The Maritime Express

Let Me Remind You…
About The Maritime Express: The flagship train that united Eastern Canada.

Maritime Express Postcard taken by an unknown photographer for the ICR

It was only going to be a day’s travel, a far cry from the multiple days in a rickety box, trying to get comfortable in a small cabin with less than meager accommodations. The days it took always seemed longer than they were. Now, it would be like traveling in luxury; a personal cabin with sleeping quarters; a restaurant car adorned with varnished wood and polished silver. A menu to choose from and cocktails while you could look out your window, watching the land pass by. So much green whipping by so quickly it appeared the train was going backwards. When the dense tunnel of forest opened up, you would be surprised with a vast scape of rolling green hills and farm land, or even a mountainous range where the Appalachian trail poked it’s long limbs over the border into Canada.
Although the trains and speed may have changed over the years, the view from the windows going from Quebec to Nova Scotia has not changed much. You can still see what the passengers of one of the first Express trains would have seen as they travelled to see family, or vacation on the East coast.

The road to civilization and building a country is a long one. Or maybe it’s a short train track.
Before the Confederation in Canada, in 1867, Canada was 3 separate colonies. As the population started to grow,  and the government started to dig their claws into the land, a dirt road and carriages were starting to seem to be an outdated way to communicate and travel through the Eastern provinces. Especially during winter storms which could potentially bury the trails. Even train travel during snow storms would become difficult, and they ended up building stretches of snowsheds; long tunnels to protect the tracks from getting piled in multiple feet of snow.

It all started when the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia wrote to William Gladstone (Prime Minister of the UK at the time) with a request to survey a train route through the colonies. Once he got the go-ahead, he started scouting the best places to set the tracks. It took many years and a death of the head surveyor before they finally established a route and could start building in 1868. Leg-by-leg, stop-by-stop, the railway was completed.
Even though it was completed after Canada joined the 3 colonies and became a country, It was still called Intercolonial Railway or ICR.

By the 1890’s people were using the trains to go see family on the east coast, or the reverse: going to Quebec. Being smart business men and knowing what the competition had, In 1891, The Maritime Express was added as the flagship for the ICR, in competition with other “Express trains”. This passenger car would make the 1000+mi trip from Quebec to the far corner of the East coast in 28 hours (If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables, or some of L.M Montgomery’s other books, this is the train frequently taken.)

The ICR recognized the active tourism that naturally occurred with this connection and started marketing it as such; toting the beautiful areas of Nova Scotia. This drove people to start vacationing there even more. Eventually, the combination of travel during the holidays and tourism led them to add more times and railway lines in the early 1900’s.
But even though the Maritime Express could have you at your destination by 3:30pm the following day, it still made many stops and was a longer trip than other express trains the competition had. That’s when the ICR added the Ocean Limited, which could make the same trip in 3-4 less hours.

Pamphlet for “The people’s railway”

The ICR’s direct competitor, The Canadian pacific Railway (CPR) had a train that was making the trip from Quebec to Nova Scotia in even less time. They also had “running rights” from the federal government, organically forcing business to them.
This drove the ICR to try a rebranding tactic. They petitioned the federal government to extend their own tracks and improve existing rails and cars. By 1912 the Maritime was a huge success and even made it on to the $5 bill. The ICR was now dubbed “The People’s railway”. In 1917, the Halifax Explosion took out a large section of the tracks, but this would not stop the momentum the ICR had been building.

Maritime Express on the $5 bill.

Going into the wars, the ICR had an influx of traffic. Afterwards, not so much. They had to cut back a lot and the express trains were starting erode with wear-and-tear that no one wanted to deal with apparently. By the 1960’s the Maritime Express was running local routes and eventually by 1964, the Maritime Express was retired. I imagine with the popularity and availability of cars it just wasn’t needed as much.

To this day, you can still take a train across Canada, or even just short trips. You can even take the same route that was traveled in the late 1800’s. But if you want to go from West coast to East coast, you may have to adjust your schedule and train tickets as the west and east have their own railroad companies and aren’t a fan of each other.
Check out some of the routes HERE.

I would love to hear if you’ve travelled any of these railways. Information was harder to find than I thought, and was conflicting in a lot of places. I would love to hear more personal accounts and fun facts about this.


University of Calgary

As always, please check out my novel The Pecan Trees, a fictional novel set in Hill Country, Texas. Available on Amazon or my website:

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