Select Page

1840-1890: 3rd Wave

The Railroad

Coast to Coast

After 1878, the Canadian government began to push settlement in the West. It was decided by the government that a railroad would be built to join the eastern provinces with British Columbia in the West. The railroad could be used to bring settlers to the West. It could also be used to ship farm products to Eastern Canada. Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway began in 1872, but it was not completed until 1885.

Three men are working on a railway with prairie soil in the background.

It took 13 years to build the Canadian Pacific Railway across Canada!

The railway from Eastern Canada made it easier for people to move to the Prairies. Without the train, the only option was to use a horse and wagon for the entire trip. There were very few roads for wagons to travel on so the trip was bumpy, long, and had many challenges.

An illustrated train travels across the prairies.

Riding the train to Western Canada was much easier than making the long journey on a bumpy wagon.

Railways and First Nations

One of the reasons the treaties were made was to prevent First Nations people from disrupting the building of the railway. The railway cut through traditional hunting territory for First Nations people, and they put a halt to building it at times. This slowed the process and upset the government.

Three illustrated groups of people stand next to a train station with a train and an elevator in the background.

Settlers built towns close to the railways on land that was a hunting territory and home for First Nations people.

A group of men are working on a railway with tools in their hands.


The government wanted to stop the First Nations people from slowing down progress on the building of the railway.

The railway made it easier to move resources across the country. It also made it possible to deal with rebellions quicker. Members of the North-West Mounted Police would arrive on trains and be sent to deal with Indigenous groups who were resisting the government in any way. There are many examples of how the railway hurt Indigenous people. The soldiers also arrived by railway to deal with the Métis Rebellion in Batoche.

Image of troops holding weapons while in a train car enroute to action in the Northwest Resistance is shown.

The railway made it easier for soldiers to travel so they could help with any conflicts the government felt needed attention.

First Nations people were known as ‘Road People’ because, in the late 1880s, several major roads and the telegraph lines were built through their territory. Soldiers disturbed and destroyed their property when they travelled through.

Kawacatoose First Nation is 1.5 hours North of Regina, near Raymore.

Railways and Grain Elevators

Getting crops to grow in harsh Canadian conditions was difficult enough, but the farmers’ troubles didn’t end there. The farmers needed to get their product to people who wanted to buy it. In the beginning, grain elevators popped up all over the Prairies along the railway tracks. They were built close enough together so that farmers could make the trip to the elevator and back home in a day. This is why the Prairies have so many small towns so close together.

A group of men are working together to build a wooden grain elevator with piles of lumber nearby and a train in the background.

Photo Credit: Western Development Museum

Grain elevators were built next to the railway so grain could be shipped in railcars.

With an elevator came a train stop, and with a train stop came the opportunity for business. People would bring their wheat to town and pick up supplies for the farm. Often cream and other produce was delivered to the train so it could be moved on to the bigger markets in the cities. This meant there was a need for a hardware store, a grocery store, a post office, a church, and of course, a school. It did not take long before a town was born.

An illustrated grain elevator is shown with a grain field in the background. A farmer is coming up to it with a horse and a cart with wheat in it.

Farmers hauled their grain to elevators to sell and would pick up other supplies for their farms in town.