In creating something with a historical theme, there are always choices about what we leave in and take out. This is particularly true in game-design, where a lot of what we do is abstract out design from the theme. But we already tend to remember railroad stories in terms of the politicians and railway barons; I've felt it was important to bring in a wider cast of characters. In choosing characters I'm not interested in how famous or 'important' the character was, but whether there's something in their story that speaks not only to the railway but to the country around it. Each of them was, for their part, a willing ally in the story of the railway, though that sentiment was not always returned by the government.
As to the role of these Allies have in the game, each is a one-time use action card: keep it secret, then play it on a turn for a unique ability that catches your opponents off-guard. It will also factor in to end-game scoring. When you get an ally with a particular symbol (like 'Shipping'), you can complete a development that matches that symbol for extra VPs at the end of the game.
So here are some of the characters from The Transcontinental. May of these people have only sparse photographic record about them, so I've tried to capture what seems to be the spirit of the character. As we approach our Kickstarter, more will be added every week, so check back again soon, or sign up for our newsletter to see the reveals.
Of all the historical figures I'm featuring in the game, this is the person I have the least information about: not even a first name, unfortunately! But Mrs Hobourg is a really interesting character, not only for her own story, but for what I think she represents in the larger picture of the railway and West.
Regina newspapers from the 1880s tell stories of this notorious smuggler, who would often board the train at Winnipeg or Brandon, and travel west to Regina. Her many efforts to evade detection while smuggling whiskey on the train included wearing a tubular girdle, feigning illness and travelling with cask wrapped up as a pillow, or - as I've drawn her here - posing as an innocent mother and disguising her wares as a swaddled infant.
Alcohol was not universally illegal, but its trade was carefully controlled and restricted and trading it with indigenous communities was illegal. Eventually, she was apprehended at Pasqua Station and heavily fined. Following her last arrest, she was thought to have married a long-time admirer and moved across the border into the US.
The reason I find Mrs Hobourg interesting for more than just her personal story is that there's something there that represents a common thread. Another figure I had considered including was a woman named Blanche Maloney, who opened up a house of ill-repute in the town of Aranthacite, a mining community that sprung up along the railway, near present-day Canmore. As with Hobourg, the accounts of her that remain focus on her run-ins with the law, with little detail of who she was as a person or where she came from. Sophie Morigeau, who I've written about previously, had a more 'legitimate' business than Hobourg or Maloney, but nonetheless occasionally found herself at odds with authority. Taken together, the stories of women like Hobourg, Maloney, and Morigeau suggest that there was opportunity available for entrepreneurial, independent women in the West, if they were willing to operate just beyond the edges of the law.
There are few figures in Canadian history about whom the narratives have shifted as much as for Métis leader Louis Riel. The Métis people trace their ancestry both to the Indigenous and European cultures. This cultural union was largely an effect of the fur trade, and French-Canadian culture spread West as a result.
However, when land surveyors began partitioning up the land as part of plans to build the railway and settle the West, they ignored any claims of land rights by the Métis. The charismatic Louis Riel emerged as the leader of their cause, which escalated into a takeover of a Hudson Bay Company fort and an execution. In the negotiations with the Canadian government that followed, the Manitoba Act established Manitoba as a province and provided some initial land and language rights to the Métis.
Riel was elected as the first parliamentary member for the province of Manitoba. He travelled to Ottawa and signed in, but was voted to be expelled before ever being allowed to sit in the House of Commons. My idea for illustrating him was placing it in the aftermath of that moment, rejected by the government of the country he was trying to improve.
(The parliament buildings here are based on the original construction, not the post-fire Peace Tower familiar to Canadians today.)
Riel would then spend some years in Montana with the Métis community there, before returning to Canada in 1885 to lead another resistance against the government. Amongst their complaints were that their settlements were not served by the newly-established railway, and when they could ship their grain they suffered unfair freight rates.
This new resistance turned into a military confrontation, and at its end, Riel would be tried and eventually hung for treason.
Over the years, his reputation has changed from insurgent to folk hero, one with legitimate grievances and a deep and fierce love of his culture and his people.
John A Robinson
The story of railway porters in Canada is a chapter of history that I wasn't familiar with until researching it this summer. The CPR, in its early years, purchased Pullman Palace sleeping cars from the American manufacturer, and also imported the American model of having young Black men serve as porters in these sleeping cars. It was often demeaning work - porters were not known by their own name but were instead called George (after George Pullman) - but it also allowed these men wages and experience beyond what many in their community were afforded.
Born in St. Kitts in the Caribbean, where the CPR recruited heavily for employees, John A Robinson moved to Canada as a young man and began working as a railway porter. He lived in Winnipeg, where there was a significant Black community, composed both of immigrants from America as well as from the Caribbean. After being rejected by the Brotherhood of Railway Employees, Robinson led his fellow porters, making the Order of Sleeping Car Porters the first Black railway union in North America. They would join the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, one of the seminal moment in labour history in Canada. If you'd like to learn more about this, there's a few good books on the subject; North of the Color Line by Sarah-Jane Mathieu and They Call Me George, by Cecil Foster. Despite the challenges of their positions, railway porters have spoken fondly of the way that the jobs allowed them to see the country in a way that few have. I wanted to capture that in my illustration of Robinson, showing him taking a moment to appreciate a beautiful scene rolling by.
First Nations chiefs, such as Chief Crowfoot (Isapo-Muxika) of the Blackfoot Nation, had signed treaties a few years prior to the western expansion of the railway, relegating them to reserves.
This was a practical necessity for them. The bison herds had been hunted to near extinction, exhausting their most reliable food source. Chief Crowfoot was a pragmatist who always worked to find peaceful solutions that would ensure his people's survival, cooperating first with the Northwest Mounted Police (and in particular his friend, Colonel James MacLeod... watch for James & Mary MacLeod on an upcoming card), then working for rights at the Treaty 7 signing, and afterwards lobbying the government to uphold those treaty promises. Government and railway officials recognized the contributions of Chief Crowfoot and he was given a lifetime pass on the C.P.R. by William Van Horne. While he would wear this around his neck for the rest of his life, he was unable to get the Department of Indian Affairs to uphold those treaty promises.
In The Transcontinental, the cards featuring these historical figures are called 'Ally Cards'. It's always been my goal to include not only those traditionally seen as allies to the railway, but also those who were willing, for their part, to be allies, but were not always treated as such. This is perhaps more the case with Chief Crowfoot than anyone else, full of a pragmatic willingness to cooperate, but whose sense of honourable intentions were not reciprocated.
In his later years, after seeing many of his family die of tuberculosis, and seeing his beloved adopted son Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin) die shortly after being released from prison, Chief Crowfoot was quoted, "What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset." I imagine him watching the sparks of a fire and thinking of fireflies on a cold prairie night, and that's how I've tried to illustrate him here.
Amongst the characters I'm including in the game, some are relatively famous, some are a little more obscure. But one name that will definitely be familiar, at least to Canadians, is Sam Steele, the legendary Northwest Mounted Police Officer. I'm not sure if he's more famous for his time in the Klondike, immortalized in this Canadian Heritage Minute, or the historical park in the BC interior that bears his name. Fort Steele was never an actual Fort, but rather a town that named itself after the officer after he resolved a contentious local dispute there.
At around that time, Steele was playing an important role in the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway, tasked with keeping the peace in the labour camps of the Rocky Mountains. In illustrating Steele, this was the moment I wanted to capture: patrolling the evening campfires of a labour camp. The uniforms of the NWMP changed a lot in their early years, and this is my best guess as to what his uniform would have been at the time.
I've played around with the powers that Sam Steele's ally card has in the game, but as always I try to look to the historical figure for inspiration, so it's appropriate that Steel's power has to do with Navvies (Navigational Engineers).
As for Fort Steele, the town had another connection to the CPR: in the years shortly after the main line was completed, Fort Steele was targeted as a destination for a branch line. However, a politician who was heavily invested in nearby Cranbrook was able to bribe and blackmail officials into choosing that town instead of Fort Steele, and as a result the town went into decline. That's a story that played out across Canada through the development of the nation's rail network: Regina - named 'Pile of Bones' at the time - won a railway station over Qu'Appelle through the efforts of a similarly unscrupulous politician.
Interestingly, once Steele went north to the Klondike, his story intersects with that of another character in the game, albeit one with a more imperfect relationship with the law: John Healy moved to the Klondike as well, years after establishing the notorious whiskey trading post, Fort Whoop Up, along with his partner, Alfred Hamilton. Healy and Hamilton are my next illustration project.
Father Albert Lacombe was a French-Canadian Roman Catholic Missionary who came to Western Canada first in the 1850s. He'd not only preach, learning both Cree and Blackfoot languages, but also teach agricultural practices. He formed close friendships with several indigenous leaders, including Chief Crowfoot, to whom he often cautioned that settlement of the region by immigrants was inevitable, and that the leaders needed to be pragmatic to ensure their peoples' survival.
When the railway was being built through the prairies, William Van Horne enlisted Lacombe as a minister to the navvies working at the railhead and along the line. Lacombe was dismayed by the lawlessness and immorality that he saw there.
When his time with the CPR was done, he announced ambitions of living the remainder of his life as a hermit, building a hermitage in Southern Alberta. However the church put obligations on him that made a hermetic life impossible. Still with many connections to the C.P.R., he arranged a Pullman Palace sleeper car for the Catholic Church for the purpose of transporting priests, and travelled throughout the prairies and across Canada.
Today, no discussion of Lacombe's legacy can be complete without touching upon his role in the founding of catholic schools for indigenous communities, which would become the regrettable residential schools program. Lacombe saw it as a necessity and moral responsibility of the government to provide for a modern education to reserves. Regardless of the original motives, the program grew into something that would cause great pain for indigenous youths and their communities.
I use the point blanket as the icon for the ally action in the game, and I wanted to also include such a blanket on the cards, reflecting its ceremonial role as an offering of respect. On James Hector's card, I have him lying on classic Hudson Bay point blanket, but the blanket colour show here - red with a heavy black stripe - is another traditional colouring for point blankets. I also saw Lacombe as a figure often bearing dark tidings, which influenced the background here.
In the 1850s, James Palliser would set about mapping potential routes through the mountains. With him went James Hector, a young geologist and surgeon. The expedition was exploring what would eventually become the pass over which the railway climbed the continental divide, when a pack-horse fell into a rushing river. In the chaos that followed, Hector was kicked by his horse in the chest, knocking him unconscious.
Hector would describe to others that he was so near death as a result of the injury that his companions had given up hope and begun digging his grave. His companions (particularly Métis guide Peter Erasmus) would dispute that account, saying that the situation was really never that dire; the rest of the expedition went about fishing while waiting for him to regain consciousness. So based these varying accounts, I can't help but imagining the young geologist as a romantic, perhaps even melodramatic figure. The name of that pass commemorates that incident: Kicking Horse Pass.
Hector would make many significant geological discoveries across the Canadian prairies and rockies, including the rich coal seams found in the river valleys of the prairies. But the real geological treasure of Kicking Horse Pass eluded him: in 1909, another geologist, Charles Walcott, would explore the slopes high above the pass and find rich prehistoric fossil beds. The Burgess Shale is considered one of the most important fossil sites in the world, full of Cambrian bottom-dwelling sea creatures, and the area continues to be a source of new specimens. As someone who was very much a paleontology geek in my youth, taking a guided hike up to the Walcott quarry has always been a goal of mine.
Meanwhile, Hector spent most of his remaining career exploring and documenting the geology, botany, and zoology of New Zealand, becoming one of the most renowned men of science in that country.
Yip Sang came to California as a young man at 19, and quickly demonstrated a willingness to try his hand at different tasks, from cigar-maker to dish-washer to gold-miner. It was this last profession that first brought him to Canada, coming to the Cariboo Gold Fields along the Fraser River. After moving to Vancouver, he found work, as many Chinese immigrants did, on construction gangs. But he was able to work his way up, holding such roles as bookkeeper, timekeeper and paymaster. Eventually, he became the superintendent of Chinese labour for the railway.
He later left the railway to start the Wing Sang company in Vancouver, which did importing and exporting, and contracting Chinese labour for various CPR enterprises, from the railway to steamships. It also served as an important link for Chinese workers in Canada, forwarding correspondence and pay remittances back to families in China. The life of Chinese Canadians were difficult. Many workers had families back home that they needed to support, and while some, like Yip Sang, were able to bring their families over, an increasing government head tax on Asian immigrants made this difficult and sometimes impossible.
He was a vital member of the Chinese community in Vancouver, advocating for the rights of Chinese-Canadian workers and citizens, at a time when both government policy and public attitudes worked against those rights. He founded charities that funded hospitals and schools. Most of the photos of Yip Sang date from these years as a high profile member of Vancouver society. But in illustrating Yip Sang, I drew from his period when he worked as a paymaster for the railway, when he would have been out into the frontier, interacting with the workers on the rail, carrying a bag full of wages and a gun for protection. I imagine that the treatment and conditions he saw there were factors that inspired his philanthropic efforts later in life.
William Cornelius Van Horne
William Cornelius Van Horne's early career was one of impressive versatility, and he familiarized himself with nearly every facet of the industry, from telegraphs to locomotives to construction and logistics. He was hired in 1881 by the C.P.R. as a general manager, and would oversee the bulk of the transcontinental line's completion. He had a reputation as a fiery personality, and quickly dismissed those who he found lacking. He also had a vision that the railway needed both tourism and immigration to Western Canada to thrive, and commissioned art works to inspire people to visit or move to the region. Possibly more than anyone else involved in the building of the railway, he saw both the details and minutiae of what needed to be done, as well as a grand vision of how it all needed to fit together to be workable.
In illustrating Van Horne, I drew a bit from my favourite railway baron of cinema, a man named Morton from Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. I love this movie in part because of the way it portrays the railway as something that is changing the lands it moves through, and not always for the better. Morton had a beautiful dream: he got onto his coach at the Atlantic, and intends not to leave it until he sees the Pacific. So from his coach, he barks out orders and waits for the various obstacles - both material and human - to be removed.
As Van Horne steered the C.P.R. through some very difficult financial straits, he made the argument that the railway needed to be completed as quickly as possible, so that it could begin paying for itself. This put some severe strain in turn on the nation's finances. One of the effects of this unfolded out on the Prairies even as the railway was cutting through.
Healy & Hamilton
Another pair of entrepreneurs I'm going to include are John Healy & Alfred Hamilton. They operated the notorious trading post, Fort Whoop Up, at present day Lethbridge, Alberta. Whiskey trading was a significant problem in the southern prairies, largely due to American traders like Healy & Hamilton coming up to Canada following prohibition in Montana.
This eventually necessitated the establishing of a permanent police presence - the North West Mounted Police - in the region. The government used the whiskey trade as a reason for urgency in the expansion of the railway. However, in reality the years in which the NWMP was present in Alberta, but before the railroad expanded, were some of the most law-abiding years on record. The railway labour crews actually brought more crime to the region.
Fort Whoop Up's influence wasn't limited to whiskey. Lawful trading was also carried out there, and so the NWMP allowed it to continue. The NWMP even rented space in Fort Whoop Up for their own post. I imagined Healy & Hamilton, stuck at the fort through a winter, playing a lot of cards and starting to get on one-another's nerves. After the railway years, Healy, ever the opportunist, travelled North to the Klondike, where he would have encountered Sam Steele, featured in a previous newsletter.
(Thanks to the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge helping me track down a photo of Hamilton to use for reference!)
John A MacDonald
John A MacDonald is, of course, Canada's first Prime Minister, and his story is deeply entwined with the railway. He was adamant not only that the railway needed to be the young country's first priority, but also that the quickest and cheapest solutions to completing a railway - running the railway south through the United States, around the Great Lakes - was not acceptable: it needed to take the hardest route, across the rocks and muskeg of Northern Ontario.
But in 1873, his government was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for awarding the railway contract to Hugh Allen, a Montreal shipping magnate with backing from American investors. MacDonald was forced to resign, and for a number of years, both MacDonald's career, and the railway project, languished. As I'm working on the solo mode of the game right now, I'm looking at theming the cards in the solo mode around Hugh Allen and some of the other characters in this scandal.
MacDonald won the Prime Minister's office back in 1879, and oversaw the completion of his railway. His legacy is complex, having so much influence over both the good and the bad of the early years of Confederation. His well-documented struggles with alcoholism further shape his legacy as a troubled character. In illustrating him, I wanted to use heavy light and shadows across his face to convey that, and show him perhaps a little worn-down by the strain.
His wife, Susan Agnes MacDonald, was also a champion not only of the railway, but also of the National Parks movement, and right now I'm looking at including her on her own card. So stay tuned for more on her.
The Lord and Lady Dufferin, along with their large family, would arrive in Canada in 1872 after Lord Dufferin was assigned the post of Governor General of Canada. While the two men who preceded him in that role kept a low profile, he was outgoing and assertive - sometimes more assertive than Canadian politicians or press wished. He was a skilled diplomat who had travelled extensively from the North Atlantic, to Syria, and his enthusiasm for travel made him an excellent fit for the Canadian post, and unlike their predecessors, he and Lady Dufferin travelled to western destinations such as Victoria and Winnipeg, keen to speak to people there and address their concerns within confederation.
He was challenged with several difficult political issues at the time, from the fallout of the Red River Rebellions to the Pacific Scandal (discussed here last week!). When the Pacific Scandal embroiled the railway project, it ultimately fell to Dufferin to suspend parliament and launch an inquiry, which ultimately found against Prime Minister MacDonald and led to his resignation.
While he was more assertive politically than previous Governors General, this was not the only way that the Lord and Lady Dufferin impacted the role. They embraced the culture of the country, and spoke appreciatively of the importance of Quebec culture in giving the nation an identity different from the United States. Lord Dufferin would champion the importance of the railway as a unifying link at every opportunity.
They also encouraged winter pastimes, overseeing skating rinks, curling rinks, and a toboggan run installed on the grounds of the Governor General's residence, Rideau Hall. These facilities were made open to the 'properly dressed' public, and hosted popular parties.
During one visit to Winnipeg, they each drove a spike in the Railway, and the first engine on the line would be christened CPR #01, The Countess of Dufferin. After years of service including on building the line across the prairies, it was retired and placed outside the CPR Station in Winnipeg. Now after a full restoration it can be found in the Winnipeg Railway Museum. The engine depicted on the Tender tile in The Transcontinental is loosely based on The Countess of Dufferin.
After Lord Dufferin's time as Governor General was over, he served as Ambassador to both Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Burma, and France, and most notablys Viceroy of India, where his he authored an influential report on the plight of the lower classes under British rule there; Lady Dufferin made her own reputation in India as well, championing medical training for women.
Lady Dufferin would write about her time in Canada behind the happiest of her life, and I wanted to illustrate the couple in a moment of happiness here.
Last week I talked about Riel and the Métis resistance. When his first resistance was brewing, protestants in Manitoba became concerned, and wanted to raise the alarm to this threat. The task of evading guards and delivering a dispatch fell to 17-year-old Mary Drever. She delivered her message, the alarm was raised, and the newly-formed Northwest Mounted Police were rallied. But there would be an unexpected outcome for Mary. Amongst the men who would come west as part of the police force was a young major, James Macleod, who would propose to Mary within the year. But it would be years before the couple was able to marry, and longer before they were able to live together, as his increasing duties made marriage difficult. James established himself as the face of the NWMP in southern Alberta, working with Indigenous leaders to eliminate the whiskey trade and bring about the signing of several treaties; he also attempted to raise their concerns about the vanishing bison population with Ottawa and institute controls on their hunting, but these changes came too late to prevent the loss of the herd and the famine conditions that would follow.
Throughout these first years he spent in the prairies, Mary remained in Manitoba, and their relationship was primarily one of letters. We have James' letters to Mary, though not hers to him: she insisted that he burn her letters after reading, which he did with great regret. Eventually, the couple settled together first in Fort Macleod and then Fort Calgary (which James named after a town near his birthplace in Scotland).
While there are a lot of unique elements to their story, one thing that is not unique it that distant relationship, which would have played out for many couples, with Western Canada being such a vast region that took a long time to travel. I wanted to illustrate a moment of being reunited after such an absence.
When mountaineer Arthur Oliver Wheeler proposed that a Canadian chapter of the American Alpine Club be formed, he was pilloried by a journalist from the Winnipeg Free Press, who saw it as unpatriotic that such an institution be formed as a subset of an American club, rather than an independently Canadian version.
Wheeler conceded that point, and in corresponding more with the writer, was surprised to learn that it was a woman, Elizabeth Parker, who had challenged him. He proposed that she join him in founding a Canadian Alpine Club.
Parker was not by any means a mountaineer at that time, but had taken a couple excursions to Banff on the recently constructed railway. She embraced this opportunity, obtained a sponsorship from her newspaper that would support the founding of the club, and became its first secretary. Many alpine clubs in other nations were strictly men-only affairs, but with a woman co-founding the club, that was never considered for Canada's club. She saw the agenda of the club as not only facilitating excursions into the Rockies, but encouraging all Canadians to embrace the alpine and the wilderness as part of their national character. Today, the Elizabeth Parker Hut stands in an alpine meadow in the stunning backcountry of Yoho National Park. The view behind Parker in my illustration matches the view from this hut looking north. Just beyond those first peaks is the Kicking Horse Pass, where the railway crosses the continental divide and begins its descent toward the Pacific.
A. B. Rogers
Many people who got involved in the railway did so for financial reasons. Certainly, many fortunes were made along the way. But nobody could make that accusation of Major A.B. Rogers.
Rogers was hired by the C.P.R. to find a route through the Selkirks. This was an urgent mission: a northerly route through the mountains had been laid out for years, but a sequence of events started by botanist John Macoun (which I'll discuss in a future newsletter) caused a change in the route, moving it a hundred miles south of where previously planned. This meant building through a region of mountains that the company had not explored. In the spring of 1881, as Rogers began searching for the pass, the railway was already under construction west to where it was assumed he would be able to find a route. That summer he had a good lead on a pass from the west, but ran short on supplies before reaching it. The following summer he was able to reach it from east. Those shortages of supplies plagued Rogers' expeditions, and the men under him were said to dislike him immensely. Amongst those who served under him were guides from the local Shuswap first nations, as well as Tom Wilson, who would go on to map out much of the back-country of Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks, and become one of Banff's early guides and outfitters.
Rogers framed the $5000 cheque he received from the C.P.R. as a souvenir, cashing it only when Van Horne promised him a gold watch instead. But his real reward, the one thing he insisted upon before taking the job, was that the pass would be named after him. It is now a popular tourist stop along the Trans Canada Highway, in the heart of Glacier National Park.
I use a surveyor's scope in the iconography of The Transcontinental, representing the First Player action, but I also wanted to include a surveyor's scope in one of the character illustrations, to give it a little more context.
When I first read about Sophie Morigeau I knew she was the perfect person to include in The Transcontinental. There were numerous entrepreneurial women involved in the industries around the expansion of the railway, but they are not well documented in the popular historical record. Fortunately, new generations of historians are unearthing these stories. In this case, Jean Berman's essay in the book Recollecting filled in the blanks for me on how this fascinating woman was connected to the railway story.
Sophie Morigeau was raised in both the indigenous world of her mother's family and the metis community of her father, growing up in the Kooteney Mountains, moving with her family to a farm in Montana, and then returning to Canadian side of the border through her life as business opportunities presented themselves. She after brief period of marriage in her younger years, she ended up plotting a more independent path. She never lacked for male companionship, though it would be on her own terms, as most things in her life were. Even a riding accident that cost her an eye didn't thwart her independence.
Her first involvement with the railway story came as prospecting and surveying crews were first beginning to explore and map the region, searching for a path for the train through the mountains. Morigeau established a trading post, and surveyors fondly recount stopping at Sophy's for much needed provisions and a respite from the wilderness.
Later, she conceived of a venture to bring a wagon of whiskey to a railway work camp. When the established businesses there thwarted her, she was undeterred, and drove her wagon on to Calgary, where she sold the whiskey at considerable profit.
One of the challenges in illustrating the game is that the timeframe exists right on the front edge of the photographic record. The affluent figures are well documented. Others are documented only in their later years, and illustrating them in the context of the game requires some imaginative reverse aging. Others aren't documented at all, and illustrating them is entirely a work of imagination.
The only photos of Sophie Morigeau are so grainy as to be useless as a reference. Descriptions in accounts of her are too non-specific and contradictory to be useful. But she was unquestionably a strong, resilient woman, and I've tried to illustrate her in a manner that seems to fit with those accounts of the way she lived her life.