link image


Intercolonial Railway Reporting mark: IRC

The Intercolonial Railway (IRC) came as part and parcel of the British North America Act. Under the terms of the act, the government was legally bound to provide railway access from the Maritime provinces to central Canada.

The IRC was formed in early 1870s. It begn began as a merger of two regional railways, the Nova Scotia Railway and the European and North American Railway in New Brunswick, both purchased by the federal government.

Picture of travel brochure
Timetable, 1885

The IRC had a strict mandate to fulfil. In 1879, it purchased the GTR line that ran from Riviere-du-Loup to Levis, which extended its reach into Quebec. By the late 1880s, it had running rights to Montreal, where there were connections to the Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk Railways. Expansion continued in the Maritimes with the construction of several new lines in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

By the early 1900s, the IRC boasted an extensive regional network throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Rail service was augmented by connections to all major steamship routes headed to Quebec, PEI, and Newfoundland. Headquarters were located in Moncton, where the railway maintained shops and yards along with an elegant new station and head office.

During World War I, the IRC contributed immeasurably to the war effort. The CPR was forbidden from transporting military supplies, as its ownership of rail lines in the US, would have violated US neutrality. The country was therefore dependent on the IRC to transport raw materials and military supplies between the factories in central Canada and the ports in Halifax.

The railway sustained major damage during the tragic Halifax explosion in 1917. Despite the loss of hundreds of rail cars, as well as the Richmond Yard and shipping terminals, full service was resumed within a week.

In 1915, the IRC was transferred to a newly formed government agency known as Canadian Government Railways (CGR), which was created to manage all the government's railway holdings, which by then included the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR), and a few other small regional railways. All the railways within the CGR retained their own reporting marks and continued to be run as separate units.

The CGR lasted until 1918 when it was folded into the Canadian National Railways (CNR), which was designed to simplify management and lay the groundwork for future nationalization. By 1920 the CNR had grown to include the Canadian Northern, Grand Trunk, and its subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railways, all of which had fallen to bankruptcy.

The IRC/CGR officially became part the new Canadian National Railway (CN) in 1923 and ceased to exist as a separate entity.

The original IRC route was used extensively for freight transport until the late 1970s. Portions of the route remain in use today both by CN and a couple of smaller operators.