Skip to content

CV Cummings of Canadian Northern Construction — On A Parallel Track

February 12, 2014

CV CummingsFJ MacKenzie, MLAOn June 29, 1910 a brief and inauspicious ceremony east of the New Westminster Bridge in Surrey signified the start of construction of the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway in British Columbia.

"FJ MacKenzie, MPP for Delta, had the great honor of felling the first tree on the new road. The work will continue on clearing away the thick underbrush out from Port Mann. The new line will  parallel the Great Northern road to Port Kells for a few miles."

Only a few days before, CV Cummings of the Northern Construction Company had arrived at Vancouver, assembled an initial force of 25 men and acquired the necessary equipment.  Under agreement with the Province, work had to begin by July 1.
As was the case at the start of New Westminster Southern Railway construction along this same route, the work of clearing began even before the final survey plans had been filed.
A preliminary location of the route from Hope to the New Westminster Bridge had been completed the first week of January by a survey party headed by WK Dwyer, under the orders of Thomas H White, Chief Engineer.
On June 15, MacKenzie Mann & Co advertised tenders "for construction of the first section of the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway from New Westminster easterly for a distance of sixty miles. Tenders to include the grading, bridging, masonry, track laying, ballasting and erection of telegraph line." 
To no one’s surprise the contract went to the Northern Construction Company of Winnipeg, a firm intimately associated with the parent company of McKenzie & Mann. 
Alexander R Mann ("Sandy" Mann), President of the company, was the brother of Donald Mann, and Archibald C McKenzie ("Big Archie" McKenzie) Vice-President, was married to William Mackenzie’s niece. 
Superintending the work in the Fraser Valley was 29-year-old Charles Victor Cummings of Winnipeg.  Born at Stirling Ontario in 1880, he was a career railwayman, surveyor and contractor.

Parallel to Port Kells

TH White Chief Engineer CNPRWith the work of slashing and clearing underway, Chief Engineer TH White filed the detailed plans of the survey.
"Leaving the south end of the bridge the line is shown travelling along the government trestle towards Bon Accord.”
Beyond Bon Accord the railway left the riverbank, following the headland past the big bend bog, and passed through "the estates of AC MacDonald, RW Lyness and Joseph Boise [Bossie]" before once again coming near to the river, hard by Hjorth Landing.
"The first station is placed a little east of the point where the line re-joins the river, between the bank and the Langley road [Townline, 96 Ave] on the property of B. Carroll."
So far this was the line of the existing Great Northern Railway — up to the creek at Port Kells where the GNR began to swing to the south.
From here the CNPR is blazing its own line,  and soon after this point,
"crosses the Langley road, passes over the Salmon  river and so runs into Langley townsite, where the second station is located [Fort Langley]. "

With the route plans filed and construction underway, property values were rapidly rising.
William Mackenzie, the President of the railway, had visited the railhead just as work on the Canadian Northern Pacific was about to get underway in June.
"He expressed himself freely and admiringly upon the appearance of Brownsville and stated that he saw no reason why it should not form the nucleus of a thriving city."
Timberland post office, at the junction of the New Yale Road and Old Yale Road, would soon come under the sway of the railway townsite boom and be renamed South Port Mann.
"Acreage near the Great Northern line is from $1500 up and farther back on the hill as far a Timberland post office, four miles back, it is from $300 up."
The following summer track laying had begun in the lower valley, but not on the stretch between the New Westminster Bridge and Port Kells, pending an agreement to purchase the existing line of the Great Northern Railway.
In 1909 the GNR had opened up  a new route from Blaine WA that ran along the beach in White Rock, up  through East Delta and now approached the New Westminster Bridge from the west.  The old road of the New Westminster Southern Railway, running eastward from the bridge to Port Kells would be sold to the new Canadian Northern Railway.

double tracked - CNR looking east at Liverpool station   Double tracked – Along the line of the New Westminster Southern Railway and the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway, the Canadian National Railway runs west from Liverpool station.

First run of the trans-continental

By the spring of 1914 there were 20,000 men at work along the route of the CNPR in BC.
On the North Thompson River a camp and railway town sprang up on the ranch of Archie McCorvie,  once contractor on this same line to Port Kells in 1888.

On the night of October 18, 1915 a curious procession of cars passed smoothly along this stretch of railway and over the New Westminster Bridge.  Pulling passenger coaches filled with dozens of politicians from Ottawa, distinguished businessmen from the East and a batch of reporters, was locomotive No. 1117.  Just ahead of  the engine was a pilot vehicle driven by AE McDonald, who had "travelled all the way  from Winnipeg in an automobile from which the tires were replaced by flanged wheels. He preceded the parliamentary train only a short distance." 
The arrival of this train in Vancouver later that night marked the end of the first run on the new transcontinental railway.

Northern Construction Company and Western Canada Shipyards at Vancouver BC

1919 Northern Construction Co advert

By the time the Canadian Northern Railway had been completed in 1915, Northern Construction had established itself permanently in Vancouver.   CV Cummings, Secretary-Treasurer of the firm,  moved out here to live, as did his parents.
In 1917 Western Canada Shipyards Ltd was formed by an amalgamation of Northern Construction, Grant, Smith & McDonnell, and McDonald – Morrison.  AR Mann was President, Alex Morrison, VP, and CV Cummings Secretary-Treasurer of the new firm.
The company had "secured a site on False Creek, Vancouver, with 750 feet frontage and 1000 feet depth. Four building ways are to be installed for wooden ships and steel shipbuilding is being contemplated as an eventuality. The six vessels now on order from the plant will be wooden hulls 280 feet in length by 44 feet beam."
The site of the shipyard was at the south foot of Carrall street on False Creek,  at or near the location of the old Royal City Planing Mills.

Photo below: preparing the ways at Northern Construction on False Creek,  April 1917.

Northern Construction - Western Canada Shipyard 1917

Western Canada Shipyards - CV Cummings - 1918 
Fast work: CV Cummings could be in the photo above, showing one of the first wooden vessels nearing completion at Western Canada Shipyards in April 1918. The Vancouver Archives has a series of high-resolution photos of the site.

1919 Northern Construction CoBesides Northern Construction and Western Canada Shipyards, Cummings was also Secretary-Treasurer of Canadian Kelp Products. All three companies had their offices at suite 921, in the Vancouver Block at 736 Granville Street.
Following the death of  Archie McKenzie in 1919 Cummings was Vice-President of Northern Construction.
In a press despatch dated June 1, 1923 it was reported that Northern Construction had contracted with Sun Yat Sen to build a 1200-mile railway in Southern China, linking up Kwangsi and Yunnan Provinces.
In his later years CV Cummings was a director of a number of leading Canadian companies, including Home Oil.
Charles Victor Cummings died suddenly at Palm Springs on November 5, 1933. He had been in California on business. He was 53.  (1880-09-17 – 1933-11-05)

No comments yet


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s