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Completing the Design, Railroad to the Pacific
railroad contract, Pacific Scandal, Alexander Mackenzie, transcontinental railroad, Canadian Shield
Building the transcontinental railroad became the great challenge of the Confederation. The first attempt collapsed in the Pacific Scandal of 1872 and 1873. Macdonald was driven from office after he was found to have accepted campaign funds from Montreal financier Sir Hugh Allen in exchange for the railroad contract. The election that followed made Alexander Mackenzie, a Liberal from Ontario, the new prime minister. Mackenzie’s Liberals were lukewarm about the railroad commitment and its huge costs, particularly during the economic recession of the mid-1870s. Macdonald and the Conservatives returned to power in 1878, the economy improved, and the railroad advanced.
The Canadian Pacific Railway, a private company supported by generous federal land grants and other assistance, was incorporated in 1881 to complete the project and operate the railroad. A dynamic American general manager, William C. Van Horne, pushed the rails across the plains, through the Canadian Shield, and into the previously unsurveyed Rockies. Particularly in British Columbia, laborers imported from China dug the tunnels, built the trestles, and laid the track, enduring deadly hazards at low pay. The transcontinental line was completed in 1885. In 1886 the Canadian Pacific extended the line 32 km (20 mi) from Port Moody and founded the Pacific coast metropolis of Vancouver as a new western end point.
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