Large Scale Central

Great Northern's attempted Canadian takeover

I have a weird, and growing, fascination with the Great Northern’s ventures into Canada and its competition with the Canadian Pacific. This first started for me when I stumbled on the Spokane Falls and Northern. This was a GN subsidiary that was built by Daniel Corbin. He is the same guy that built the Coeur d’Alene Railway and Navigation Company that is part of my local history and the subject of much research and study that I have done. In that study I discovered he had eyes on Canada. Through Corbin’s Railroad GN set its sites on Nelson, BC in a direct attempt horn in on the mining spoils of southern BC. CPs mainline went through Nelson, BC and GN sought to get in on the action. I am not sure without further research if GN made it to Nelson or only as far as Rossland, BC. But they surely intended to get there if they didn’t.

Another railroad, and the reason that got me pondering on this again, is the Kaslo and Slocan Railway. I don’t know the full history of this particular railroad but it was funded at least in part by GN. It reached some valuable mining areas in the BC Rockies and terminated in Kaslo where I believe (this is an assumption) that ore was put on barges and shipped down Kootenay Lake to . . .you guessed it Nelson. Now my understanding is that it could be taken by barge down the Columbia river into the US to the waiting GN. I think this actually was what happened. I am pretty sure a big chunk of southern BC ore did make it down the river on barges into the hands of the GN. But either way, no matter what, GN wanted all rail lines to at least Nelson so that they could tap the Kootenay region.

Why is this fascinating to me? Just like in many mining towns through out the west, competition by railroads was fierce to be the first and hopefully only ones to service these small mining communities. They wanted a foot hold if not an outright monopoly on moving the ore. These battles between CP and GN are no different. But it fascinates me that it happens across international borders. It was hard enough in the states to get charters to put in railroads in areas claimed by other lines. Its really is interesting to me that GN was able to fandangle its way into the Canadian railroad scene through these obscure charters effectively building their railroad under Canadian charters.

The result, just like towns in the states, were competing railroads fighting, kicking, and gouging, for access into this tiny mountain towns. What you ended up with were towns full of railroad tracks in these tiny narrow mountain valley villages. Rossland, BC had some impressive trackage between GNs Red Mountain Railway and CPs line into the area. There wasn’t much room for one railroad much less two. Both moving freight and passengers. My newest interest is Sandon, BC where the K&S terminated and where CP also had a branch line running into it. These are towns of a couple thousand being served by two railroads.

I love looking at maps of these towns from the day and am just amazed at how much “train” can be stuffed into a place when money is no object. Here is a link to the trackage in its heyday in Rossland BC which is a very small place even today.

I’d love to hear from others if they have similiar stories of GN or other American railroads penetrating into Canada with hostile intent. Or vis versa.


I did a little more reading and sure enough GN did make it to Nelson via the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway which ran from Nelson down to the US Canadian border connecting with the Spokane Falls and Northern which was the Corbin Subsidiary

Is that the same interchange that connects to Kettle Falls and Chewelah?

There’s ore still shipped out of that area in Canada today and is sent via the BNSF down to Spokane and then across to W. WA to make it’s way back up into BC. For some reason it’s easier to route via the BNSF vs the CP/CN.

I think the NP also made it into Canada in a few spots as well.

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The CN & CP have quite a presence in the lower 48 as well.

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I do believe that is the Chewelah route