1886: A transcontinental passenger train arrives in Port Moody

The arrival took place almost a year before the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Vancouver

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The first transcontinental passenger train from Montreal to Vancouver arrived at the Canadian Pacific Railway terminus at Coal Harbor on May 23, 1887.

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But the first transcontinental passenger train from Montreal to Burrard Inlet had arrived in Port Moody almost a year earlier, on July 4, 1886.

The Victoria Daily Times reported that the CPR train arrived at Port Moody station at ‘exactly one minute after noon’, which it called ‘the most wonderful railway feat on record’.

“The train left Montreal on time, and after nearly a week’s journey, covering a distance of 2,907 miles, it stops at the end of its long journey only a minute behind schedule. “, said the Times. “The time card showed the hours covering the trip to be 136 hours and one minute.”

There were 150 passengers on board the train, which, according to the Times, “consisted of an engine, a tender, a baggage car, an express and mail car, two sleeping cars emigrants, a first class, a Pullman and the official car of Mr. Abbott’.

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Mr. Abbott was Harry Abbott, the general superintendent of the CPR in British Columbia. Abbott was greeted by dignitaries such as BC Premier William Smithe, who sailed from Victoria aboard the SS Yosemite.

“Entering English Bay, the decks were crowded with people anxious to learn the status of this famous port, considered the future great shipping port of the Pacific Coast,” the Times said.

“We rushed to the shore to examine the remains of the recent conflagration (the great fire of June 13, 1886). Time here was limited and only part of the ruins were examined.

“A considerable increase was made to our numbers in Vancouver as well as in Moodyville, where a short stop was made. Sailing to the Inlet has now become very interesting, the scenery on each side being very great.

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“Railway grading is quite distinct. From the cars a charming view will be obtained of the opposite side of the inlet which excels either the scenery of the Hudson River – generally considered the Rhine of America – or that of the Columbia River between the Dalles and Portland.

WH (William Henry) Evans was the engineer of the first passenger train to arrive in Port Moody, July 4, 1886. This photo was taken in Coquitlam on July 3, 1936. Vancouver Archives AM177-F01-: CVA 612-067
WH (William Henry) Evans was the engineer of the first passenger train to arrive in Port Moody, July 4, 1886. This photo was taken in Coquitlam on July 3, 1936. Vancouver Archives AM177-F01-: CVA 612-067 PNG

Prime Minister Smithe gave the first of several speeches, declaring that the arrival of the train connecting Canada “will forever be regarded as the true beginning of the industrial and commercial development of the country.”

Vancouver Mayor Malcolm MacLean admitted that “it was our misfortune to have been hit hard by a devastating conflagration which, within hours, swept through our city”.

But he told Abbott and the assembled multitude “such is the energy and enterprise displayed by our citizens, and so strong was their faith in the future of our city, that a larger and more attractive new city that the old one has already risen from its ashes.”

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The engineer who ran the engine at Port Moody was WH Evans, known as Billy. Her great-great-grandnephew Peter Gordon emailed me recently after a column on Alan Morley’s Romance of Vancouver series, hence the idea for this column.

James Dyer of The Sun interviewed Evans on February 29, 1936. Evans arrived in British Columbia in 1883, “via New Westminster to Yale, to help build the railroad.”

Evans told Dyer that Port Moody “is still the terminus, officially. They just built a branch line in Vancouver, and it’s still just a branch line.

He also told Dyer that on a hot day in July 1890, the town nearly suffered a second catastrophic fire. The forest surrounding the fledgling town was “drier” and a strong wind ignited a series of small fires into “devouring hosts”.

CPR has decided to move its cars and buses away from danger. Evans hitched up a locomotive and started east, and “at every crossing men stopped me and piled their wives and children, their valuables, into the carriages”. But the wind “died at sunset” and Vancouver survived.

Evans was at the helm of an engine that replicated his historic voyage on July 3, 1936, his 50th birthday. He died in 1938 at the age of 77.

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Former Canadian Prime Minister RB Bennett, WH Evans, Peter Barnhart and Vancouver Mayor Gerry McGeer at the arrival of the reenactment of the first train on July 3, 1936. Evans was the engineer for the first train to arrive in Port Moody on July 3, 1886, Barnhart was the conductor.  Vancouver Archives AM177-F01-: CVA 612-066
Former Canadian Prime Minister RB Bennett, WH Evans, Peter Barnhart and Vancouver Mayor Gerry McGeer at the arrival of the reenactment of the first train on July 3, 1936. Evans was the engineer for the first train to arrive in Port Moody on July 3, 1886, Barnhart was the conductor. Vancouver Archives AM177-F01-: CVA 612-066 PNG
July 27, 1886. Arrival of Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and his wife by CPR train at Port Moody.  Sir John A. MacDonald is No. 13 and Lady MacDonald is No. 14. Others identified are: 1. Mrs. Norman Fraser, 2. Mrs. John Fraser, 3. John Murray, 4. Miss Liah Scott, 5. EK Perry, 6. Miss Nellie Dockrill, 7. Mrs. EK Perry, 8 .Norman Fraser, 9. TJ Trapp, 10. Ham Lipsett, 11. ship's mate
July 27, 1886. Arrival of Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and his wife by CPR train at Port Moody. Sir John A. MacDonald is No. 13 and Lady MacDonald is No. 14. Others identified are: 1. Mrs. Norman Fraser, 2. Mrs. John Fraser, 3. John Murray, 4. Miss Liah Scott, 5. EK Perry, 6. Miss Nellie Dockrill, 7. Mrs. EK Perry, 8 .Norman Fraser, 9. TJ Trapp, 10. Ham Lipsett, 11. mate of the ship “New York”, 12. Mr. Simmonds, and 15. John R.Scott. JA Brock/Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Can P62. Photo by JA Brock /PNG

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