Friday 10 February 2017

I've Been Working on the Railroad

On this day in 1906, Prince Rupert was chosen as the name of the terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. In her book Birth of a City: Prince Rupert to 1914, Sue Harper Rowse explains:
"The name for this proposed city was chosen in a nationwide contest sponsored by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The company offered a cash prize of $250.00 for the best name for this new Pacific Coast city. The contest rules included the consideration that the name must contain less than ten letters and a maximum of three syllables. More than 5,000 entries were received by the contest closing date of December 15, 1905. Miss Eleanor MacDonald of Winnipeg was declared the winner for the name 'Prince Rupert.'
"Prince Rupert (1619-82) had been born in Prague, the son of Frederick, King of Bohemia, and Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England. Rupert grew up in the Netherlands and studied at Leiden ... A man of many artistic and scientific interests, Rupert also took part in colonial and commercial schemes. On May 2, 1670, King Charles II appointed Rupert - 'Our dear and Entirely Beloved Cousin' - first Governor of Hudson's Bay Company. However, somewhat ironically Prince Rupert never set foot in Canada."  
The location was an ideal spot for the railway terminus because it had a deep, ice-free harbour and was a shorter shipping distance to Asia. The activity that accompanied the building of a new town and railways attracted a lot of ambitious men and women to the area, including many Catholics. In 1913, Archbishop McNeil wrote to the Catholic Church Extension Society explaining the need for more services for the workers:

"Until now the railroads of British Columbia have run mostly east and west. At present two main lines are in course of construction north and south. One of these is part of the Canadian Northern from Yellowhead Pass to Kamloops along the Thompson River. The other is a line from Vancouver to Fort George to connect there with the Grand Trunk Pacific and eventually pass on north to the Peace River Valley. It will take some years to construct the latter. In the meantime a large number of Catholics working on these roads, and many Catholics settling on land in that northern country, will need attention, and sites for future churches should be secured."

March 17, 1913

Archbishop McNeil Fonds
MN AD20.003 a

Archbishop McNeil had been Archbishop of Vancouver for two years before being appointed to Toronto, so his experience with the area made him an ideal advocate for soliciting support and funds for the Catholics in that area. Prince Rupert had a church quite early, but the need was growing in other places. McNeil recognized the need for local administration and expansion of services. What had previously been very much a mission area needed an increased presence of the formal structures of the Catholic Church. At the time of the letter, the Prince Rupert area was the centre of the Prefecture Apostolic of the Yukon and Prince Rupert, and by 1917 it became a Vicariate Apostolic. The boundaries shifted over the years, but in 1967 the territory was elevated as a diocese. The next year, the bishop moved the seat of the diocese to Prince George, where it remains today.

Though the Grand Trunk Pacific didn't fare well, the city it founded flourished as a transport hub. With a population of 12,000, it is a centre of natural resource production and a destination for tourists.

You can read more about the history of the Diocese of Prince George here.

Bonus: Check out the British Columbia Archives, which has many interesting digitized photos, including Prince Rupert under construction, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the first Catholic church, and much more.

No comments:

Post a Comment