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Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway Reporting mark: NP

The Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway (NP&MR) began as one of several fledgling lines financed by the Manitoba government during the 1880s.

Picture of timetable
Timetable, 1889

For several years the province had been embroiled in a ferocious dispute with the federal government and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) over the CPR's monopoly. With a new agreement finally in place, the province began financing the construction of several small branch lines to open competition and expand the farming industry.

The NP&MR was first chartered in 1888. It was jointly owned by the Manitoba government and the American-based Northern Pacific Railroad. Temporary facilities were hastily erected in Winnipeg, followed by a permanent station, offices, sheds, shops, and a roundhouse in 1889.

Picture of timetable
Timetable, 1904

The small line provided service from Winnipeg to Emerson and from Morris to Brandon. From Emerson, passengers and freight could be transferred to the parent railway where they continued on through the US. To attract passengers, the railway erected the luxurious Manitoba Hotel in Winnipeg, which boasted a multitude of turrets and gables. It was said to be the most magnificent hotel between Montreal and Vancouver.

Despite the energy and enthusiasm, the railway was fraught with financial difficulties and bad luck. After emerging from bankruptcy in 1893, the parent company in the US see-sawed back and forth between various power brokers and hostile interests, all vying for control. The railway's one little jewel, the Manitoba Hotel, was destroyed by fire in 1899, putting an end to any hope of recovery. By then the Northern Pacific Railroad, still embroiled in organizational turmoil, wanted out and entered into negotiations with the Manitoba government to put an end to the partnership.

Over the previous 10 years, the government had developed a strong working relationship with William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, two Ontario-born railway contractors. With assistance from the provincial government, Mackenzie and Mann had built an extensive network in Manitoba by purchasing bankrupt lines and stringing them together. They went on to form the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) in 1899.

To salvage the situation, the government cut a deal with Mackenzie and Mann by providing bond guarantees so they could raise enough cash to extend the CNoR to Port Arthur, where they would have access to the Great Lakes. In exchange the government leased the Northern Pacific's interests in the NP&MR, which were promptly re-assigned to the CNoR and absorbed into their network.

The CNoR, despite promising beginnings, was not a success. Lack of oversight by all levels of government resulted in excessive government lending and massive overbuilding. Loans and revenue dried up during the First World War leading to the bankruptcy of the CNoR, the Grand Trunk Railway in Ontario and its subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific in western Canada. Between 1917 and 1920, all three railways were nationalized and became part of the Canadian National Railway in 1923.