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The Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway Reporting mark: unknown

The QMO&O began as a "colonization railway" built to serve regional needs and to open new territories for industry and development. Although Quebec was already well-served by rail connections to Ontario and a number of New England states, the province's regional network was thin and sparse. Industry and politicians clamored for more railways. The provincial government got into the act by offering assistance for the construction of small regional railways, in part to serve the lumber trade and to open new areas for settlement.

QMOO Tourist Guide
Tourist Guide, 1879

The QMO&O started out as two projects. The first, the Montreal Colonization Railway, was promoted by a Roman-Catholic priest, François-Xavier-Antoine Labelle (also known as Curé Labelle). Labelle's purpose was twofold. He hoped to promote colonization of his parish in the Laurentians, and was equally determined to encourage industrial development in order to attract more residents to the area. His carrot was the offer of a steady supply of firewood to Montreal, then in the grips of a severe cold spell. All he needed was a rail line to carry the fuel.

In January 1872 Labelle arrived in Montreal to make his pitch. In addition to his skills in pulpit oratory, Labelle proved to be a natural politician and salesman. He was quickly able to enlist the support of steamship magnate Hugh Allan (one of the richest men in Canada at the time) and obtain financial support from the city of Montreal, in the form of a grant.

The final plan called for a line running along the north shore of the Ottawa River between Montreal and Ottawa, with a branch line to Saint-Jérôme. Sadly for Labelle, his dream went up in smoke the following year when Hugh Allan managed to get himself involved in a railway scandal over bribes. The scandal, which ultimately brought down the Macdonald government, was followed by an economic depression that put an end to capital financing for years to come. Labelle went home empty handed but not defeated.

Around the same time a second project, the Quebec North Shore, was also in the works. This proposal, which came with a million dollar subsidy from Quebec City, was planned around a rail line along the north shore linking Quebec City and Montreal. Financing, which in those days came from London, fell apart after the British-owned Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), fearing competition, carried on an intense lobbying campaign against the project.

Despite all the turmoil, the Quebec government was determined to see both projects to completion. In 1874 government joined the two railways together, renamed the line the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental (QMO&O), and assumed responsibility for costs of construction. The railway was built at a cost of about $14 million, with the municipalities chipping in around $2.5 million. The Montreal - Hull line opened in 1877 and the Montreal - Quebec City line, two years later. After completion, the government published a chatty 232-page, bilingual "tourist guide" that listed fares, rates, and offered a profile of each community along the route.

The Quebec government's commitment to the QMO&O ended with its completion. The government was not interested in the business of running a railway and in 1880 announced its intention to sell it off to the private sector. Louis-Adelard Sénécal, a friend of Premier Chapleau, was put in place to manage both the railway and its subsequent disposition. In 1882 the Ottawa - Montreal section was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) for $4 million, and the Montreal - Quebec City sold to a consortium headed by Sénécal, also for $4 million. The Premier's opponents immediately cried foul. So did the elites in Quebec City after Sénécal sold most of his shares to the GTR a few months later.

The ruckus finally penetrated the prime ministerial chambers in Ottawa. Quebec City, which had benefited from connections to the neighbouring provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick, didn't want a second GTR line. They wanted connections to the west on the new CPR transcontinental line and they wanted Ottawa to make that happen. Equally unhappy was the government of Quebec, which had built the QMO&O without federal subsidies and now was expected to take a $6 million hit. Nobody was happy except for the GTR, but only at first.

While all the hollering was going on in Ottawa, a nasty turf battle was erupting between the CPR and GTR. The CPR's purchase of the QMO&O included running rights over the North Shore into Quebec City. The North Shore had running rights over the QMO&O, which the GTR believed it had inherited. To take advantage of those, the GTR began building a short line that linked from the QMO&O tracks to their terminals in Montreal. Throughout the construction period, the CPR remained silent. Once completed, the CPR refused to let the GTR pass. The GTR retaliated by cancelling the CPR's running rights over the North Shore. The GTR then began construction on a new spur to connect the North Shore to Montreal.

Prime Minister John Macdonald, who had regained power in 1878, was never a fan of the GTR. By now he was totally incensed. For one thing he believed the GTR managers had failed to deliver their employees' vote to his party during the 1882 election, which saw him win but with a reduced majority.

Politics were also at stake. Macdonald had given heavy subsidies to the CPR. In order to make those costs palatable to the east, he had to make sure the eastern provinces had access to the new railway. The CPR was also Macdonald's baby. He had promised to deliver a transcontinental railway and nothing was going to stand in his way.

Macdonald had only one solution in mind - an order for the GTR to sell. To back up his demands, he added some legislative muscle in the form of a bill offering a $1.5 million subsidy to the CPR for construction of a new line, in case the GTR refused to sell. Nothing else was acceptable including the GTR's offer to reinstate the CPR's running rights. GTR President Sir Henry Tyler allegedly responded with, "If you are dealing with a government you always have to give way, sooner or later."

It was a done deal. In 1884 the QMO&O officially became part of the CPR. Quebec City had its connection to the transcontinental railway and the Quebec government was placated with a financial commitment of $2.4 million. The line remained in operation until the 1990s, when the CPR abandoned or sold all its routes east of Montreal.