The Pioneer Telegraph in Western Canada
Ronaghan, Neil Edgar Allen
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In 1874 the government of Alexander Mackenzie let four contracts for a pioneer telegraph line to be built as part of the project for a Canadian Pacific Railway. The line was to extend from Thunder Bay on Lake Superior through Selkirk on the Red River to Cache Creek in B.C., where it would connect with that province's telegraph system. The contractors for the second section of the pioneer line built a short line from Selkirk to Winnipeg giving them connections with Ottawa and their suppliers in the East. Almost immediately after awarding the contracts, the Mackenzie government stopped work on the most westerly contract, leaving the pioneer line with a terminus at a point south of Edmonton, but not before the section from Cache Creek to Kamloops had been completed. This section of the pioneer line was eventually transferred to the Canadian Pacific Railway when its railway lines were built along that route, as was the section from Thunder Bay to Selkirk. A change of policy with regard to the route the railway would follow resulted in the abandonment of the inter-lake section and a portion of the prairie section. The remainder of the prairie line functioned as a sort of branch line of the newly-built Canadian Pacific telegraph line, giving service to Battleford and Edmonton by way of the "fertile belt". A part of it continued to operate until 1923, by which time it had outlived its usefulness. This thesis examines the construction of the pioneer line and the extent to which the Mackenzie and Macdonald governments made use of it as part of national policy. Materials in the archives of the four western provinces and in the Public Archives of Canada, along with a body of material accumulated in the field, form the central core of the study.