Dauphin Rail Museum celebrating 125th anniversary of rail travel

·4 min read

A commemorative ceremony marking the 125th anniversary of rail travel arriving in Dauphin Monday.

President of the Dauphin Rail Museum Jason Gilmore said the event remains a pivotal part of the city’

“[Monday] signifies the anniversary of rail actually arriving in Dauphin and crossing Main Street. That was a really big deal,” Gilmore said. “We do have to appreciate our history. Sometimes it gets forgotten. This is an opportunity to explain to some of the public ... the significance of this event.”

The first train officially arrived for the first time on the late evening on Nov. 7, 1896.

The coming of rail travel would have been an exciting time in the community because settlers would have seen the railway being established in Gladstone. Gilmore said in 1896 the arrival of the railway would not have been expected before winter in Dauphin, making the event all the more thrilling for residents.

The events at the Dauphin Rail Museum Monday includes a ceremonial ribbon-cutting just west of Main Street and the unveiling of new rail benches. Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa MP Dan Mazier, Dauphin MLA Brad Michaleski and city council members will be on hand for the ceremony, along with representatives from CN Rail, the Dauphin Rail Museum and local historian Al Gray.

Gray was essential in helping celebrate the quasquicentennial, Gilmore said, as he sent an email to the museum regarding the occasion.

A public kick-off event for the anniversary was held on Sept. 25, and Monday's celebration will serve as a ceremonial event, marking the true anniversary of the first train arriving in Dauphin.

Gilmore said he is especially proud to debut the two benches giving new life to a set of old rail wheels. They were recently completed and will be dedicated to the 125th anniversary. The wheels had been sitting derelict abandoned outside by a caboose at the museum for 20 years.

“They’re like, a ton each. They’re actual rail axels. They’re on old pieces of rail on our outdoor platform,” Gilmore said. “It’s just adjacent to our station here and it’s overlooking CN Park.”

Gilmore added he hopes people will be able to appreciate the significant history of the area while sitting on the historic artifacts for many years to come.

Establishing rail travel was a unique triumph for a rural community the size of Dauphin, and it can be remembered each day by the buildings left behind, including the Dauphin Rail Museum.

“We can legitimately say we are one of the birthplaces of current day CN Rail, which is a $90 billion transportation company,” Gilmore said.

The arrival of rail travel in Dauphin was a long and winding road, started by Sir William Mackenzie and Sir Donald Mann, who were the financers of the Lake Manitoba Railway Canal Company. The duo was exploring options with the Candian Pacific as the company had completed the transcontinental railway in 1888. Gilmore said it was a complicated situation as farmers in the area did not like that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) had a monopoly on moving products, especially grains.

MacKenzie and Mann had been contractors building CPR and saw an opportunity in Manitoba to establish a spot for transporting grain outside of Canada.

The rail line they established from Winnipeg to Gladstone and Dauphin would become Canadian Northern Railway.

“From 1896 to 1913 this little rail line through building and acquiring other lines became transcontinental,” Gilmore said. “That’s how quickly it expanded.”

A series of events took place in the lead-up to the Second World War resulting in McKenzie and Mann falling into financial difficulty with the railway. Their company was eventually purchased by the Canadian government along with other railways establishing Canadian National Rail.

The current station in Dauphin was built in 1912 and shows the thriving economic future McKenzie and Mann saw for the city. At its height in the 1940s and ‘50s, the station could see around 30 freight trains coming through each day, along with passenger service six days a week.

“The rail coming here was a lynchpin for immigration, settlements, the founding of over 550 different communities, especially through Western Canada,” Gilmore said. “It changed agriculture. It changed commerce. When you step back it was a really significant event.”

The impact of the railway can at times be underappreciated, he added, and the commemoration Monday will serve as a time to stop and reflect on the rich history that led to the city seen today.

“I don’t think people understand what a big deal it was, and the ripple effect it had after,” Gilmore said. “We have this gorgeous station that does remind us of those times.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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