Trans Canada Limited  

The History of the Trans-Canada Limited

by Garry W. Anderson, Director,
Canadian Museum of Rail Travel


The Canadian Pacific Railway operated a number of very famous trains. The long-lived Imperial Limited, operating from Montreal to Vancouver and the first of the Canadian Pacific 'Limiteds', began its first run in June 1899. Fast and well-appointed, it started the tradition of excellence and consistency that resulted in the later Trans-Canada Limited.

The first Trans-Canada Limited actually appeared in 1907 but was an experimental train running only three times a week during the summer of that year. It did not reappear again until 1919, after World War One, when Canada began to return to prosperity. The new Trans-Canada Limitedwas designed as a summertime, all-sleeping car train. It was advertised as the fastest train across North America and as having the longest route in the world of any all-sleeping car train. This referred to the 2,881 miles between Montreal and Vancouver; other trains covered longer distances but included day coaches as well as sleeping cars.

The train quickly established itself as one of the great North American Limiteds, ranking with such other trains as the 20th Century, the Oriental and the North Coast Limiteds. Its level of service was exceptional, its equipment was usually the newest and best the railway could supply and it became the CPR's premier train.

The 1920's were an increasingly prosperous decade and the popularity of the Trans-Canada Limited continued to grow, not only for Canadians with the means to afford its level of service but also for an increasing number of wealthy American tourists who frequented this train. This was the period of Prohibition in the United States and a luxurious train serving excellent food, high quality wines and premium liquor was bound to be a success with Americans who did not agree with their country's laws. In addition, the Canadian Pacific hotels at Banff, Lake Louise, Glacier and Victoria were great drawing cards. And it should not be forgotten that the company offered the fastest service between Europe and the Far East prior to the advent of the airlines. By taking a fast and luxurious Empress liner from Britain to Montreal, a passenger could then travel rapidly across Canada in comfort aboard the Trans-Canada Limited, board another Empress liner in Vancouver and be in Hong Kong more than a week before a ship sailing between Europe and the Far East.

In 1923, Canadian Pacific and its subsidiary the Soo Line began the luxurious Mountaineer from Chicago to Vancouver. This was the international equivalent of the Trans-Canada Limited; the two might be considered "sister trains" as in 1929 similar new equipment was built for both trains. The railway constructed 12 new complete train sets comprising "A" class dining cars, "R" series sleepers (8-sections, 2-compartments, 1-drawing room), combination baggage sleeping cars (for the dining car crews) and the unique "River" class solarium-lounge cars. These were complimented with up-to-date (10-compartment) "Glen" series sleepers and standard (12-section, 1-drawing room) sleepers. Also, between Montreal and Ottawa, special day-parlour cars were used. To see the names of all these cars and see drawings of each type, click here.

The New York Stock Market Crash occurred in October 1929 and initiated what would become known as the Great Depression. The trains enjoyed a reasonable but declining patronage during the 1930 season but by early 1931 the situation was critical and the trains were cancelled shortly before the season was due to start. Canadian Pacific hoped that the economy would improve but the rest is history. The economic situation worsened and the Trans-Canada Limited was never resumed.

Thus, the 1929 sets of cars were used for their intended service for only two years. Some of the cars were assigned to other trains but most of the non-revenue solarium-lounge cars were moth-bailed during the 1930s and then substantially rebuilt during World War Two. At any rate, the Trans-Canada Limited's level of service was never resurrected on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Even the beautiful stainless steel equipment of The Canadian, which would be introduced in 1955, did not have the shower-bath facilities of the Trans-Canada Limited. The Canadian also carried tourist and coach passengers — services not offered on the Trans-Canada Limited which was reserved exclusively for first class sleeping car passengers.


Trans-Canada Limited