Putting CPR's The Canadian
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.
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
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
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?
- Locomotives and rolling stock which can carry passengers
- It moves passengers who desire to travel from Point A to
- It is expected to make a profit from its own operation
... unless the government is somehow required to pay for its
operation and so the costs and a token amount of profit are
paid to the railway by the government.
... I mean in a
- The quality and features of its locomotives and rolling
- The passengers it seeks to provide a service for:
- Rich tourists!!
- Demanding business travellers! (But not
the cheap and whiny ones.)
- Middle income tourists splurging on a memorable
- People needing basic transportation?
- People needing support in wilderness areas : taxi
service for ... groceries, children going away to school?...
aluminum canoes, snowmobiles?? ... trophy moose heads???
- The route it takes : main line - or dinky
branch line ending in weeds at an "Armstrong" manual
- How far it travels.
- The priority it has over other traffic and its average
speed - its schedule.
- Its schedule : Does the train have a name?
What is its number? ... often a lower number is
- The training, experience and seniority of its crews -
both running trades and onboard service staff.
- The money spent on its interior, supplies and passenger
- The money spent on its advertising and where the train
is promoted, e.g. overseas.
- How it is perceived by the railway organization and the
public : " If it is delayed, they
will hear about it in Montreal! "
- Management's commitment to maintaining all of the
Locomotives for The
Let's use some new, reliable, attractively
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:
"A" Unit at the top of
the diagram means the unit has a control cab.
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.
"B" units have the same "internal organs" but no place to
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Extra cars in the 1953 CPR
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
(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
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,
the headend ...
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
The tradition is for most sleeping, dining and
observation cars on passenger trains to be named, not
These were the "U" Series because all cars in this
"class" had names like :
* your own joke here
Here is the first of many floor plans for
the various cars - from a train conductor's manual :
Toilets and sinks were located in both ends of the
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
90 degrees was not possible with a horizontal stretcher.
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
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
Each numbered section, 1 to 14, looked similar to
this day/night illustration.
The heavy felt curtains zipped closed on each bed
for privacy and
you almost never saw them open when the beds were
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
The Dining Room Car
CPR referred to dining cars on The Canadian
as "dining room cars". Whatever.
They were named after the
in the CPR's luxurious hotels across Canada and the
names are listed on the diagram.
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
for breakfast - but perhaps not typical behaviour
early in the morning.
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
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
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
... 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
Don't people like Cartier
and Champlain rate?!
Answer: The CPR already had
cars named after many
prominent historical figures
Chateau cars were
characterized by "up and down
windows" which belonged to
their upper and lower duplex
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
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
enough that finding it won't take long. Passengers had the
of sliding a metal door or snapping snap fasteners on
curtains for privacy. We are looking out from the central
passageway of the car in this illustration.
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.
The man's bed slides out from under the woman's
roomette. The woman's bed folds down from the wall at the
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 :
Again, looking at the diagram below, left to right
: first the sections, whose passengers share the
at the left end of the car; then bedrooms; and finally some
floor level roomettes with just the fold-down style roomette
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.
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
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
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
observation area located upstairs and directly over it) ;
lounge in the boattailed end of the car.
Here is an illustration showing a happy 1950s group in
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
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
clear signals as it passed them.
In addition, locomotives were equipped with two steel bar
"icebreakers" to knock down large tunnel icicles before
out the front glass of the Skyline dome - and probably the
up there as well.
Below is an interior view of the Park rear lounge area.
The seat arrangement was conducive to relaxed conversation
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,
window was excellent for taking photos of the technical
aspects of the
track and railway facilities. The heavy ashtrays shown
lasted for decades
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 :
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
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:
train gigolo distinguished
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
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
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
||Lawren Phillips Harris
|Prince Albert Park
|Riding Mountain Park
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
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
25 years. Notice the indestructible ashtray.
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!
In this early CPR
publicity photo of The
Canadian, you can see:
choosing proven locomotive and
rolling stock designs,
in 1953 the CPR quickly developed a daily
using modern passenger equipment which was
unique in Canada.
It faced the formidable competition of postwar
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.