25.05.2016 - 12.06.2016
What do William Cornelius Van Horne and Cheng Ging Butt have in common? You may be forgiven for not knowing the latter, but if you know some history of the Canadian Pacific Railway -and of course there is no reason you should- you may know that Van Horne was responsible for overseeing the building of the CPR. Cheng Ging Butt was one of the many thousands of anonymous Chineseworkers, who actually built it.
Cheng Ging Butt was born in 1858 in the Southern Chinese Province of Guangdong. Sometime between 1881 and 1885 he moved to Canada together within thousands of his countrymen to work on building the Canadian Pacific Railway. Unlike 700 of his fellow workers, who died laying the 350 miles of track in BC, he survived and settled near Yale and ran a goods store. It is a rare story, because most of his countrymen's plights went unrecorded. In an era when Chinese rail workers were not afforded medical care, when they were given the most dangerous jobs, paid the least money, their story was of little or no interest. It would therefore be inconceivable to Cheng Ging Butt, even up to his death in 1930, that 80 years later, a railway interchange in Kamloops would be named after him, in honour of the thousands of his fellow Chinese workers who made the building of the CPR possible and in doing so brought about the birth of Canada.
William Cornelius Van Horne had been born 15 years before Cheng in Frankfort, Illinois and had been working on the railway for a year by the time Cheng was born. By the time Cheng had arrived in Canada, Van Horne had risen to the General Manager of CPR. After disastrous failures in management and near bankruptcy, it was to Van Horne that the CPR turned to complete the job. The complexities of the task cannot be overstated. Politically, it was essential that the west be linked to the eastern rail network. It had been promised to BC in 1871 as a condition of them joining the newly formed confederation of previous British Colonies. In effect, the building of the railway was more than just a symbolic joining of the country, it is often considered, there was no Canada until the railway was completed. The engineering problems must have seemed at times insurmountable. Working in wild, inhospitable country, with vast canyons, mountains and rivers to conquer, every mile of track was hard fought over. Van Horne, was the person who got it done, who made it happen.
Wherever you are in the Rocky Mountains, you never seem to be far from the Canadian Pacific Railway or CPR. The railway is a constant in BC. Every town seems to have a railway passing through it, every road, a railway running next to it. Not surprising when the railways came first and opened up this vast emptiness.
Van Horne was also a very astute business man. He promoted his new rail line and brought in tourists, creating the towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper in the process. Of course being astute, Van Horne also bought up land and built two particular impressive hotels. In particular the Fairmont Hotel virtually on the banks of Lake Louise.
It`s no wonder Van Horne died a rich man.