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1888::The First Trains of Vancouver Island

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

The first Vancouver Island trains that rolled into Nanaimo and Victoria, British Columbia.

"1888::The First E&N Train Arrives in Victoria, British Columbia"

Clip: City of Victoria Archives (PR-0252-M08401)

In 1871, British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation as Canada's sixth province on the agreement that within ten years, the Canadian Government would build a transcontinental railway linking the Pacific Province to the eastern provinces. Part of that agreement included a rail connection to and on Vancouver Island. It was to prove an impossible task. However, in 1883, Canada agreed to contribute to the expense of building the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) rail line and gave money to Vancouver Island coal baron Robert Dunsmuir to build it in good faith. On August 13, 1886, the E&N Railway's last spike was driven at Cliffside near Shawnigan Lake by Canada's Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald. Immediately after the island's Last Spike event, the train, with its government officials aboard, continued up the line and arrived in Nanaimo as the first official E&N passenger train to roll into the city.

At the south end of the line, tracks were yet to be completed from Parson's Bridge (at the 6-Mile Pub) and over Victoria's new Swing Bridge at the foot of Johnson Street. Once the track and the Swing Bridge were complete, Victoria finally saw its first E&N train roll into the city.

1888::First E&N Train Enters Victoria

"1888::First E&N Train Enters Victoria" Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1888)

Victoria, British Columbia

On March 29, the day before Good Friday, 1888, Vancouver Island's Esquimalt & Nanaimo (E&N) passenger train rolled over Victoria's new Swing Bridge into a welcoming crowd of thousands. Robert Dunsmuir, who, with Canada's help, had built both the E&N rail line and the swing bridge that preceded Victoria's 'Blue Bridge' on Johnson Street, lived long enough to witness the event and died the following year. In 1905, Dunsmuir's heirs sold his E&N rail line to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

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