Sunday, November 13, 2011

Forming of Brandon: C.P.R Real Estate Control

Pierre Berton's The Last Spike contains numerous examples to prove that real estate speculation was a major facet in the development of Canada's prairie west.  The forming of the town of Brandon shows how the Canadian Pacific Railway shaped the region, and thwarted speculators and homesteaders alike in order to maximize its own profits on land sales.  In 1881, the decision to build the CPR's southern route towards the yet to be discovered Kicking Horse Pass had been made.  Those who were savvy to the needs of the railroad knew that a divisional point would be needed about one hundred and thirty miles west of Winnipeg, where a settlement on the Assiniboine river by the name of Grand Valley was already situated.

Settlement Stories from Manitoba.  Ken Storie.
Thomas Rosser. MHS.
The McVicar brothers were first settlers in the area, coming in 1879.  Farming the area for two years, the McVicar's were visited two years later by US Civil war veteran, General  Thomas L. Rosser, the engineer who was surveying the route.  Rosser offered the brothers a healthy sum of money (Pierre Berton notes in The Last Spike that the amount varies from $25,000 to $50,000), but John McVicar, despite being flabbergasted by the huge sum, was convinced by some neighbours to hold out for more money and perhaps even interests in future sales.  General Rosser reportedly replied to this counteroffer, "I'll be damned if a town of any kind is ever built here."

True to his word, no divisional point was set up at Grand Valley, and the town of Brandon emerged two miles further west.  Berton reports that it was later proven that Rosser and other CPR officials were in fact speculating in real estate themselves, making personal profit off inside knowledge of future station locations.

 Ken Storie's Settlement Stories from Manitoba. has great detail and further pictures, maps and newsclippings of Grand Valley and Brandon during the railway era.

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