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Dutch ancestors of the Van Horne family came to North America in the 1630s; William Van Hornea€™s mother was of German and French-Pennsylvanian stock. Van Hornea€™s work brought him into close contact with James Jerome Hill, Minnesotaa€™s most aggressive railwayman. Shortly after his arrival Van Horne promised that 500 miles of track would be laid on the prairies in 1882, more than any company had ever built in a single year.
Van Hornea€™s experience with Langdon and Shepard was none the less sufficiently strained that they were granted no further contracts. Tall and massively built, Van Horne was a man of immense physical energy, capable of ferocious drive and Herculean effort. During construction the directors had made two important decisions, one with Van Hornea€™s concurrence, the other because he and the government insisted on it. Protection of CPR territory was aided considerably by the monopoly provision of the companya€™s charter. During the six years Van Horne had served as general manager, his greatest achievement was unquestionably the construction of the CPRa€™s main line and the most urgently needed feeder lines and auxiliary facilities.
To build up traffic, Van Horne directed the fabrication of increasingly complex systems that integrated agricultural and timber lands, grain elevators, flour mills, port facilities and terminals, maritime fleets, express and telegraph operations, and passenger and tourist services, including large hotels [see Bruce Price*]. By the time Van Horne became president in 1888, the company had survived its greatest financial difficulties. Van Horne was a builder, with a grand vision of what western Canada and the CPR could become, and he received much personal recognition, including an honorary kcmg in 1894.
Major steam-railway construction had come to a standstill in the early 1890s in Canada, and even the most successful contractors had had to turn to related fields for work.
Cuba had been convulsed by rebellion against Spain and in 1898 the United States intervened, establishing a temporary military government. In addition to the railway, the Cuba Company (renamed the Cuba Railroad Company in 1902) invested in developments designed both to benefit the populace and to generate needed traffic.
Although in North America Van Horne was most devoted to the CPR, he participated and invested in a host of other enterprises. A knowledgeable collector of fossils in his youth, Van Horne, after his move to Montreal, began to acquire art in a serious way, as did other CPR builders and financiers. Van Horne, like many of those associated with him in Canadian railways, contributed generously to hospitals, art galleries, and public parks. Van Horne also tried, generally, to avoid involvement in partisan politics, even though railways and other work brought him into frequent contact with political figures. Much of the material presented here is drawn from the Van Horne papers (MG 29, A60) and the Canadian Pacific Railway papers (MG 28, III 20) at the NA, and from the Canadian Pacific Arch., Montreal. Pierre Berton, The last spike: the great railway, 1881a€“1885 (Toronto and Montreal, 1971). The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). We acknowledge the support of the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage. Nous reconnaissons la€™appui du gouvernement du Canada par la€™entremise du ministA?re du Patrimoine canadien. The map shows the provincial capitals of Victoria, Edmonton, and Regina, and territorial capital of White Horse (Whitehorse after 1957), and other major cities and towns. The family moved to Joliet in 1851, and when William was 11 his father died, leaving the family in poor circumstances. In 1880 Hill and his associates, among them George Stephen* of Montreal, signed a huge contract with the Canadian government to build the Pacific railway. Andrew Onderdonk*, another American engineer, had signed or taken over contracts to build some of the most difficult mileage from the Pacific into British Columbiaa€™s interior. He regarded speed as essential since the railwaya€™s cash and land subsidies were earned only as portions of the line were completed, inspected, and opened.
Instead, the somewhat mysterious North American Railway Contracting Company, a shell formed primarily to attract investors and controlled by the CPR, was incorporated in New Jersey. In a crisis he could work exceptionally long hours, sometimes walking or riding by buggy over lengthy distances of rough terrain to visit construction sites. In the early spring of 1885 he was not at the end of track in the Rockies when the companya€™s inability to pay its contractors, and rumours of impending bankruptcy, resulted in a bitter strike. Persistent protests from the province of Manitoba forced the federal government to repeal the provision in 1888 [see Thomas Greenway*], but its loss facilitated a new initiative. He maintained firm oversight and control of all major construction and operational matters, but placed trusted managers in key positions and gave them considerable autonomy.
To publicize the completed CPR, Van Horne, himself an art connoisseur, did not hesitate to turn to professional artists. During his presidency it spent enormous sums to improve the main line and to build or acquire branches linking it to the northern prairies and parts of western Manitoba. Many found it in the electrification of street railways; Van Horne was invited to join several of these projects, in Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Saint John. In an attempt to block undue pressure from the swarms of promoters and financial buccaneers attracted by this occupation, the American government enacted legislation that prohibited new charters but did not prevent the acquisition of existing ones. His discovery that some railways had been built without charters on privately owned land such as plantations led to the conviction that he could circumvent the law on charters if he acquired land along the proposed trunk route and built pieces of a private line on each section. Large tracts were acquired and opened to settlement under a colonization program devised by Van Horne. Some companies, notably Canadian Salt, Laurentide Paper, Dominion Iron and Steel, Dominion Steel, North West Land, Equitable Life Assurance, Royal Trust, and a number of western flour-milling and elevator companies, became quite profitable; other interests, including a sardine-packing plant, a powder factory, and several gold-mining ventures, were failures. His collection of old Dutch and Flemish masters and important French, English, Spanish, and American painters, which some critics regarded as one of the best in Canada, was assembled in an eclectic manner. An excellent violinist who enjoyed playing classical pieces, he is better remembered for his painting. His assessments of politicians were often critical, but he had a high regard for their craft, whether in the form of function, influence, or humbug, and he clearly understood the importance for the CPR of political affiliation. The first had come in the late stages of building the CPR main line, when syndicate members and company officials besieged Ottawa with desperate demands for financial assistance. In 1915, during World War I, he was selected by Prime Minister Sir Robert Laird Borden* to head a commission on resources, but Van Hornea€™s death on 11 September intervened. This passion for bigness, complemented by a usually keen eye for detail, was matched by exceptional energy, vision, and enthusiasm which made it possible for Van Horne to achieve or obtain many of the great things he so prized. The territorial capital of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories was not established as the capital until1967. His mischievous sense of humour and propensity to play practical jokes, traits that would stay with him for life, kept pace with this determination. Two experienced American builders were appointed: Alpheus Beede Stickney as general superintendent of western construction and Thomas Lafayette Rosser as chief engineer.


The subsidies paid for trackage on the prairies, where costs were relatively low, were needed to pay for the high anticipated costs of construction in the Rocky Mountains. It signed a contract with the railway under which unissued CPR stocks and bonds would be transferred to the new company if it raised the necessary funds and completed the main line. However, he did warn the syndicate repeatedly of the consequences if the pay car was not dispatched, and he sent out numerous tough messages supporting the larger contractors and the North-West Mounted Police who were trying to keep the men at work [see Sir Samuel Benfield Steele]. The other decision was Van Hornea€™s insistence on the immediate completion of the difficult line north of Superior.
Those not enjoying his confidence were given reduced assignments or relieved of their duties.
On the western portion of the Lake Superior section, John Ross was less successful and he never enjoyed Van Hornea€™s complete confidence. John Arthur Fraser* and Lucius Richard Oa€™Brien*, among others, received commissions in the 1880s to execute paintings of the Rockies for promotional exhibitions, and the inspiring photographic work of Alexander Henderson would lead to the formation of a photography department within the CPR in 1892. Personal interest, and a concern that new Canadian urban electrification projects be integrated with CPR freight and passenger services, led to his acceptance, but he would not become dominant in any Canadian street-railway company. Even before the military government was ensconced, three syndicates were vying for control of Havanaa€™s tramways.
To make this assemblage possible, the Cuba Company was incorporated in 1900 in New Jersey, with Van Horne as president, and he and his associates together pledged $8 million. In a pattern of development similar to that established for the CPR, sugar mills and plantations, hotels, harbour and wharf facilities, town-sites, and mining and lumbering operations were also acquired or built.
Over the years Van Horne was a director of at least 40 companies and he invested in many more. He refused to buy any work, no matter how famous or inexpensive, if he did not find it satisfying.
As a child, when he saw a geological textbook that he could not afford, he copied it, illustrations and all. The CPR had been viewed by the Liberals as a Conservative corporation since its creation, and its strong intervention in the federal election of 1891 bolstered this belief.
The second occurred in 1911 when the Laurier government negotiated a reciprocity agreement with the United States. A Unitarian funeral service was held at his Montreal home and a special CPR train took his body back to Joliet for burial in Oakwood Cemetery. His interests were numerous and varied, but construction of the CPR was his greatest contribution to Canada. Among other tasks, he carried messages for the local telegraph company, where he learned the basic elements of telegraphy. On one of his early railway jobs he wired a metal plate in the freight yards so that anyone stepping on it received a mild electric shock.
Chicago and Alton officials then appointed him general manager and, in 1877, president of another moribund railway, the Southern Minnesota; under his management it too became productive. In addition, the company could expect to carry little through freight, hence its earnings from operations would remain low until the main line was finished. North American immediately hired two construction managers, James Ross for the mountain section from Calgary to the end of Onderdonka€™s work, and John Ross (no relation) for the section north of Superior.
Within a month of taking office he had gathered sufficient evidence regarding Rossera€™s speculations that he terminated his services. Also that spring, when the rebellion led by Louis Riel* broke out in the northwest, Van Horne was intimately involved in the arrangements for the movement of troops and supplies over the partially completed line north of Superior.
The government had stipulated this route as a condition of its contract, but Hill and others on the syndicate wanted to delay and perhaps renegotiate.
Thereafter, in any freight-rate war with an American railway, the CPR could temporarily avoid its expensive line north of Superior and use the southern lines to fight for traffic to and from the Canadian west and the American northwest.
Nor did James Worthington, construction manager of the Canada Central, which would become the eastern section of the Superior line. By 1890 the basic system was complete and Van Horne, always an enthusiastic supporter of commercial, industrial, agricultural, and colonization schemes that would generate revenue-producing traffic, reluctantly agreed that the company had built too far in advance of immediate requirements. Van Horne, who traced his involvement to an encounter with Cubaa€™s minister in Washington and who knew several key American politicians, was a member of the Canadian consortium, but an American group with stronger links to Washington and the new military government prevailed. One entirely new port, Antilla, was developed in partnership with the United Fruit Company.
These investments, along with the CPR and his Cuban interests, made him an exceptionally wealthy man and one of Canadaa€™s most prominent capitalists. His treasures also included one of the best collections in North America of ancient Asian (particularly Japanese) porcelain and pottery. His skill at caricature, which had ended his formal education, found later expression in the sketches of technical and descriptive details that accompanied much of his correspondence. He was willing to invest, and lose, large sums in the development of model farms which would promote better farming methods in western Canada or Cuba, but he did not usually assist the urban mission work done by men such as James Shaver Woodsworth*, believing it to be demoralizing in effect and destructive of independence of character. Subsequently, Van Horne attempted discreetly to align his company with the Liberals, and he channelled his efforts through two leading Ontario Liberals in particular, party organizer and mp James David Edgar* and journalist John Stephen Willison*. Van Horne believed that industries which had grown up behind the protective National Policy were threatened by reciprocity, and he campaigned aggressively a€?to bust the damn thing.a€? He was not, however, a doctrinaire protectionist. His formal schooling ended when, at 14, he was so severely punished for drawing and circulating some unflattering caricatures of his principal that he never went back. In 1878 he took on as well the superintendence of the parent company, the Chicago and Alton.
Not only was their progress in construction disappointing, but evidence was also mounting that both of them were engaged in private land speculations detrimental to the interests of the company. Van Horne believed that the success of the CPR depended on the rapid development of revenue-producing services which only the completed line could offer. North American, however, failed in its financial arrangements in 1883, forcing the CPR, specifically Van Horne, to become its own contractor.
Members of Rossera€™s engineering staff were also replaced when it was found that some of their plans and profiles, which were of potential use to speculators, had disappeared. These services earned the company the gratitude of the government and, of greater importance, the subsidies and guarantees needed to complete construction of the main line. There was virtually no local traffic on this barren, 1,000-mile section across the Canadian Shield: operations could be profitable only if the section carried large volumes of traffic generated elsewhere.
Worthington resigned in May 1884 after a disagreement with Van Horne and in the spring of 1885 John Ross followed suit. In the 1880s the CPR completed a line to Windsor, Ont., with through trains to Chicago, and a series of acquisitions and construction projects was launched to take it across Quebec and Maine to the Maritimes. The country had to be allowed to catch up before more traffic-generating branches were launched or freight rates were lowered. The Canadians negotiated a merger with the Americans, and Van Horne became a director of the amalgamated undertaking.


The railway had to cross municipal and provincial roads and it needed access to the business districts of towns and cities. In CamagA?ey, where the Cuba Railroad Company had its headquarters and a grand station, former barracks were converted into a luxurious resort, the Hotel CamagA?ey.
Despite his weak complaints that his purse could not match the resources of some of his CPR associates, Van Horne enjoyed his luxuries, including drink and cards (he could outlast his contemporaries at both). He became an expert on firing and the finish of his specimens, and he laboured for years compiling and illustrating a catalogue of these works, a sizeable portion of which he gave to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. He seemed to have a photographic memory and cherished spontaneity, which he did not believe could be taught in art schools: he usually painted quickly, at night, in a studio in his Montreal mansion.
Some months before the election of 1896, Edgar told Willison that Van Horne a€?believes firmly that we are going to win, and he does not lack ability to draw a few conclusions.a€? Almost immediately after the election, which brought Laurier to power, the Crowsnest negotiations began. At other times he strongly supported free trade measures, particularly those that would reduce American tariffs against Cuban sugar. Others were more successful as financiers, promoters, and lobbyists, but none equalled his achievement in the building and operation of integrated systems of railway transportation and economic development, first in Canada and later in Cuba. From there he moved two years later to become general superintendent of the larger Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul. In order to avoid serious delays if any of the contractors or subcontractors did not meet their schedules, Van Horne organized a a€?flying winga€? of labourers who, under his control, could swing into action to carry out the work.
The Rosses retained their positions and quickly negotiated numerous smaller contracts with aspiring Canadian builders. Until it was completed, all of the CPRa€™s construction materials for the west and almost all of its freight had to pass over Hilla€™s St Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad. A number of CPR shareholders still had substantial interests in his American lines and eventually they enforced an accommodation acknowledging the territoriality of both systems. Consequently there was a halt in new construction and stiff resistance by the CPR to any reductions of rates until the volume of traffic increased.
When the necessary permissions or concessions were not forthcoming, Van Horne simply stopped construction, throwing thousands of labourers out of work, and threatened to by-pass the centres.
Nearby Van Horne established his own hacienda and a large experimental farm, following the example of the 7,000-acre, stock-breeding farm he had set up in East Selkirk, Man.
This interest, together with his efforts as president of the CPR to promote increased trade with Japan, earned him a special invitation to visit as a guest of the emperor. Hill then recommended that Van Horne be obtained to manage the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The American firm of Langdon, Shepard and Company did not lay the promised 500 miles: they completed only 417 miles of main line, although, if branch lines, sidings, and the laying of rails on previously graded roadbeds were included, it was still possible to claim that the full mileage had been built. The construction managers at the end of steel had primary responsibility, but as general manager Van Horne, who had transferred his office and residence to Montreal in 1882, vigorously reviewed the contracts and subcontracts to ensure conformity. Superintendence of the western division was entrusted to the aggressive John Egan, another former Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul associate, in spite of loud criticisms of his Fenian sympathies.
Uncomfortable with this dependence and with his sights set on a strong through traffic, Van Horne vigorously supported the governmenta€™s determination to have the all-Canadian route finished. Despite their strong respect for each other, tension between Van Horne and Hill, particularly over control of traffic to Duluth, Minn., would continue throughout Van Hornea€™s presidency and allegedly contribute to his decision to resign. When arranging troop movements during the North-West rebellion, Van Horne worked closely with Abbott, then in charge of the eastern part of the Superior section, but he personally assumed responsibility for most of the arrangements on the western part, where John Ross was still directing work. This resulted in growing popular resentment of the companya€™s cautious policies, which, many believed, hampered rapid economic growth and development.
The resulting political pressure, combined with Van Hornea€™s cordial demeanour, invariably produced the required support. The support given locally to the projects of the Cuba Railroad Company stood in sharp contrast to the hostility elicited by other Latin American ventures with which Van Horne was involved. Changes in locations, specifications, and contractual obligations also required his constant attention. Later, in the mountains, several bad sections could not be completed in time for the driving of the last spike, so Van Horne authorized the construction of temporary track around those spots but refused the compensation demanded by the unfortunate contractors. At the same time, he recognized the strategic value to the CPR of access to railways south of Superior, in the United States. After completion of the Superior line, Abbott was reassigned, in 1886, to finish and upgrade the main line in British Columbia so that it could be opened for traffic. Federally owned lands and roads posed greater difficulty since the charter law did not allow the military governor to grant concessions to use or cross such property. The electric tramways of Havana, for example, were disliked and Van Horne tried to hide his involvement. Allan Pringle, a€?William Cornelius Van Horne, art director, Canadian Pacific Railway,a€? Journal of Canadian Art Hist.
His actions earned him a reputation as a a€?Napoleonic master of men,a€? but many contemporary descriptions of him, such as Robert Kirkland Kernighana€™s account in the Winnipeg Daily Sun in 1882 of the a€?terrora€? of Flat Creek who a€?cuffs the first official he comes to just to get his hand ina€? and whose arrival at the end of steel results in a a€?dark and bloody tragedy enacted right there,a€? were products of fevered journalistic licence as the CPR was pushed forward. Other key operating managers appointed by Van Horne included William Whyte, superintendent of the Ontario division until he replaced Egan after that tough, often unpopular officer resigned, and Thomas George Shaughnessy*, who had been enticed to leave Van Hornea€™s old road, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul, to become chief purchasing agent of the CPR in 1882. Van Horne had a leading role in 1896a€“97 in negotiations with the new Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier over a subsidy for a line through the Crowsnest Pass into the rich Kootenay mining region of British Columbia, primarily to counter competition from Hilla€™s Great Northern and the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway. Van Horne suggested the brilliant expedient of a revocable permit, under which the railway could build but permission could be revoked when a civilian government took power. When offered the presidency of the Havana Electric Tramway Company, he refused because he feared that it might undermine goodwill toward the Cuba Railroad Company. A ruthless auditor, Shaughnessy kept Van Horne informed of all major and potentially troublesome developments, but he also had Van Hornea€™s complete trust to make the necessary and appropriate decisions pertaining to his area. These negotiations led not only to construction but also to the historic Crowsnest Pass agreement, passed by parliament in 1897 and instituted the following year, which lowered CPR freight rates over the entire prairies, thus assisting the expansion of agriculture. No action would ever be likely, however, if the railway maintained good relations with the public and communities derived economic gain. He nevertheless remained a shareholder and sometimes a a€?silent managing partnera€? in numerous unpopular and exploitative ventures. Gonzalo de Quegada, a€?The iron horse in east Cuba,a€? Gulf Stream (Havana, Cuba), [1 ] (1929), no.3. Once the main line was built, Shaughnessy would prove invaluable in the operation of the CPR. 14)CAMPBELL, JOHN GEORGE EDWARD HENRY DOUGLAS SUTHERLAND, Marquess of LORNE and 9th Duke of ARGYLL (Vol.



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