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Working on the Railroad — in the Victorian Age

While women fought to establish their home-domain and the right to vote, men worked and got killed on the job.

....continued from previous page

Making it Through the Mountains

In May 1998, Ruth and I went to visit two of her children in Hinton, Alberta — just east of the Jasper National Park Boundary — and three of mine in Vernon, British Columbia.  On the way back, we decided to take a different route, because Ruth had not seen much of the Rocky Mountains.  We passed through the Kicking Horse Pass,  a steep gorge that presented considerable challenges during the construction of the Trans-Canada railroad.  Today, the Trans-Canada Highway #1 runs on the grade that is the original grade built for the Canadian Pacific Railroad there.

We stopped at a point of historical interest in the Kicking Horse Pass.  The original railroad line running through the Kicking Horse Pass was famous for run-away trains.  The grade of the original line was 4.5%, the steepest anywhere in Canada.  Run-away trains and the resulting losses of equipment (and lives) were so frequent that it was decided to re-design the line there to lessen the grade by building spiraling tunnels into the two mountains flanking the pass.

600,000 cubic meters of rock had to be removed in the construction of these tunnels.  It took twenty months and a thousand men working ten hours a day — six days a week — to do it.  Nitroglycerine was used for blasting.  Dynamite hadn't been invented yet, so the exhibit said if I remember right, but that would be a false claim. 

Dynamite, invented by Alfred Bernhard Nobel in 1866, had been available during the construction of the tunnels.  The use of nitroglycerin and the dangers it involved with regard to the loss of lives of men would have been a cost-cutting measure.  That resulted in many accidents, but so what, men were expendable and cheap to replace.

The exhibit didn't mention how many men were killed in the process of constructing the tunnels.  Nobody kept track of that at the time, although there is a record of how many men died in avalanches working on the railroad construction and operation through the Rogers Pass from 1882 until enough snow sheds had been built.

The avalanche problem was not solved there until the five mile Connaught tunnel opened in 1916 and the nine-mile Mount McDonald Tunnel in 1988.  By that time 260 people, almost exclusively men, had died in avalanches alone.

Excerpt from Alberta roadmap. showing locatio of Rogers pass and Kicking-Horse Pass.

Map of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, west of Calgary Alberta, the construction of which took the work of more than 12,000 men through the Kicking Horse Pass located in the blue square at right (see Inset B) and through the Rogers Pass located in the blue square at left (see Inset A) that took the lives of uncounted men.
   Nobody kept track of how many men died —  men's lives weren't that important in forging the dream of a Canada that would be held together through a railroad stretching from coast to coast, rather than have it depend on the Great Northern Railroad running from coast to coast just south of the border — but at the Rogers Pass alone 260 people, almost exclusively men, lost their lives through avalanches. 
   These were the lives of men who worked for a pittance and at times had to be forced at gun point to stay on their jobs in deplorable working conditions while often they weren't even being paid at all.

excerpt from Alberta roadmap, sowing location of Rogers Pass
Rogers Pass (elevation 1323m)

map showing Railroad tunnels at Rogers Pass
Tunnels at Rogers Pass
Identified by symbols for
"Mainline Alterations"


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For other views of the circumstances that affected the position of the sexes and the esteem in which they were held, see:

The Wife at His Side, by Karin Jäckel, The Beginnings of the Women's Movement, and

The Great Train Robbery (it happened in 1855), by Michael Crichton

The Industrial Revolution and the Plight of Men

2000 01 12
2001 02 10 (format changes)
2001 07 14 (added introduction)
2001 07 17 (broke up page into several pages)
2001 07 22 (added link to The Industrial Revolution and the Plight of Men)
2002 10 13 (minor changes)