Putting CPR's The Canadian Together

Although the photograph probably predates its 1946 publication date, here is an eastbound CPR transcontinental passenger train travelling around Jackfish curve. An extra, older steam engine is leading to provide extra power to get the train up the grades near Lake Superior so the heavy train can stay on schedule.

Guessing from the steam patterns, the larger second engine which "belongs to the train" is working now. The leading helper is not working, and at maximum boiler pressure, it is blowing its safety valve. Its pent-up power will be needed on the hill to come.

Or perhaps the train will be stopping at the lakeside coaling tower at Jackfish for a quick top-up of the second locomotive's tender, and it is alone is "working" as it pulls the train to a smooth stop against the drag of the train brakes.

CPR Heron Bay Sub,
        Jackfish curve, heavyweight eastbound passenger train

In any case, this is what hard-working CPR long distance passenger trains looked like before The Canadian . Five or six cars of express, baggage and mail behind the steam locomotives, some coaches, a dining car, then the sleeping and lounge cars. The cars are heated by steam from the locomotives and most summertime cooling is usually done by opening the windows.

Soot, coal cinders, dust from the ballast; the smells of creosote and sulphurous coal and hot brakes; and locomotive noise would often come in through those windows.

You can't imagine what some people would pay for the chance to ride on a train exactly like this at this location today.

However, compared with driving or flying, this traditional travel experience will be less attractive to modern, postwar Canadians and visiting tourists in the 1950s. So the CPR will be taking significant steps to bring their "travel experience" into line with the optimistic expectations of modern travellers of the 1950s. It's now the Atomic Age, after all!

What is a passenger train?
... abridged version
What makes a passenger train distinctive?
... I mean in a prestigious way!

Locomotives for The Canadian

Let's use some new, reliable, attractively painted power.

CPR F7 nose, The
This will look nicer than those teakettles pictured at Jackfish.

In 1954, freight traffic on the Schreiber Division is already dieselized. So if the CPR takes steam off the long distance passenger trains, it will be possible to eliminate all the expensive facilities (read: employees) needed to maintain the labour intensive steam locomotives - for all that coaling and maintenance at, and watering between, crew change points.

The CPR preferred to have General Motors locomotives in mainline passenger service. The one illustrated above is geared to operate at 89 mph - great for a fast passenger train. Here is a schematic representation of its systems:

              locomotive mechanical schematic

"A" Unit at the top of the diagram means the unit has a control cab.
"B" units have the same "internal organs" but no place to sit.

With The Canadian , they decide on an ABA combination of units on each train - for a streamlined, symmetrical appearance. The engineer in the lead "A" unit will control the connected locomotives through one set of controls.

As each "unit" will be 1500 hp or 1750 hp : a set of 3 will produce  4500 hp to 5250 hp. All the wheels are powered by electric traction motors. With that kind of power and grip on the rail (24 powered wheels) they will probably have a fast passenger train if they don't make the train too long.

Notice Item 18 in the diagram above - the steam generator. In the 1950s virtually all passenger equipment's warm water and interior heat (and even some evaporative cooling!) is provided by steam piped back through the train from the locomotive. Getting rid of steam locomotives means an alternate source of steam is required. Railway executives are a conservative bunch and it will be decades before anyone makes regular use of "new fangled electric heat" in Canadian passenger cars.

(In the 1970s to meet demand, General Motors will start building diesels which have the ability to provide "hotel power" - extra electricity to power lights, heating and water heating for entire trains.)

I don't mean to scare you, but this is what a steam generator looks like:

            Canadian Steam generator

At the top of the cylinder, an oil spray is ignited with a spark plug, creating quite a little blaze. Water goes through all the concentric tubing in the bottom until it becomes steam. This won't be on the test!

Each of the three locomotive units has one of these. With all of them blasting away, it should be possible to keep a long train toasty on a cold winter night - even if travelling at 89 mph. There should be enough water stored in the three locomotives' steam generator tanks to make lots of steam. The second engineer of the 1954 Canadian, trained on steam locomotives, can be proud to think of himself as a modern day locomotive fireman - operating all this new steam production technology.

I guess the railway will still occasionally need to water locomotives to make steam, but they can use hoses instead of big water towers and do it less frequently.

During VIA's grim 1980s there was a renaissance in steam generator literature publishing, as VIA tried to keep its heritage fleet from freezing in winter. Often VIA assigned "train riders" to continuously babysit the old steam generators so both engineers could stay in the cab and pay attention to the road ahead. One day, more than 25 years after the demise of steam locomotives, Rolly had to go back when the train rider was unable to meet the needs of the passengers.

Drawing upon his old "get 'er hot" fireman ethic, Rolly felt a lot of pride in being able to bring that ancient steam producing device back to fiery life.

Passenger cars - general information

Extra cars in the 1953 CPR Budd "zephyr" equipment order, such as dome cars, are assigned to some of the CPR's other passenger trains to make them more attractive.

All of the cars have stainless steel skins designed to put passengers in the mind of streamlined aviation technology. Each had four raised CPR beaver crests - one attached to a each corner of the car's exterior.

On The Canadian an effort was made in each type of car to use glass etchings, carved linoleum panels and other touches to highlight the flora and fauna of Canada; and Canadian industrial and recreational activities.
(e.g. today? : burning used tires in cement kilns; and watching HDTV on flat panels?)

The Budd cars weighed about 70 tons each, and the old converted sleepers (the "U" series) weighed in at about 95 tons. The lighter cars had special anti-slip disc brakes while the old heavy cars used standard brake shoes - which pressed against the steel wheel treads to slow the train.

All the cars were air-conditioned using electro-mechanical means - no ice.

Now ... electricity ... with equipment of this era, when a passenger car is moving, a generator geared to one of the axles produces electricity which powers the air conditioning, ventilation fans, and lighting. Each car has a bank of batteries which are kept charged by the generator - they help "smooth out" the current and provide electricity while the train is standing still.

If a car generator fails, they can "trainline" the electricity. The healthy electrical system of one car is  temporarily patched over to the defective system of another - successfully making everyone miserable with minimal electrical supply in both cars. This probably happened very infrequently with new equipment. (VIA used lots of these backup systems in the grim 1980s.)

Describing sample cars and accommodation, starting from the headend ...

Baggage/Dormitory Car

The sleeping car porters were assigned sleeping space in their own cars so they were close and available to "their" passengers. Half of the baggage car was equipped to provide three tier bunk sleeping quarters for seventeen onboard service crew members, such as the dining car staff. The remaining baggage area was small with 18 tons capacity - in most cases passengers would probably keep their belongings with them in their sleeping area.


Coaches had smoking and non-smoking areas with adjustable seats. If you enjoy taking a bus from coast to coast - travelling in a coach overnight is for you !

Generally, coaches were better for travelling from Schreiber "to town" (Thunder Bay), or for daytime trips shorter than 16 hours.

"U" Series Tourist Cars ... and Sections

These cars were built in the mid-1920s. They were used on The Canadian because there was a demand for relatively cheap upper and lower sleeping berths (sections).

The tradition is for most sleeping, dining and observation cars on passenger trains to be named, not numbered.
These were the "U" Series because all cars in this "class" had names like :

Uranus *

* your own joke here

Here is the first of many floor plans for the various cars - from a train conductor's manual :

CPR passenger train U
                    series sleeping car

Toilets and sinks were located in both ends of the cars.

Larger "stretcher case windows" were removable so critically ill passengers could be loaded onto a train (long before large aircraft, and highways across Canada). Going up the vestibule steps and changing direction 90 degrees was not possible with a horizontal stretcher. However, the stretcher still had to be raised as high as the window!

For Canadian readers : I think former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's remains were placed into a Park Car through one of these windows for the final trip from Ottawa to Montreal.

Consistent with modern practice, all the other windows on air conditioned cars are sealed.

Sections are the "least evolved" of the passenger car sleeping areas. The basic design of turning non-private floor-based seats into one bed, and dropping a second bed from the ceiling dates back to the earliest North American overnight cars.

Each numbered section, 1 to 14, looked similar to this day/night illustration.

CPR The Canadian sleeping
              car section

The heavy felt curtains zipped closed on each bed for privacy and
you almost never saw them open when the beds were occupied.

With all the curtains closed at night, the sections area was acoustically "dead" to walk through, but signs urging silence were also posted by the sleeping car porter.

The Dining Room Car

The CPR referred to dining cars on The Canadian as "dining room cars".  Whatever.
They were named after the "public rooms" in the CPR's luxurious hotels across Canada and the names are listed on the diagram.

CPR The Canadian dining car

The sleeping car spaces had public address speakers over which Muzak and announcements were heard.
These probably originated from the "PA Locker" at the bottom right of the diagram.

This would be typical of a table setting for breakfast - but perhaps not typical behaviour you'd see early in the morning.

CPR The Canadian dining car table setting

These are all tables for four, so these folks will be having company.

The dining area was quite small compared to the passenger carrying capacity of a long train.
As isolated "cost centres" these efficiently run dining cars were probably very profitable.

Dining car stewards often took great pride in their secret work as amateur psychologists.
In this case, the steward might seat a happily married, gently outgoing older couple with our two amorous diners for the pleasure of all.

Being forced to sit with complete strangers for an hour or more while eating was often one of the most pleasurable and memorable experiences of a trip : contemplative British rock band roadies; a retired inspector from the provincial liquor board; the daughter of a judge who presided over a landmark Canadian trial two decades earlier.

Chateau Cars ... and Roomettes

Consider the old "two founding nations" concept of Canadian history : i.e. the native people had to put up with a French colony on their land - which then turned into a British colony. As a final indignity, the natives were herded onto "Reserves" as the CPR was built across their prairie hunting grounds and the land was settled ... Canada.

Thoughtfully recognizing that Canadian patrons could come from both European heritages, the CPR created Chateau and Manor cars ...
named after distinguished francophone and anglophone figures in Canadian history, respectively.

For those interested in Canadian history and/or trivia, here are the names of the Chateau cars, e.g. "Chateau Argenson" :

Varennes Vercheres

Don't people like Cartier and Champlain rate?!
Answer: The CPR already had cars named after many prominent historical figures already.

Chateau cars were characterized by "up and down windows" which belonged to their upper and lower duplex roomettes.
Left to right on the diagram below there are sections, then bedrooms (more or less - a drawing room is a big bedroom with three beds) and then roomettes. Section passengers shared the washrooms at the left. The others had their own private sinks and toilets. How did Budd fit everything in?

CPR The Canadian
                                            Chateau series sleeping car

First you see how they got the staggered window effect - the floor of one is higher than the other's. If the woman is wondering where she put something, the roomette is small enough that finding it won't take long. Passengers had the option of sliding a metal door or snapping  snap fasteners on the doorway curtains for privacy. We are looking out from the central passageway of the car in this illustration.

CPR The Canadian sleeping
              car roomette by day

In the following view, we are looking in from outside the car. Apparently the identical twins of the man and woman are staying in roomettes directly across the central passageway - in roomettes which are a mirror image of those pictured above. (This enables the illustrator to show both the outer "window wall" and the inner "sink/toilet/door wall" while maintaining the "up/down roomette relationship". Like the steam generator, roomette isomers will not be on the test.)

On the far wall are the mirrored doors which give access to the car's central passageway.

CPR The Canadian sleeping
              car roomette by night

The man's bed slides out from under the woman's roomette. The woman's bed folds down from the wall at the left.

Disappearing beds? What they don't tell you is that the TOILETS disappear at night - under the beds!!

By using elementary gymnastics you could move the bed yourself, while you were half asleep, to get to the toilet. The woman's bed was the more dangerous, as the train's motion could drop it on your head like a cartoon drawbridge if you didn't lock it vertically. Larger people would have to open the door to clear the moving bed - that's how small/ingenious the room was.

The woman's sink is folded up into the wall above the toilet - that's also how the sinks were emptied when the passengers were done with the water.

Manor Cars ... and Bedrooms

Recognizing that anglophones had to travel, too, the CPR named a good number of the sleeping cars
after distinguished anglophones in Canadian history, e.g. Abbott Manor :

Brant (native!)

Again, looking at the diagram below, left to right :  first the sections, whose passengers share the washrooms at the left end of the car; then bedrooms; and finally some no-nonsense floor level roomettes with just the fold-down style roomette beds.

CPR The Canadian Manor
                                            sleeping car

In the daytime bedroom view below, you are looking in the door from the car's passageway.

You can see, left to right : the mirrors and sink (covered by a hinged countertop) the door to the washroom, the daytime folding chairs and the partition which connected to a mirror-image of this bedroom. A family of four could take two bedrooms and have one large room if the sleeping car porter folded the partition away.

CPR The Canadian
                                            sleeping car bedroom by day
                                            and night

By night, the beds have dropped down from the ceiling and someone gets to sleep in the upper bunk. Personal reading lights are available with all the sleeping accommodation we have examined so far.

The Park Car and its Dome

The Park Car was designed to be the signature car of the train. Its round "boat-tailed" end came complete with an illuminated translucent "drumhead" which proudly displayed the train's name and the CPR crest by night.

The Park Cars were named after some of Canada's National and Provincial Parks - particularly those served by the CPR.

A Park Car had a poorer domed sibling named a "Skyline" car, with a snack bar tucked under its dome. The Skyline was marshaled between the "U" Series and the coaches. Referred to by a 3-digit number only, and having neither boattail nor drumhead, the Skylines sadly realized that the Park Car was the CPR's favoured dome in each trainset.

In the diagram below is a Park Car floorplan. Left to right : there were a few bedrooms; the Mural Lounge (with the domed observation area located upstairs and directly over it) ; and a lounge in the boattailed end of the car.

                Canadian sleeping car Park series

Here is an illustration showing a happy 1950s group in a dome.

                Canadian interior of dome car

It was good to have the air conditioning as the dome could turn into quite a little greenhouse on a sunny day. Some sources suggest the relatively small size of the dome was designed to match the capacity of the air conditioning equipment. Leaving Calgary for the mountains it was always full.

By night, early versions of The Canadian had locomotive-top spotlights which pointed up and ahead to illuminate mountains for the dome passengers. Unlike freights, the trains were often short enough that you could watch from the rear dome as the headend "knocked down" the clear signals as it passed them.

In addition, locomotives were equipped with two steel bar "icebreakers" to knock down large tunnel icicles before they took out the front glass of the Skyline dome - and probably the passengers up there as well.

Below is an interior view of the Park rear lounge area. The seat arrangement was conducive to relaxed conversation - especially as there was a bar nearby. The rounded car end gave passengers a good wide view of the local geography. If you were so inclined, the rear window was excellent for taking photos of the technical aspects of the track and railway facilities. The heavy ashtrays shown lasted for decades and decades.

                Canadian Park series lounge

Here is an illustration of the Mural Lounge bar area displaying the trainset's most prestigious feature -
and no, it's not the guy with the pipe :

                The Canadian Park series dome cars Mural Lounge

It's the mural ! ... "covering two walls, signed by a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts ".
You can see that calling the train "The Royal Canadian" would have fit in well with the mural in the signature car.

In real life, the Mural Lounge was a little more cramped than it was "intimate as an exclusive club" as the brochure stated.

Let's explore the layout:
  • The train gigolo distinguished gentleman with the pipe is walking from left to right, approaching the bar entrance and the boattail lounge area.
  • He is looking through the decoratively etched glass enclosing the Mural Lounge.
  • The far, dark scene with the crescent moon is the view out the window on the right side of the car. There are three windows on that side wall of the Mural Lounge - around which the mural must flow.
  • The mountains, blue sky, clouds and trees are part of the aforementioned mural.
  • The mural pictured here does not match any of the particular murals actually placed in these cars.

This is how they got the murals done:
  • Armed with samples of the interior decorating materials to be used inside the cars, a member of the Canadian Pacific's design department contacted the President of the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts.
  • The President, in turn, contacted individual artists to canvass - sorry - for interest in the CPR commissions.
  • Each mural was to depict the park after which each car was named.
  • Each artist was to produce a mural ...  for the solid wall shown above and around the three windows' worth of wall on the right side. 
  • After completion of a satisfactory preliminary rendition, the CPR furnished the final materials, cut to the appropriate dimensions.
  • Completed mural canvases were glued to metal plates, which were rivetted to the cars.
  • In addition, each artist was to produce a map panel showing: 
    • The park's location in Canada.
    • A map of the park. 
    • Around the edges of this panel : animals and/or people doing their usual thing inside the park.
  • One source reveals that one artist was paid $1400 in 1954 dollars for his work.
  • This was all done under tight time constraints as the whole mural project was completed in about one year.

Who participated?

Algonquin Park
A.J. Casson
Assiniboine Park
Franklin Arbuckle
Banff Park
Charles Comfort
Evangeline Park
Leslie Smith
Fundy Park Lawren Phillips Harris
Glacier Park
Adam-Sheriff Scott
Kokanee Park
A.Y. Jackson
Kootenay Park
George Pepper
Laurentide Park
Albert Cloutier
Prince Albert Park
Fred Finley
Revelstoke Park
R.W. Pilot
Riding Mountain Park
William Winter
Sibley Park
Yvonne Housser
Strathcona Park
W.J. Phillips
Tremblant Park
Edwin Holgate
Tweedsmuir Park
E.J. Hughes
Waterton Park
L. Petely-Jones
Yoho Park
Harold Beament
RED: "Group of Seven" Member
The Group of Seven began as a group of seven Canadian artists who held their first exhibition together in Toronto in 1920 as an organization of self-proclaimed modern artists. They felt they represented a new, more independent, Canadian approach to painting - particularly in their paintings of Canadian landscapes.

On a number of occasions, the CPR supported their efforts to paint remote Canadian landscape subjects along the CPR route. It was after such a trip in 1921 to paint along the stark east and north shores Lake Superior that Lawren Harris (Senior - the father of the artist who painted the Fundy Park mural) developed his characteristic style of using radically simplified colour and painting layouts. A few other artists were invited to join before the group disbanded in 1933.

From a trip I took in 1979, you can see the map panel for Kootenay Park to the right of the stairway to the dome. This photograph is taken from the boattail lounge of the Park Car and the Mural Lounge is behind the map panel's bulkhead. At this point, the murals and maps had been cigarette-smoked and vibrated back and forth across Canada for 25 years. Notice the indestructible ashtray.

                Canadian Park series Kootenay Park map panel 1979

In the early 1980s, VIA Rail removed the murals from the cars and attempted to restore them. VIA sponsored a short travelling exhibit of some of the murals. We drove to Welland, Ontario to see a number of them on display around this time.

Let's close the knuckles,
connect all the air hoses,
make the steam connections,
plug in the PA wires,
and see what we get.

We get nice publicity shots like this in the Bow Valley!

                Canadian Bow River Valley

In this early CPR publicity photo of The Canadian, you can see:
  • An ABA locomotive consist - with ice breakers and roof spotlights
  • Baggage/crew dormitory
  • Tall-roofed U series sleepers - from the 1920s with the cheaper "tourist sections"
  • The Skyline dome
  • Coaches
  • Dining car
  • Sleeping cars
  • The Park Car

Conservatively choosing proven locomotive and rolling stock designs,
in 1953 the CPR quickly developed a daily transcontinental train,
using modern passenger equipment which was unique in Canada.

It faced the formidable competition of postwar air travel
and the increasing popularity of the automobile for long distance journeys.

To encourage Canadian and overseas tourists to ride The Canadian,
the CPR promoted the equipment's features,
the quality of its onboard service,
 and the picturesque areas of Canada which it served.

Distinctive Canadian art was commissioned by the CPR to decorate the train
and equipment names were intended to recall 450 years of Canadian history.