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History is on track in Moody

The Port Moody Station Museum is inviting residents to celebrate a milestone in the city's history with a party and a trip back into time.

The Port Moody Station Museum is inviting residents to celebrate a milestone in the city's history with a party and a trip back into time.

For three days beginning July 1 (Canada Day), the historic building next to Rocky Point Park will be decked out to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first transcontinental passenger train, and heritage actors will recreate the atmosphere of the historic day on July 4 when Canada was linked by rail.

But it would take a student of history to get the real story of how Port Moody was briefly a shining jewel in the crown of British colonies and how its destiny was rudely snatched away by ruthless rail barons.

Station Museum curator Jim Millar is one such student.

According to Millar, PoMo was firmly ensconced as the western terminus for the national railway by government fiat but lost out to upstart Vancouver and a land-hungry corporation eager to gain a strangle-hold on future Asia-Pacific trade.

The tracks linking Port Moody to Montreal had barely been laid when deals were being struck to hand over 6,500 acres of land to CP for a 14-mile long branch line from PoMo to Vancouver, then called Granville.

"The passenger train was really quite vital. That was one of the promises that Canada made to B.C. for joining confederation was that they would get a train. It was interesting about [who should get] the terminus. Victoria thought it would be theirs but New Westminster had been the capital."

Speculators bought land in New West and Port Moody to keep their options open, Millar said, and for a while it seemed the mill town on the southern reaches of Burrard Inlet would be the end of the line.

"It was supposed to be [built] at the first navigable tidal waters," he said, where ocean-going ships could dock with their rich trade of China silks and teas.

Things soon got crazy, historian D.M. Norton notes in The Early History of Port Moody: Land prices escalated from $15 to $1,000 an acre and the city grew from about two dozen dwellings to 220 as people dreamt of the town becoming a major metropolis.

"This whole speculation thing was to see who could make the most money," Millar said.

But when CPR's plans became known, the entire enterprise was threatened and speculators banded together to seek an injunction to stop the rail company from laying tracks on their land. They won in provincial court but lost at Supreme Court after CPR threatened to build a three-mile trestle bridge to bypass their property. With the rail line extended to Vancouver, PoMo's destiny as a boom town was doomed.

The city never recovered, retreating into a depression that lasted for years, but many accounts still remain of the nine-month period when PoMo served as the terminus for the transcontinental railway. For a period, it was the headquarters for east-west trade and shipments of tea and lumber were loaded from rail cars to ships at the CP wharf.

Thousands also used the daily passenger service until it was discontinued, and today you can see evidence of the pre-eminence of rail travel in an exhibit at the PoMo Station Museum.

Celebrate the 125th anniversary of the first transcontinental passenger train with displays and activities for kids at the Port Moody Station Museum July 1 to 3.