My Town Monday and The Countess of Dufferin

When I was visiting Assinboine Park a few weeks ago, I spied what I assumed was a steam locomotive called the Countess of Dufferin. But I was wrong. The photo on the right is not the Countess. She sits in the Winnipeg Railway Museum where she's protected from the wind, rain, and snow. This shiny black locomotive has no name - just a number (CN 6043) - and the honor of being the last of the steam engines.

The Countess of Dufferin's claim to fame, is that she's the very first steam locomotive on the Canadian prairies.

She's named after the wife of one of Canada’s early Governor Generals. Her full name is Hariot Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. (And I thought women's lib had invented hyphenated names!) Hariot and her husband, Count Dufferin, happened to be touring Manitoba when the steam engine arrived back in the fall of 1877 and the Countess got to put the first spike into the south leading tracks.

(photo is in public domain)

This mother of nine children is said to have been a gracious hostess and perfectly suited to the diplomatic life she led. Besides Canada, she worked/lived in embassies in Russia, Turkey and India. She was also a writer and published Our Viceregal Life (1889) My Canadian Journal (1891) and My Russian Turkish Journals in 1916. In India, she was actively involved with fundraising to give women better health clinics. Many hospitals there still bear her name. We, in Winnipeg, honor her memory with a locomotive. And it’s aptly named, because this woman was a powerhouse of energy and she certainly did travel.

Now back to the steam engine. Built in 1872 for the Northern Pacific Railway, the locomotive was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1877. She arrived on October 9th via barge, up the Red River, from Minnesota to her new home in Winnipeg. From Winnipeg, she was sent out in all directions, expanding the new railway system. The steam engine lived on wood/coal and water. There were always plenty of trees around to chop down when she got hungry. It’s said that once a bear clambered aboard during refueling.

Later, the engine was nicknamed “The Betsy” by new owners who used her as a power source for their lumber mill. In 1909, after a life of hard work, she avoided the scrap yard and was donated to the City of Winnipeg to be put on public display.

In 1977 she was refurbished and no doubt looks as good as the day she arrived – a day that was so momentous, it was declared a public holiday. Trains really did change the world back a hundred years ago – kind of like cell phones and the internet have changed our present world. Techology kind of boggles the mind - well my mind, at least - where thoughts just slowly chug along.

What I really found interesting in learning about this locomotive, was the woman behind the name. You can read more about her time in Canada with this link.

The same train technology that opened up North America for development, opened up the vast country of Russia, too. Without trains, all those exiles and prisoners would never have made it to those far flung gulags and special settlements. Shows how it's the tool user and not the tool that makes the difference.

Please visit more My Town Monday blogs. Some fascinating posts about this world we live in.


Barrie said...

Very, very interesting. The Countess of Dufferin (the woman) certainly sounds as though she was way ahead of her time. Dufferin Street is a major street in Toronto.

Gabriele Goldstone said...

We have a minor street called Dufferin. (I think it went flat over the years).

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