The Intercolonial Railway, which linked the Maritimes and central Canada, was the first major transportation project undertaken by the new Dominion of Canada. Its main line, which linked Halifax to Québec City, opened for traffic in 1876. Eventually, the railway provided a continuous connection, with branches, from Montréal, through eastern Quebec and New Brunswick, to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and later extended to Prince Edward Island.
The creation of a railway which would provide transportation between these regions was one of the conditions demanded by the Maritime Provinces under which they would enter Confederation. Its completion was seen as mutually beneficial to both the Maritimes and the central provinces, providing the latter with access to the seaboard for export purposes, and the former with access to the larger markets of the interior.
In 1864, engineer Sandford Fleming began the task of surveying a route between Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, and Truro, Nova Scotia. Above all, it was Fleming's intention to build a line designed for fast, through traffic with a minimum of deviations. Initial construction was directed by a government-appointed commission, whose role ended in 1874 when the railway was transferred to the Department of Public Works. The Department of Railways and Canals assumed responsibility for the railway when it was created in 1876. The Intercolonial incorporated several existing, provincially constructed sections which became Dominion property after Confederation.
Built to fulfill the promises of Confederation, the operation of the Intercolonial was never expected to be profitable. To promote trade between the Maritimes and central Canada, freight rates were kept low, and the government paid any deficits. However, it provided employment, and towns and villages sprang up along its route. In 1919, it became part of the Canadian National Railways, and with this, the second transcontinental rail network was completed.
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