Canadian Pacific Railway Co.

Prairie Settlement Propaganda:
Pamphlet & Map Exhibition 1880 – 1929

By: Andrea Berry

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company had an integral role in the populating of the Prairie West. Its vibrant history shaped our country and encouraged settlement and agriculture on the prairies. The slogan "from coast to coast" eventually came true as the Canadian Pacific Railway accomplished the feat of building a railway of over 3200 kilometers through shield, forests, and mountains, swamps, and bogs, from Nova Scotia to Craigellachie.

A Brief Early History

Incorporated on February 16th 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company's aim was to form a link between Canada's populated centres and to increase potential for development in the prairie west. The Canadian Pacific Railway "was formed to physically unite Canada and Canadians from coast to coast" ("Our History", n.d.). In 1867, Canada's Confederation united the four eastern provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. As part of Confederation, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were promised a railway to link them to Quebec and Ontario which were central at this time. In 1870 Manitoba joined Confederation and in 1871 British Columbia joined on condition that the transcontinental railroad be built within ten years to link eastern Canada to the west.

The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed by 1889 (including international routes to Maine - the CPR line was coast to coast in Canada by 1885); this was an amazing feat. Throughout that time the company had expanded to include other businesses including steamships on the Great Lakes (1883), chartered ships on the Pacific Ocean (1886), and paddle wheelers in B.C. (1893) and the Atlantic Ocean (1901) ("Our History", n.d.). The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was also very involved in the hotel and tourism industry; this began as early as 1886. Their contribution to the building of a nation was further noticeable by their efforts to erect telegraph lines along the main transcontinental railway line.

*For more information on the earliest beginnings of the C.P.R. please browse: "Origin of the Canadian Pacific Railway" by Howard Angus Kennedy, published in 1928.

Table 1: Events Leading and Relating to the settlement of the Canadian West
Date Event  
1867 Confederation Canada became the first federation in the British Empire. The first four provinces to join Confederation included Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At this time, the remaining provinces that comprise Canada today had not yet joined Confederation for various reasons.
1869  Rupert's Land & the North-Western Territory Surrendered in Canada The Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada, in exchange for “£300 000, certain land around its posts, and eventually some 2.8 million ha of farmland in what are today the Prairie provinces” (Smith). However, the land was not officially transferred until 1870 due to the Red River Rebellion. This newly acquired land would become the Northwest Territories. See image 1.
1870  Manitoba joins Confederation  
1871 Northwest Territories join Confederation At this time, the Northwest Territories’ regional boundaries were very different then they are today. The Northwest Territories included regions of what are now Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon, Nunavut, Ontario and Quebec. See image 1.
1871 British Columbia joins Confederation British Columbia joins Confederation with the promise that the Canadian government extend the transcontinental railway (Canadian Pacific Railway) to B.C.
1876 National Policy Proposed by John A. Macdonald in 1876 and put into action in 1876, the National Policy included development policies like the building of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway, western settlement, and increased Canadian export via steamship to Europe and Asia
1882 4 provisional districts created within the Northwest Territories Alberta, Assiniboia, Athabasca and Saskatchewan are created as provisional districts within the Northwest Territories. These districts were developed in part for the convenience of settlers.
1885 Transcontinental Railway completed The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in this year with the last spike driven in B.C. on November 16, 1885.
1896 Clifford Sifton appointed Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton is appointed Minister of the Interior with the duty of populating the Canadian Prairie west with settlers.
1905 The provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are formed Alberta and Saskatchewan become separate provinces. The regions that comprise the two provinces today were part of the Northwest Territories and their own provisional districts before they became provinces.

C.P.R.'s Involvement in Land Settlement & Sales

In addition to "free land" distributed by the Dominion to newcomers, the Canadian Pacific Railway expanded their enterprise to promote land settlement and land sales in the Canadian West in 1881.

To better understand how land was distributed, one must become familiar with the Dominion Lands Survey. This was proposed under the MacDonald government in 1871 and incorporated into law under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 (Hedges 1937).

The Dominion Lands Survey system was developed by the Canadian government for prairie settlement. The checker-board survey system included townships composed of 36 sections that were sub-divided into quarter sections of 160 acres. The homestead was essentially a quarter section of land distributed to immigrants from Europe, the United States, and people from Eastern Canada - all newcomers to the West.

Railways were granted odd-numbered sections of the 36 section township grid, excluding land reserved for schools: sections 11 and 29 (see Fig. 1). These railway land grants were more formally referred to as railway land subsidies. The land subsidies were contradictory to the land distributed by the Crown; in that "the grants to the railways removed vast areas from the reach of the homesteader and forced the farmer to pay tribute to the corporation"; however, the "building of the railways increased the value of settler’s acres sufficiently to compensate for the few extra dollars which he paid for them" (Hedges).

From Atlas of Alberta Railways

The Railway Land Subsidies granted to the Canadian Pacific Railway were distributed as follows: Canadian Pacific (main line) – 25,000,000 acres; Canadian Pacific (Souris Branch) – 1,408,704 acres; Canadian Pacific (Pipestone Extension, Souris Branch – 200,320 acres (Hedges).

Scenes along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway

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To promote land sales, the Canadian Pacific Railway developed an intensive propaganda campaign targeting prospective settlers originating from the United States of America, Europe and other areas of Canada, especially eastern Canada. The following exhibition represents only a sample of the propaganda pamphlets used to draw potential settlers to the West. Notice the appealing images and catchy choice of words designed to inspire individuals, families, and communities to relocate to the Prairies over one hundred years ago.

1. Some startling facts relating to the Canadian Pacific railway and the north-west lands; 1888

2. Free Farms: Manitoba, Assiniboia, Alberta, Saskatchewan; 1892

3. Western Canada: Manitoba and the Northwest territories, Assiniboia, Alberta, Saskatchewan; 1899

4. Words from the Women of Western Canada; 1903

5. Western Canada: Manitoba, Assiniboia, Saskatchewan and New Ontario; 1904

6. Western Canada: The Highway to the Empire; 1910

7. 1910 Settler's Guide to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta; 1910

8. Western Progress; 1911

9. Homeseekers Excursions to Manitoba, Saskatchewan & Alberta; 1911

10. 1911 Settlers' Guide; 1911

11. The Western provinces of Canada, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia; 1913

12. A Handbook of Information Regarding Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba; 1917

13. A Handbook of Information Regarding the Prairie Provinces of Canada; 1921

14. 50,000 Harvesters Wanted: Excursions to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta; 1926

15. The Prairie Provinces of Canada; 1929


The following historic maps of Western Canada dating back to 1880 were published by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and provide a geographical representation of the scope of their railway enterprise.

1. Map of Manitoba, Keewatin, British Columbia, & North West Territory shewing the country to be traversed by the Canadian Pacific Railway; 1880

2. Manitoba and the Northwest Territories of Canada showing the lines and land grants of the Canadian Pacific Railway; 1888

3. Map of Western Canada; Map of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its Connections; 1890/1892

4. Western Canada: Manitoba, Alberta, Assiniboia, Saskatchewan and New Ontario; 1904

5. Map of Western Canada: Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Part of British Columbia; 1912


Hedges, James B. (1934). The Federal Railway Land Subsidy Policy of Canada. London: Harvard University Press.

Omer Lavalee (n.d.). Canadian Pacific Railway. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Regehr, T.D. (n.d.). Dominion Lands Policy. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

(n.d.) Our History. Canadian Pacific Railroad. Retrieved from