How railroads reshaped social life in British Columbia Essay

How railroads reshaped social life in British Columbia

The social organization of the first inhabitants of British Columbia was mainly determined by the inhabitants’ ability to move and exploit the different environments. This movement would temporarily alter the sizes of the social groups and the composition in the different seasons. The people lived in groups that would offer them collective security from other invaders. This also allowed collective labor and collective ownership of property. Their activities were usually dependent on their ability to move from place to place in search of better territories. These groups were divided for different reasons to ensure complete advantage of resources and they converged at specific times of the year. Due to this, the different groups had different leaders and social power was not as centralized as in other communities. They did not value independent ownership of land.

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Inter clan wars were prevalent over territory and dominance. These communities were predominantly hunters and gatherers for food and trade and they ultimately relied on the environment and affected it but it was always in moderation (Sandwell, 182). These early communities had characterized the different societal roles based on gender and the women were restricted to looking for food and preparing it (Horton, 36). They were also the primary domestic care givers and were involved in all aspects of bringing up children. The males were for the protection of the society as a whole and often went hunting for food and trade. These roles were specific to the different gender roles but were complementary to each other.

For the last few thousand years humans have traveled around the world and in the process have interfered with the previously set evolution patterns based on geographical divergence. In the process of travel human beings have intentionally and accidentally transported a myriad of crops, animals, weeds and a lot of disease (McDonald, 118). This is what happened in Vancouver between 1500 and the Second World War.

The Columbian exchanged was marked with geographical, cultural and biological changes for the local populations. The Europeans pioneered in the exchange across the Atlantic in 1492 and they influenced the biological diversity and the human populations everywhere they traveled. Their entry in the Americas was marked with a lot of biological revolutions including the plagues of smallpox, typhoid and measles which were responsible of eradicating millions of populations in these regions (Burkenshaw, 14).

The remaining populations who survived the maladies were exposed to starvation due to lack of food. This is because work was mainly community based. In a bid for preservation cultures were altered to allow communities to intermarry. Diseases like syphilis were also prevalent causing a lot of more deaths (Garden, 71).

The Europeans introduced plants like wheat and barley. Animals like donkeys and the horses were introduced which facilitated the travel of the Amerindians (Garden, 16). The exploration which the Europeans sought initially was converted into slavery, a myriad disease and the onset of exploitation and eradication for some communities as they realized the need to secure resources for their respective empires in the rich lands.

The Confederation League had been pressing the colony to join Canada with the hope that the league would give them security from annexation by the United States. In addition Vancouver had an outstanding debt created from the increasing needs created by rapid population growth and a massive debt from the economic depression it had experienced during the golden rush. . The condition of this agreement was that the Canadian government would in turn facilitate the extension of the Canadian railway to British Columbia and absolve the outstanding debt that the colony had. British Columbia joined the confederation in 1871 and the railway was constructed in 1885. This was the onset of commercialization for these regions.

There was a lot of establishment of new communities as the original fur trading ports in Canada such as Victoria, St. James, Prince George and St. John were expanded to include Yale, west minister and Vancouver which was included in 1886. Canadian Pacific railways first train officially arrived in the island of Vancouver with in 1887.

Canadian Pacific railways had acquired a lot of land from the government so that in return they would build the railway for them. This meant that the land that the railway station owned was not open for the government and the residents use. The railway company built their station, may shops, a hotel, an opera house as well as a roundhouse. The construction of the railway line availed down town land for the construction of hospitals and the rest of the land was sold top private developers for residential and commercial purposes.

Towns were set up as a result of the railway. An example of this is Gastown. The history of Vancouver and Foreshore Lands located at the South east false creek can also be traced to the construction of the Canadian pacific railway (Garden, 25). In 1877, Vancouver then called Granville became the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific railways and for the eastern region it became a terminus for the trans-Pacific shipment of the various goods from the region. As a result of the railway facilitating the access of the Europeans into Vancouver, the harbor of Vancouver was converted to become the main Pacific Ocean port of Canada boosting the fishing industry and global trade in the area (Garden, 38).

The railway served the region both economically and socially. It facilitated the movement of the regions resources to the rest of the community allowing better market and better prices (Garden, 74). A major industry that benefited from the railway was the logging industry.

One of the major impacts of the CPR was the initiation of strategies to develop the terminus on the Burrand inlet at the popular coal harbor and not as originally planned at the English bay (Innis, 56). This had a major impact at defining the current geography of Vancouver by defining the north creek as the now secondary harbor serving the region in local trade. A lot of decisions regarding the area were centered on the role of the harbor. Due to the construction of the Canadian pacific railways

            The establishment of the port of Vancouver initiated rapid growth in the region and in less that half a century the town had risen past other towns in Western Canada like Manitoba and had established itself as the largest city in Canada. As the railway was developing, the Europeans were able to get access of more resources and as a result the first nation’s people were displaced from their land (Innis, 73). On the other hand, the population in Vancouver grew to make it the third most populous city in the region.

The province continued to establish itself economically and in 1914 the second transcontinental railway was completed which linked British Columbia to Prince Rupert. This in turn opened the north coast and the region around the Bulkley valley to a lot of economic benefits and opportunities and they were able to expand their trade from the fur and subsistence economy to include forestry and mining.

The population continued to grow in British Columbia especially around Vancouver as this trade attracted a lot of foreigners since a lot of labor was imported from china. The construction of the railway itself was a business opportunity for most local businesses as they supplied timber, lumber and food to the constructors (Robin, 60). The businesses and the industries which were located next to the railway path were able to prosper and some of these enterprises continued thriving even after the construction.

Before the construction of the Canadian pacific railways a trip from London to the Pacific

Northwest took more than six months. After establishing the railway and the steam engines, the same trip from London to Vancouver took only three weeks.

Improved transportation in Vancouver led to increased settlement in the area and as a result other economic activities which were resource dependent could now thrive (Garden, 66). An example of this is the coal industries in the mainland which grew exponentially as a result of increased and better transportation. Fishing, farming and forestry expanded and became the main economic activities in the region (McDonald, 115).

More and more immigrants from Europe, Asia and other parts of the world moved to Vancouver in spite of the racism prejudices which were imposed on Japanese and other immigrant communities (Yee, 94). As their numbers increased the aboriginal people were restricted in to small reserves to give way to the occupation by these foreigners. They could no longer move freely in the area and they had to abandon their nomadic lifestyles.

These aborigine communities were discriminated against and were given an inadequate education that left them inadequate for any formal employment. Their rights were infringed upon and they were banned from possessing alcohol and were restricted from most food establishments (Innis, 75). The fact that they could no longer possess alcohol converted them as a society, as most of them concentrated on binge drinking whenever the alcohol was available.

Canadian Pacific railways also established telegraph lines along their main transcontinental line facilitating the transmission of the first commercial telegram (Wilgus, 280). The movement of information and communication was speeded up and the process only took three days (Harland, 106).

The Canadian Pacific railway company also built its own steam locomotives facilitating access1891 it had its own pacific fleet in the island (Yee, 102). Their advance extended in the region until the second world war when their activities were restricted to serving the needs of the war. Their work involved transporting military men as well as freight.

The isolation that the native settlers in the region faced curtailed all their efforts of development. The accessibility which was facilitated by the establishment of the railways in the region increased avenues of trade and the resulting economic growth which spurned the development of other resources. To the locals the resulting changes also meant that they had to change their lifestyles as the new railway company and the settlers took their land confining them into small reserves.


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Paul Yee. Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2006, 82-102.

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William John Wilgus. The Railway Interrelations of the United States and Canada. Michigan: University of Michigan, 2006, 251-300.

Harold Adams Innis. History of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1971, 16-89.

Martin Robin. The Rush for Spoils: The Company Province. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart Limited. 1972, 35-100.

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Vancouver Archives Occasional Paper No. 2. Vancouver: City of Vancouver Archives, 1983.12-18.

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