ideas and religious organizations  such as the Salvation Army and the Young Men’s Christian Association started in the last part of the 19th century.

Economic

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Wealth & Jobs

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The new urban rich enjoy a flower show

New travel methods generated new sources of wealth.

  • Transportation became a massive employer.
  • Manufacturing on a large scale started in the1850’s. By WWI (1914-18), the value of manufactured goods exceeded the value of Canadian agricultural produce.
  • New communication jobs (newspapers, telegraph, telephone) grew. This encouraged the rise of a “white collar” middle class.
  • Mining opened up in areas far from rivers or lakes, and regional agricultural specialization  emerged.

 

Toronto vs Montreal for the world championship of lacrosse, promoted as the Canadian national game.

Exports & Imports

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Old exports were reinvigorated (timber-wood pulp, wheat-flour) and new exports emerged (coal, oil, textiles, furniture).

Old exports were reinvigorated (timber-wood pulp, wheat-flour) and new exports emerged (coal, oil, textiles, furniture).

  • After the opening of the GTR in 1859, railroad outlets to the sea enabled Central Canada to export year round.
  • The speed and reliability of the railways enabled perishable goods (Niagara fruit) to be exported.
  • The CPR brought the Prairies into wheat production. In addition, new milling technology (steel rollers) encouraged the milling of grain in Canada. We became the world’s largest exporter of flour (mainly to industrial Britain).
  • Railways to areas far from water transport and new technology (wood pulp) reinvigorated older industries (timber trade).

 


Environment

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Railways altered the Canadian environment in many ways. New routes, bridges and buildings directly related to railways are only part of the story. Factories, new towns and industries such as mining and grew around railways. The train station became a very important part of the Canadian scene.

Geographic

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New sounds, sights, and smells altered the environment.

New sounds, sights, and smells altered the environment.

  • The building of tracks, bridges, freight yards, cuttings, embankments, water towers, stations, grain elevators and telegraph wires altered the geographical landscape. The sounds and smells of railways became a familiar part of life.
  • Towns and regions fought to have the railway pass through their area (“wrong side of the tracks” indicates the importance of the railway in town life).  The coming of the railway  changed the appearance and the life of a town.
  • Tracks were also a barrier to life as well as a carrier of goods and people. This became a major problem in many places.

Railways altered the demographic structure of Canada by enabling towns and cities to grow in size. While Canada’s rural population increased in the last half of the 19thc, the urban population increased at a much faster rate. By WWI, our production of manufactured goods was greater in value than our production of agricultural goods. Today, thanks to the railway we are an urban, industrialised society.

New Towns & Buildings

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Railway stations and one industry towns became important novelties in 19thc Canada.

Railway stations and one industry towns were an important change in 19thc Canada.

  • Brick replaced logs as the major building material, especially in towns.
  • Railways revolutionized food transport so that towns and cities with large populations were easily fed.

 

  • There were major disputes about railroad routes between towns and within towns. For example, Toronto’s lakefront was blocked by rail lines for many years causing endless disputes. Rail routes to Toronto and Montreal airports are still subject to dispute.
  • Even today, space used by the railway (“right of way” and compulsory purchases of private property) is a source of dispute.
  • Specialty one-industry towns (mining, tourism, logging) grew up because of the railway.

Pollution

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Fire in the rail yards

Impurities including noise, air and bio-chemical pollution (coal smoke) were introduced and became major problems, especially in cities. Factories grew up based on coal powered steam engines creating health hazards. Canada became a major industrial nation but suffered from among other things, acid rain which killed lakes and trees. Rivers became dumping grounds for industrial and human waste. Therefore pollution grew not only from the actions of the railway system but from the changes brought about by that system. Yet, rail transport, especially in cities, is now seen as an environmentally friendlier solution to Canada’s pollution problems than is car or bus transport.

 

Smokestacks around Windsor station, Montreal

“Copyright Statement”

Unless otherwise stated, all the photographs in the Introductory sections of the website are from The Gazette (Montreal) Archives. Coloured drawings by Michel Hellman are the copyright of the Jeanie Johnston Educational Foundation.


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