Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Railway history in Neys Provincial Park

Today’s post comes from Kelila Seymour, discovery leader at Neys Provincial Park.

While some parks may boast a connection to the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR), few parks are “tied” to the railway as closely as Neys!

Maybe you’ve crossed the tracks as you enter the park, heard the whistle blow as you huddle around a campfire at dusk, or had the chance to paddle under the truss bridge that crosses the Little Pic River.

As you circle Neys, you’ll be reminded of the CPR and its historical importance to the park and Canada.

The rise of CPR

The history of the CPR began in the 19th century, when Canada was funding the construction of a coast-to-coast railway system.

This was an unprecedented effort with many challenges along the way, including the northern shore of Lake Superior.

The Lake Superior line section was not a task for the faint of heart.

old photo of workersConstruction of the Jackfish Tunnel was completed in 1885.

The hills between Marathon and Terrace Bay were made of granite that had to be destroyed, resulting in more than $7.5 million being spent on explosives, the equivalent of just over $199,776,470 in today’s dollars.

Nitroglycerin and dynamite were the explosives of choice at the time and, without today’s modern machinery, blasted rocks and debris had to be removed manually by horses and workers.

In total, these challenges led to the Lake Superior section being one of the most expensive sections of the railroad to complete.

Get to work

As you can imagine, the working conditions were grueling.

The construction brought with it the need for workers in the area. Men who were new immigrants from the British Isles, Europe and China made up the majority of the workforce.

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Camp construction along the CPR in the 1880sCamp construction along the CPR in the 1880s

Workers had to contend with the rugged elements of northern Ontario, including swarms of black flies and mosquitoes, the choking rock dust from blasting, and the general pain and fatigue associated with long hours of manual labor with a sledgehammer.

The work was dangerous and many men lost their lives.

Despite these extreme obstacles, the men continued to work on their mission across this dangerous northern Ontario landscape.

The last peak

Cairn marking the location of the Cairn marking the location of the “last peak” between Montreal and Winnipeg

After decades of work, the CPR’s final peak was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7, 1885.

However, another “last peak” occurred near Neys, which marked the completion of the eastern section of the railway.

On May 16, 1885, a nail was driven at mile 102.7 in Noslo, Ontario, approximately one kilometer west of the small community of Jackfish, completing the section of railway connecting Winnipeg to Montreal.

During the construction of the railway, sidings, low-speed railway tracks running parallel to the main line, were built to allow trains to stop to refuel or load supplies.

The revetment adjacent to where the park is today was worked by a young man called “Doheyneys”, and the revetment was renamed “Neys” for short.

Camp Neys 100

This name was carried over to the prisoner of war (POW) camp that was located here 80 years ago, as Neys Camp 100. The name simply made sense, as the railroad was one of the main reasons this area was selected for house a prisoner of war camp.

German prisoners arriving at Neys Camp 100 in 1941German prisoners arriving at Neys Camp 100 in 1941

Not only did the railroad allow prisoners to make the 64-hour journey from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to the camp, but food, supplies, and personnel could also be easily sent to supply the area.

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Stay safe

The sights and sounds of trains are an important part of Neys’ cultural heritage, and we encourage all visitors to be sure to practice train safety whenever they are near the tracks at the park entrance.

Train at Neys entrance junctionTrain at the junction at the entrance to Neys.

The first is the first.

Whether on foot or in your vehicle, did you know that it is illegal to cross railroad tracks outside of the designated crossing?

Trains and train tracks can be dangerous.

Due to their weight, length and speed, trains do not have the ability to stop quickly in response to dangers on the track.

In fact, an average train travels around 80.5 km/h and takes at least 1.6 to 2.4 km to come to a complete stop.

Passing trains may also kick up rocks, sticks, or other debris, so it’s best to admire passing trains from a distance.

Remember: stay safe and stay off the slopes!

Train location

For train fans, there are two ideal places to watch the trains passing in Neys.

Little Pic River

The first is at the park’s boat launch, where you get a clear view of the train bridge that crosses the Little Pic River.

The other ideal location is on the park beach! From here you can see the train winding through the hills along the coast.

Child watching the train go by on the beach.

Be sure to visit both parks to see a train traveling near the stunning scenery of Neys.

Witness history in Neys!

Without trains and the Canadian Pacific Railway, Neys Provincial Park may not be where it is today. In fact, Neys may not have existed at all!

The next time you are in Neys and hear the whistle of a train, remember that it is one of the sounds of our history. Choo choo!