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Branch Lines – Leamy extends the CPR

February 12, 2014

Following completion of his contracts with Andrew Onderdonk on the Canadian Pacific Railway, James Leamy continued in railroad construction with the branch line from the CPR mainline to the city of New Westminster and with some work on the extension of the railway to the new terminus at Coal Harbor.

Photo below is the view from the newly completed Coal Harbour extension as it passes the old Hastings townsite.  On left is George Black’s Brighton Hotel, representative of an earlier era.  At  the western end of this  road was the burgeoning city of Vancouver, incorporated in 1886.  -This view on Hastings Townsite GoogleMap-CPR - railway tracks - Hastings - New Brighton

As early as 1882 a Port Moody Railway Company had been incorporated to build a branch line to New Westminster. Ebenezer Brown was a founding investor, and after his death in 1883, his son-in-law, JSK de Knevett took his place.

Westminster branch bonus offer 1884No progress was made on this road until September, 1884, when the City of New Westminster,  anxious not to founder in isolation from the national railway, had advertised a bonus to be paid

“to any person or Company that will build, maintain, and run a Railway from the city of New Westminster to the Canadian Pacific Terminus at Port Moody.”


CPR -  New Westminster - Coal Harbor -  tenders - 1886It would take until 1886 before action was taken to begin work — under the aegis of the CPR, which advertised a deadline for tenders of February 15–

“for the clearing, grubbing and grading of the extension of the main line of this railway from Port Moody to Vancouver, and of the Branch to New Westminster.”

It was a mixed result for New Westminster, with the new terminus to be now even further away.

The branch would depart from the CPR mainline east of Port Moody,  at a point to be known as New Westminster Junction.

The contract was let to James Leamy, and project began with great fanfare in April.  At the end of the month, it was reported that 300 men were working on the branch line.

“The work is light and Mr. J. Leamy, the contractor, expects to have it ironed by the 1st of July.  As soon as the timber is ready a large force of men will be employed in putting the timber work on the river front.”

Disputes over the right-of-way, which ran through a developed area into the heart of the city, delayed construction. Nevertheless, the work was completed by the end of October and on November 1, 1886 the first passenger train arrived in New Westminster.

After so many disappointments with the railway, the arrival of the first train in New Westminster “did not appear to attract much attention.”

New Westminster was not the first city to be by-passed into decline by railroad developments, but its prominent citizens felt keenly the loss of its former glory as entrepot to the entire mainland.

When the new official guidebook of the Canadian Pacific Railway was issued in 1887, New Westminster, the Royal City, received scant notice.

“New Westminster Junction — Divergence of branch to New Westminster, an old and important seaport in the populous and fertile Fraser delta; distance, eight miles.”

It would take a newspaper published in Victoria—a city which itself knew the pain of being usurped by new towns— to point out the extent of the slight.

“Three lines in the guide book . . ..A town of 4000 inhabitants, hopelessly side tracked, shunted, switched off.”

James Leamy also held contracts to build the bridges along the Canadian Pacific Railway extension from Port Moody to Coal Harbor, now named Vancouver.

Vancouver was incorporated in 1886, and Leamy, with a great many others, saw the potential for business here.

Leamy entered into a partnership with George F Kyle in a new line of business —  a sawmill on False Creek — which was open and ready to cut lumber by the summer of 1886.

Later the same year he joined with some other former railway colleagues in forming the Vancouver Wharfage & Storage Company Ltd, of which he was Chairman of the board.

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