Saturday, February 23, 2013

Winnipeg's Love-Hate Relationship with its Downtown CPR Yard

CPR yard Winnipeg, early 20th century.

A long time ago, cities and towns eagerly sought railways and their accompanying infrastructure--things like yards and shops.

Having the railway come through your town meant not only that it mattered, but that it might survive. Places bypassed by the tracks either failed to reach their full potential, or sometimes withered and died.

That was the case for Winnipeg, which exists because of the CPR.

As I wrote earlier, the railway was originally slated to cross the Red River north of Winnipeg at Selkirk--a far superior location, since it didn't flood.

The yard in 1968.

Winnipeg's civic leaders, realizing their community would become a backwater if the railway stayed on its more northerly course, persuaded the railway to change its course.

A promise to pay for the bridge that crossed the river helped, along with exempting the CPR from paying taxes on its railway buildings and grounds.

In 1881, the CPR accepted the offer. The line, which was headed toward Selkrik, was abruptly turned south toward Winnipeg.

Since that time, the city and the railway have had a love-hate relationship. For a long time it was mostly love, due to the economic benefits the railway brought.

More recently, it might not be hate, but it isn't fondness, as politicians and community leaders talk about ways to remove the "horrible scab," as one politician put it.


The latest call for the removal of the yard comes courtesy of the Arlington St. bridge. The bridge, built in 1909, has about reached the end of its useful life. Should it be replaced? Or should the yard be moved instead? That's the question being raised in a recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press.

It's not the first time the paper has dealt with this issue; last year it dealt with the issue in a series called Off the Rails. In the series, a number of ideas were suggested for ways to remove the yard.

Meanwhile, the CPR says it has no plans to move the yard out of the town, despite its decision to eliminate the hump in the yard (as part of the railway's cost-cutting moves).

In other words, the love-hate relationship will continue for some time . . . .

Yard in 2009. Arlington St. bridge in the background.

Photos on this page from the Winnipeg Free Press, except the last one.


  1. The CPR yard is not going to move in the next decade, at least. It's amazing how those who want the yard moved underestimate the costs. I think they conveniently forget that the cost will have to include relocating the main line.

  2. A similar debate is going on about the railway yard in downtown Kamloops, B.C. Funny that cities can turn their backs on something that once served as their lifeline.

  3. One word, an acronymn actually: NIMBY. This word defies common sense, and often refers to those recently arrived who wish to change their surroundings, even when not probable or perhaps not even possible!

    Has anyone called for the removal of an airport lately? They're pretty noisy.

    Thanks for posting this, John. Interesting, indeed.