Officially completed in 1914, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was a northern rail line that ran from Winnipeg to the Pacific Coast over the Yellowhead Pass. Initially, GTR was not interested in building the line as they did not believe the traffic would be great enough to justify the building costs and ongoing maintenance. Under pressure from the Laurier government, the company reluctantly agreed to build the western part of the line. Construction began in 1905 in the prairies and right from the start the project was met with socio-economic issues. By 1919, it was obvious that the GTPR was not paying its way and the company defaulted on a construction loan to the federal government in the Spring. Within a year, the GTPR was being managed by the Canadian National Railways and three years later was completely absorbed by CN.
McBride was laid out in a standard Grand Trunk Pacific Railway design with a park behind the station to be planted with flowers for the enjoyment of the railway passengers. During construction however, this park was simply a sea of mud. There is rumour that the actual choice of the location of McBride was made for financial reasons—that the person making the decision had already bought a lot of the land surrounding the area and would make more money in this location rather than further down the track a few miles.
The railway station in McBride was constructed in 1914 with supplies shipped in on the line. As GTPR built the line, they would build stations every 7-10 miles (essentially walking distance for the crew each day). As befit its divisional points status, McBride had the grandest between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert for a period of time. At its heyday with the station and rail line in progress, McBride had over 2000 men living in the area and working for GTPR. Today, McBride and Dunster’s smaller E-Type station are the only remaining GTP buildings along this stretch.
The original station, burned down in a fire in 1918 and the current station was rebuilt on the same location in 1919. In 1991, the station was designated a Heritage Railway Station.
Ice was an integral part of transport via the train. While grains and finished products were transported west from the cities and prairies to the frontier, the west coast shipped fish and other perishable raw products back to Central Canada and the East. These fish trains had to be restocked with ice in McBride, before continuing East.
As soon as the ice on the dam on Dominion Creek was at least a foot thick, teams would clear the snow and harvest the ice. Ice was stored in an ice house with sawdust insulating and protecting the precious commodity. In the ice house, the ice would last all summer.
In addition to supplying the trains with ice, Jack McKale, who ran the ice house, would sell ice to locals who needed it for refrigeration.
All GTP railway stations of significant enough size had a restaurant within them to feed hungry passengers and crews travelling through. All bearing the name “Beanery”, these restaurants were often remotely overseen by only a few people. Locally each would have someone in charge, but there were times when a desperate station manager would write to a larger station to send help as the quality of food and service had declined to the point that few would patronize the establishment, no matter how great the hunger cravings.
McBride’s Beanery saw several managers—some good, some not and some considered excellent.
Beanery 2 was renovated and re-opened in the late 90’s at the same time as the rest of the station.
As a divisional point, McBride was the ideal location for a Roundhouse. Steam trains, and even some of the earlier cars, only travelled well in one direction, so a Roundhouse allowed for a car/engine to be turned around using a turntable and repositioned at the other end of the train.
With the influx of diesel engines that could drive well forwards and backwards in the 40’s/50’s and 60’s, Roundhouses were demolished as unnecessary and expensive. McBride’s Roundhouse was dismantled in 1959.
1st: Fighting the fire, 1918. Valley Museum and Archives.
2nd: The ice house and a Grand Trunk Pacific caboose in McBride, 1919. Valley Museum and Archives, Runnalls Fonds.
3rd: Waiting for the train outside the Beanery. Valley Museum and Archives.
4th: Roundhouse. Valley Museum and Archives.