Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson's Bay Railway (GN) Reporting mark: GN
The Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson's Bay Railway (BSHB) was a small regional railway that operated through southwest Manitoba from St. John's, North Dakota to Brandon. It was never extended any further.
The BSHB was owned by the Great Northern Railway (GN) based in St. Paul Minnesota. Founded by Ontario-born James Hill, widely known as the "Empire Builder," the GN had grown to accumulate some 5,000 miles of track by 1901.Hill's motivation in returning to Canada was motivated largely by controlled aggression towards the Canadian Pacific Railway CPR. Hill, who had been part of the original CPR syndicate, was thwarted in his plan to have the CPR connect with the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway (later GN). From then on he made it a point to nip at the CPR's ankles whenever he could.
The GN already had a number of small interests in Canada and in 1903 obtained a charter to build the BSHB. Construction began in 1905 and by 1906 the railway was completed.
Farmers welcomed the new railway. Antipathy towards the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) still ran strong in this province. Also the railway was a major time-saver for the farmers who now had closer outlets where they could haul their grain. The farmers were quickly joined by a chorus of boosters from Brandon who were thrilled at the prospect of having a direct line to St. Paul and Minneapolis. All in all, it seemed like a win-win situation.
The Canadian portion of the line originated in the small border community of Bannerman and then travelled north through Boissevain as far as Brandon. The railway cut a deal with McCabe Elevators for 12 grain handling facilities and set up stops at each facility along the track. Most importantly, the railway also picked up a 30-year contract to carry mail.
Although the BSHB's market was primarily freight, they weren't about to turn away paying passengers. A couple of crude passenger cars were added and the railway began offering daily passenger service.
The railway thrived until the late 1920s. The growth of the farmer's cooperative movement and the Manitoba Elevator Pool spelled the end of the railway's main source of revenue. Since there were no pool elevators along the BSHB line, grain traffic trickled down to a minimum. That, coupled with the increasing popularity of the automobile, resulted in a major loss of passenger traffic. The BSHB struggled on until 1936 when the mail contract was cancelled. It was all over for the BSHB.
There are few reminders left of the BSHB. Most of the small settlements along the route have disappeared. The hamlet of Bannerman, once the site of a customs office, holding facility, quarantine centre, busy hotel and several other businesses has been completely levelled.
The BSHB's parent company, the Great Northern, carried on for many years. Following a couple of mergers (1970 and 1996) it became part of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), the second largest freight railroad in North America. Interestingly, a proposed merger between the BNSF and the Canadian National Railway in 1999 was thwarted by the United States Surface Transportation Board.