Chapter: Hopes and Dreams

Countess of Dufferin Train

"The Countess of Dufferin was the Concord of its day"
1870s Countess of Dufferin - 1st locomotive on Canadian Prairies Countess of Dufferin replica


Before 1877, anyone from Manitoba wanting to travel to Eastern Canada could expect an arduous journey. The construction of a railway meant a trip that used to take weeks could now be completed in days.

The first locomotive in Western Canada was the Countess of Dufferin, named in honour of the wife of the Governor General of Canada, Hariot Georgina Rowan-Hamilton. Manitoba had no train tracks when the engine arrived so it came on a barge pushed by the steamship Selkirk. When it arrived there were many celebrations as residents in the Red River settlement realized their community would never again be so isolated.

The engine was used to help construct the Pembina Branch rail line. The Pembina Branch was one of the first steps to help in the completion of the transcontinental railway. The railway, which linked Winnipeg with St. Paul, Minnesota (USA).

Following the route of long existing cart paths, and the Red River, the railway was built from St. Boniface (now part of Winnipeg) to Pembina, North Dakota (USA). This connection dramatically benefitted the western economy as it was now cheaper and faster for settlers and goods to come west and for grain and other resources to be shipped out east.