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Travel to and within Canada on Canadian Pacific


1890's travel brochure Old Time Trains Archives

From the very beginning of the Canadian Pacific Railway passengers were seen as an important source of revenue and future prosperity. Travellers were the source of revenue, immigrant settlers were the future prosperity of Canada and the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The coming of a new middle class of English as an outcome of the earlier Industrial Revolution, were seen as a growing source of travellers eager to experience other lands, especially those within the British Empire. Soon, even the upper class and the gentry wanted in on the fun. These travellers wanted and expected first class facilities and service and would pay accordingly.

One of the places for the new age travellers to visit was Switzerland where Alpine climbing became a popular adventure. Canada's mountains were similarly rugged and scenic and Canada became an alternative destination following the CPR's vigorous promotion. The CPR set up an office in a prominent high pedestrian location in downtown London, England and proceeded to sell Canada both for travel and emigration. The selling of Canada was quite literal; land was being sold to emigrants for farming. Publicity was everywhere; advertisements were placed in over 300 British and Continental Europe newspapers and journals (magazines). An all-British route to the Orient was a key aspect of this promotion as was big game hunting and fishing in Canada.

Canadians could likewise be encouraged to travel in their own country rather than travelling abroad. Canadian Pacific set out like no others to exploit this to their advantage in building traffic for their new railway as well as the growing country. 19th Century tourists were an important source of revenue for an infant railway. Van Horne realised the value of pleasing these tourists since they could afford first class accommodations, would return and would spread the word about Canada. The incredible scenery of the mountains would bring them to Canada; Canadian Pacific service would bring them back. One of the most popular pamphlets used in connection with train travel was the annotated timetable with narrative descriptions.

Only the well-to-do could afford to travel great distances. The average worker could not afford to travel far even within their own country, not only because of the expense but, ten hour (or longer) work days and six day work weeks were common and there was no such thing as paid vacations until after World War II (1947). Unemployment insurance, welfare and health care were all decades in the future. Only church or private charity stood between people and starvation. Just earning a living was a struggle; long distance travel was a luxury and something undertaken only out of necessity.

Four of the most important names responsible for bringing all of this together were, William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915) , David Mc.Nicoll, George Ham and John Murray Gibbon (1875-1952). Van Horne was of course, General Manager of the CPR at age 38, and the single most important person in first building and then expanding the railway and everything connected with it. His hands-on style of getting things done meant he was closely involved with most aspects of the Company except for financial and political matters. He went on to become President in 1888 following the first president George Stephen and then the first Chairman in 1899 with Thomas G. Shaughnessy (1853-1923) as president. Van Horne became a Canadian citizen in 1890. It wasn't until he became president that he relinquished some of his involvement to others. One of these others was David Mc.Nicoll, for whom Port Mc.Nicoll would be re-named. He was General Passenger Agent and had been working hard in that field since 1883. He would go on to be quickly promoted repeatedly in passenger doings. Van Horne hired George Ham, a newspaper man, in July 1891 as a general passenger agent and would quickly prove a very capable and popular personage well suited to public relations work and in fact created the first CPR publicity department. It was Ham who created the slogans, Spans the World and World's Greatest Travel System. He would later write a book on his life, Reminiscences of a Raconteur. John Murray Gibbon would also write a book, Steel of Empire, the first history of the CPR. Gibbon, a writer in England, joined the London office in 1907 and quickly set about promoting the CPR.

Publicity the likes of which had never before been seen was churned out by the CPR, all under Van Horne whose "hands on" involvement was ever present. Engravings and photographs were used in The Illustrated London News and other similar journals including Harper's Weekly in the United States. Travel pamphlets, brochures and posters were supplemented by photographers who travelled the railway, often on passes and sometimes on special trains with a photographic darkroom car. Professor Oliver B. Buell was the first to have use of such a car but, it was William McFarlane Notman, the son of William Notman (biography) & Son, who was the most notable photographer to be assigned this car along with a special train! Byron Harmon was another well known photographer whose work was associated with the CPR, including post card sets and playing cards. Topping all this were the artists who travelled to the mountains to paint the landscapes. Such art was sometimes bought up by Van Horne, who was himself an artist of more than passing ability, and by other top CPR officials. These paintings were exhibited in galleries, at exhibitions abroad etc. and used in promotional material.

The Louise Mountains from Laggan, watercolour 1887 by Lucius O'Brien.

News Services was created around 1910 as a branch of the Passenger Traffic Department to operate newsstands at stations and the News Agents "newsies" who worked passenger trains selling sandwiches, pop, papers, and much more, mostly to coach class passengers. They also took over promotional brochures and booklets and even produced postcards, viewbooks, playing cards etc.

Tours, including conducted tours became part of the offerings to holiday travellers and frequently involving ships to reach far off lands. Alaska was an early destination of conducted tours in the 1890's. Round-the-world tours in connection with P&O Navigation also began early and these showed such promise the CPR replaced chartered steamships with three steamers of their own ordered in 1889, Empress of India, Empress of Japan and Empress of China. It was the beginning of the designation "Empress" to the CPR's finest ships and later to its airplanes. These steamers enabled the CPR to secure the Royal Mail contract to and from Hong Kong via Quebec City (Halifax in winter).


Key to the success of all of this was the Passenger Traffic Department and the various Agents connected with it. A network of offices in Canada, the United States and abroad all saw to the promotion and sale of travel to and within Canada right down to the local station agent in thousands of communities all across the CPR system. Ticket Agents in cities and Station Agents were paid a commission on sales in addition to their wages thereby ensuring they would work at selling the many services the CPR offered including sleeping car and hotel accommodations, even telegrams and money orders. The latter two provided by two subsidiary operations, Canadian Pacific Telegraph and Dominion Express later, Canadian Pacific Express Company. Ocean travel overseas and lake travel in Canada were also provided to travellers. Railway stations and ticket offices everywhere displayed scenic pictures in wooden frames and posters that were changed monthly to entice people to travel on Canadian Pacific trains and ships and to stay at Canadian Pacific hotels. Aside from all of these people, travel agents abroad were utilized on a very successful commission basis, including the famous Thomas Cook & Son.

Train travel

Early travel posters. Click to enlarge

The CPR offered colonist (immigrant), second-class and first-class travel on its trains. CPR-built berths were larger than existing Pullman berths. Sleeping "accommodation" was priced at an additional $20 over and above the cost of first class "transportation" for a trip between Montreal and Vancouver. Additionally, about 1900 a new lower-cost tourist-class sleeper was introduced at less than half price and also available with second-class tickets.

On the Art of Having Something to Eat
1888 dining car Versailles,
parlour car and first class coach interiors.
1921 W series dining car interior


So successful was the advertising that it less than ten years business had gone from nothing to 1.8 million passengers in 1886 and 3 million in 1894. First class rolling stock increased from forty-seven sleeping and dining cars in the beginning to ninety-nine in 1894. By 1899 a second train, the Imperial Limited was added during summer time. The schedule reduced cross-country travel by a day and a half, from 136 hours to 100 ½.

Traffic continued to grow, from 4.3 million passengers in 1901 with a roster of 115 first-class sleeping and dining cars to nearly 400 cars and 15.5 million passengers in 1912.

CPR poster Worlds Fair in Chicago 1893

The Canadian Magazine April 1906
Old Time Trains archives

1915 advertisement. The new Lake Ontario Shore line was opened June 29, 1914.

Houses and Hotels

Places for travellers to eat and sleep have always been of great importance to Canadian Pacific, not only on its trains but also in its hotels. Initially, the CPR built what it called "houses" in the mountains of British Columbia, to feed passengers on its trains. The reason for this was the limited ability of steam locomotives to haul heavy trains up the steep grades. Stops were made at these houses where passengers could eat rather than using a dining car, a significant weight saving. Dining cars themselves were operated at a loss as a service to passengers. Additionally, guests could stay at these houses, which was the beginning of a growing business.

Three such houses were built on the main line, at Glacier, The Glacier House; at Field Mount Stephen House; (2nd_photo) and at North Bend Fraser Canyon House. Others were later built elsewhere including Revelstoke and Sicamous. These latter two connected the main line with a branch line service to the Okanagan Valley where CPR paddlewheel steamboats plied the lakes. With the opening of the Spiral Tunnels in 1909 the greatly reduced grade permitted use of dining cars on passenger trains eliminating meal stops. The houses continued in use for tourists for many years except for Mount Stephen House which was in 1918 turned over to the YMCA for a railroad hotel.

The Glacier House, after 1909, showing repeated expansions. Public Archives of Canada C20495

Another view, hand coloured picture set. Old Time Trains Archives

Observation "dome" car 517 shown at Glacier House in 1903. Beatrice Longstaff Lance

The CPR invented the first dome cars in the world, built in 1902 and 1906 these unique cars were like no others on any railway and they preceeded the next Canadian dome cars by over half a century!

To better view the scenery in the mountains the CPR built special observation cars to put on the rear of their passenger trains replacing the "dome" cars in 1913.

"The Glacier House" near Rogers Pass was wooden structure having a reception area, dining room, wine cellar and six bedrooms when it was first built. It had a staff of a manager and ten employees, opened on January 18, 1887 and served 708 guests that year. Van Horne's agreement with the House provided for the CPR to provide free transportation of supplies while the house was to be "of a strictly first-class hotel dining station in the very best style" Meals were 75 cents (same as in dining cars) and rooms, $1 a night. Van Horne's personal enjoyment of good food and drink obviously came into play here.

In 1888 there were 1020 guests and a thirty room annex was built to accommodate the growing business. By 1903 facilities included a billiard hall, bowling alley, croquet lawn, tennis court, an observatory with a telescope and a dark room. Electricity was supplied by a small hydro generator. A 54 room wing was added in 1906 bringing the total to 90 rooms by which time rates were $3.50 per day. By 1912 there were 5419 guests.

Climbing became very popular and in 1899 two Swiss guides were brought in. Their popularity was such that more guides were added requiring more accommodations. The CPR even built in 1911 a chalet village Edelweiss, near Golden to house the guides and their families so they did not have to travel back and forth to Switzerland. It didn't work out and soon closed although guides continued to be used with the last retiring in 1954.

Fishing and big game hunting along with hiking and canoeing were very popular throughout the mountains and heavily promoted by the CPR.

Another attraction was Nakimu Caves in the nearby Cougar Valley. Discovered in 1904, these limestone caves attracted tourists who travelled from Glacier House by Tally-Ho, a large horse-drawn open omnibus.

Laggan station c.1890 Archives of the Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise Depot Early, hand-coloured picture. Old Time Trains Archives

Laggan was at first named Holt City after railway contractor Herbert Samuel Holt who went on to become president of the Royal Bank and the wealthiest man in Canada sitting on the boards of nearly 300 companies.

Laggan was named by Lord Strathcona for Laggan in Inverness, Scotland. It was renamed a final time, Lake Louise in May 1914 by which time the village had a school.

Laggan was the location of a unique little chalet built to provide a different kind of accommodation, one more in keeping with the rugged mountains. Named Chalet Lake Louise it accommodated adventurous people who came to climb the rock and glacier mountain. Dangerous as it was there were many women who came in the early years.

Lake Louise at an elevation of 5,680 feet above sea level was first seen by a white man when an Indian guide took Tom Wilson, a packer for Major Rogers' survey, to it on August 24, 1882. There are two versions of how the beautiful Emerald Lake got re-named Lake Louise. The official version is that was re-named to honour Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada. She had never visited the lake. Another version is that it was re-named by Tom Wilson, who had discovered it in the first place, for the daughter of Sir Richard Temple when Wilson took them to the lake. Sir Richard was leading an excursion in 1884 of members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for its first outing in Canada at the invitation of Canadian Pacific.

Chateau Lake Louise

In 1895 a second storey was added, doubling its size. Expansion continued with a new chateau-style hotel built in segments between 1899 and 1908. In 1912-13 a 350-room extension was built and further expansion in 1916-17 included a hydro electric powerhouse. Also in 1912 a narrow gauge tramway was built to connect between the station and the chateau.

Fire broke out on the afternoon of July 3, 1924 destroying three wings although the new concrete wing was saved and guests were accommodated that night. Work began to rebuild and on June 1, 1925 a new nine-storey 400 room hotel staffed by 425 men and women opened, re-named Chateau Lake Louise. A special train of 350 tons of food supplied the hotel for its re-opening. Horseback riding and hiking was popular here and by 1927 the CPR had constructed over 100 miles of trails along which guests could stop at various Tea Houses for rest and refreshments.

A far more elaborate hotel was built at Banff, originally named Siding 29, Banff Springs Hotel, was a Swiss chalet on a grand style where its restorative natural hot waters was sought out by guests. The land surrounding it became in June, 1887 Canada's first national park, 260-square-miles, first named Rocky Mountains Park and later renamed Banff National Park. Other national parks along the CPR soon followed including Yoho National Park and Glacier National Park. The federal government added roads and other tourist facilities along with a zoo for mountain animals, buffalo, elk, sheep, and goats but, no bears! In order to visit the attractions including these animals, the caves, hot springs etc. the CPR provided transportation through a contractor who created CPR Transfer Company. The CPR also provided guides for guests wanting to go hunting, fishing or riding. Tom Wilson, a former packer on the CPR survey created a business for himself providing horses and guiding these guests.

Banff Springs Hotel quickly became a vacation destination, a high class place that offered everything. Built at a cost of about a quarter of a million dollars, (almost $5 million in today's money), it opened in June 1888 charging $3.50 a day and up. In that first season, until October, 1,503 guests were accommodated with 801 or 54% being from Canadian places, 389 or 26% from the United States, 289 or 19% from Great Britain, and 24 from elsewhere. These numbers quickly increased with more than double the guests (3,389) by the end of the fourth year. It continued to grow, to 5,300 in 1903, nearly double that the following year and over 22,000 by 1911.

It too was expanded many times and it too suffered a major fire which occurred in 1926. The hotel was rebuilt by 1928, built of rock and surrounded by rock it was elegance within with magnificence in view everywhere. It carried on for many more years until changing times brought decline and a threatened closure. Instead, the Banff Springs reinvented itself with a golf course and by remaining open year round in 1969 as an international ski destination. In 1995 a spa was added and in later years other improvements kept it viable. It became a world famous resort, once again "the" place to be, and remains in regular use still under Canadian Pacific although now using the name Fairmont.

Hotel Vancouver opened in May, 1888 was a plainer four-storey brick building more suited to travellers passing through. It was later expanded as were most other hotels. In Fort William c.1890 was built the smaller Kaministiquia. Even Moose Jaw got a small hotel c.1900 to handle Soo Line connections to and from the United States. Winnipeg had the Royal Alexandra Hotel , it opened in 1906 (demolished 1971). The substantial 350 room Palliser Hotel next to the CPR station in downtown Calgary, opened in June 1914 and was expanded in 1929. Substantial hotels were built in other cities including the fortress-like Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, port for the trans-Atlantic steamships, which was completed in December 1893. Originally formed with some non-CPR principals, the CPR acquired stock in 1894 and 1898. An addition was built in 1899 and another in 1926. Place Viger Hotel in Montreal opened in August 1898 having 88 rooms on four floors, with a dining room and ballroom on the second floor, it was combined with a station at ground level. Another such combination was the huge and unique one built in 1901 at Mc.Adam, New Brunswick. An existing summer resort, the Algonquin Hotel at St.Andrew's NB was purchased in 1905. A plain structure was the 1904 Royal Alexandra in Winnipeg. Yet another fine hotel was the castle-like Empress Hotel in Victoria. Opened in 1908 and enlarged in 1929 it was destined to become world famous and remains so.

Due to the continual expansion of facilities, the Hotel Department was created in 1905, prior to which these facilities were operated by the Sleeping, Parlor and Dining Car Department.

The flagship of Canadian Pacific Hotels was the world famous Royal York across from Union Station in Toronto. Opened June 11, 1929 at 28 floors with 1,048 rooms, a 12-bed hospital, 10 passenger elevators and a 50 ton pipe organ, it was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth.

Things began to change with the opening of the Connaught Tunnel in 1916 the line was relocated and the new station was over a mile away. Guests used a Tally-Ho to reach the House. Renovations were carried out in 1922; however, it was closed September 15, 1925. Safety in the old wooden structures was a concern following a serious fire in 1924 at Chateau Lake Louise and in 1926 at Banff Springs Hotel; and new construction was planned but never carried out. Glacier House was finally demolished in 1929.

Changes Over the Years

Opening of the Connaught Tunnel in December of 1916 that eliminated the dangerous Rogers Pass route left the Glacier House remote to the railway and while it struggled on with a horse drawn omnibuss connection it eventually closed in 1925 and was demolished in 1929. Decades later completion of the Trans-Canada Highway in 1962 once again brought travellers to the famed scenery but this time without the railway.

Following the Great War (World War One) 1914-1918, the popularity of private automobiles and the spread of better roads brought about changes to travel that affected Canadian Pacific. Rail traffic that had dropped off during the war did not recover to its pre-war level. Prior to the war private automobiles were prohibited in national parks; this along with the lack of roads meant rail travel predominated through the mountains. Opening of the Banff-Windermere Highway through the Vermillion Pass in June, 1923, changed all of that. It provided access to the area as well as to and from similar national parks and hotels in the United States.

Combined with this was the new competition from Grand Trunk Pacific which in 1921 developed Jasper Park Lodge in the Rockies, promoting the North American Alps to tourists the same way Canadian Pacific did; and even from Canadian Northern, both of which soon became Canadian National Railways.

The CPR responded to this with increased advertising including motion pictures through the newly-created Associated Screen News formed in 1920 and even got into radio through Canadian Pacific Telegraph in the 1930's. Creation of big festivals, annual events, at major hotels across Canada and introduction of bargain excursion fares and all-inclusive tours were all tried to boost business.

The CPR had already begun adapting to the coming of the automobile. It provided highway tours through Brewster which used Packard touring cars and White buses connecting with trains and Chateau Lake Louise. Following the war this service was expanded and other facilities created for the new tourist scene. During the 1920's numerous bungalow camps were established throughout the mountains and in northern Ontario as basic, lower cost facilities that could be reached by automobile. Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies was created in 1924 to promote horseback riding for train travellers who would stay at Yoho Valley Camp or other CPR facilities. Later, the Sky Line Trail Hikers of the Canadian Rockies was created in 1933 to accommodate hiking tourists.

Change continued in the years to follow, even the unthinkable happened when in 1978 Canadian Pacific Railway got out of passenger trains entirely, leaving the money loosing business to a newly-created Federal government entity, VIA Rail Canada.

More change took place when Canadian Pacific acquired the Canadian National chain of hotels and again, following a splitting of Canadian Pacific Ltd. into separate companies, removed the Canadian Pacific name entirely from its hotels using in 1999 the Fairmont name in its place. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Inc. was sold in 2006 and Legacy Hotels R.E.I.T. combining Fairmont and Delta came along only to be sold again in 2007.

List of Hotels and Bungalow Camps 1935

First Day Cover CP Hotels

Ottawa, Northern and Western

Tour brochure (partial) and map inc. Pontiac Pacific Jct. 1901
Includes photo of Interprovincial bridge between Hull and Ottawa,
the longest cantilever bridge in North America.



Travel brochure depicting River series Solarium Lounge Sleeper.

River Rouge Solarium Lounge car as restored at Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, Cranbrook, BC.

CPR station poster for newly inaugurated passenger service. 1955

Magazine advertisement featuring The Canadian

Around the World advertising travel by land, sea and air.


Canadian Pacific Ocean

British Columbia Coastal Steamships

B.C. Interior Lakes

Great Lakes Steamships

Bay of Fundy

CP Posters (link) CPR website

Camping Out along the CPR
Article 1921 northen Ontario



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