The Coldest Site on the Web

PartThree: The Railway Page

My grandfather, Major J.G. MacLachlan, (shown above right, with CNR President Vaughn and CNR Vice President Devenish) was the manager of the Hudson Bay Railway from 1943 to 1951. From 1928 to 1943, Major MacLachlan was Division Engineer, District Engineer, and Superintendent and District Engineer.

The photographs shown below were taken about 500 miles northeast of The Pas on the line to Churchill, Manitoba, in May of 1929. (Mile 474)

Pictures and excerpts from Major MacLachlan's Memoirs


[Download image] [Download image] [Download image]
[Download image] [Download image] [Download image]
  [Download image] [Download image]


"It was with mixed feelings that I took over the Hudson Bay Railway, as that line had been a political football for many years, and no work had been done for some ten years. The track had been laid to Kettle Rapids but had been allowed to return to nature - ties all rotten, brush grownup between the rails until track settled out of sight in many places.

At the time I took over the line, it was possible to operate a train as far as Mile 214 only, and on the first trip over I was off the track six times. A train was run every two weeks and the section gang traveled with train crew. Our appropriation that year was three million dollars, and I had to organize some 2500 men to go to work in a hurry.

I was provided with a private car and a nice cottage to live in. Was called into Winnipeg one day and told I was to build a line from The Pas to Flin Flon which would be done under contract. This was 90 miles long and for a new mine opening up, now a town of many thousand people. Later built a 40 Mile branch to Sherriton to another mine called Sherrit Gordon. Looking after all this construction entailed a great deal of travel by various means - on foot, canoe, Speeder,freight train and sometimes by air. My territory measured nearly 700 miles. At one time we had 165 engineers on our payroll.

There was a large surplus of labour during these early years, and it was not unusual to have several hundred men at the office door looking for work. At one point it was necessary for me to keep two C.N. police constables to protect my person. They threatened to burn up my house and blow up the Saskatchewan River bridge. We only paid 25 cents an hour in those days.

When the line was put into shape to Kettle rapids, and we were able to operate to that point the government decided to change the terminal from Nelson to Churchill. A contract was let to Stewart and Cameron to do the grading, and work started at once with old fashioned methods of wheelbarrows and hand labour as the muskeg was frozen to about 18 inches of the surface. Engineers were put up in tent camps every ten miles, and dog teams were used for transportation. Supplies were delivered to these camps to last for six months and my inspections were usually made by snowmobile.

By freezeup the fall of 1928 the grade was finished the first 100 miles to mile 445, and on a trip with the President and Chief Engineer, I was asked what I was going to do when the steel reached the end of the finished grade. I replied that I was going over the dump end and keep ongoing. (sic) The President looked at me as though I was crazy, but when he reached Jasper on his way west, he announced that we would lay track on the original ground surface and be in Churchill by spring. This was the only time this had ever been done on any railway, but we went ahead and made good our boast. Steel was laid into Churchill on March 29th, 1929, and Tommy Jack drove the golden spike made with the tin foil from a pack of cigarettes, no officials being present for such a historic occasion.


The next several years were taken up with bringing the Railway up to standard and building the elevator at Churchill. Our railway forces did all the filling for the docks and our costs were way below the original estimates of Mr. Palmer. This was an around the clock operation with every machined double-crewed. Three steam shovels working tandem dug the gravel as fast as it thawed out in the ballast pit.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, I was called to Ottawa and was told by C.D.Howe that the Hudson Bay Railway would be a dead issue for the duration and to cut down expenses to the bone. I returned to The Pas and started to use the ax, but in a few days I was again ordered to Ottawa on urgent business. When I arrived in Ottawa, everything seemed very hush hush. The Deputy Minister said come with me to a meeting. We walked up to the westblock and sat down with a number of department officials. In a few minutes in walked about a dozen American Officers - Colonels, Generals etc. who were introduced all around.. Then they told us what they wanted. First question asked me was could I handle 300 cars per day over the Hudson Bay Railway starting at once. I said O.K. Could I rent them the Roundhouse at Churchill for storage and space in my office at The Pas, all of which I agreed to. And after being served cocktails at the Embassy on Rideau Street, I rushed back to Winnipeg and The Pas. While in Winnipeg, I was informed that there were 200 cars in The Pas Yard waiting to be moved and I had no engines or crews available. I had a few very busy days getting organized but soon had things under control and moving on schedule.

During the war years the American Army had about 7000 troops at points on the Hudson Bay Railway and in camp at Churchill, and established airports at Churchill and over on Southhampton Island, but the layout was never used for the purpose for which it was intended - namely an air route to evacuate wounded back to the states from the battle fields of Europe."

Building the Sherrit-Gordon Line - Historic photographs from 1930

The new look of the Hudson Bay Railway

Setting Free the Bears

Back to Coldest Site on the Web (parts 1, 2 et al)

Current Churchill Weather

Take the train to Churchill

Other Canadian Railway History Pages

Colin Churcher's Page
Niagara Regional Rail Spur
RailServe: The Internet Railroad Directory
NMRA Directory of World Wide Rail Sites

If you have any further comments about this page, or information about the subject material, please feel free to contact me, Bart Hasselfield.All images for personal viewing only. Permission has not been granted for further reproduction.