Andrew Onderdonk

Andrew Onderdonk

Contracts for BC section of CPR awarded to American, Andrew Onderdonk!

Jan. 16, 1880; Charles Tupper, Canada's Minister of Railways, today announced that the four British Columbia contracts for the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway will be awarded to American engineer, Andrew Onderdonk. Tupper cited Onderdonk's impressive record, experience in labour relations, and ability to balance the books as key factors in the decision.

News of the government's decision was met with a cold reception by British Columbia MP, John Robson. Onderdonk's proposal was dependant on him being allowed to hire Chinese Labourers. Robson recently lobbied to have Chinese banned from entering Canada but Prime Minister John McDonald said in parliament that "if the choice is between Chinese labour or no railway, there is no alternative". Robson was forced to admit the importance of the railway to British Columbia but reliable sources say he will not give up his fight to exclude Chinese.

Construction is scheduled to begin in April.

The acquisition of California and Alaska by the US put the colony of British Columbia in a precarious position. Many felt they should join the United States but negotiations by Britain resulted in the Federal government promising to build a railway to connect BC with the rest of Canada and BC promising to join the Confederation. Bidding for contracts to complete four separate sections of the railway was intense. The Minister or Railways, Charles Tupper leaned heavily toward an American, Andrew Onderdonk, a personal friend, but also considered to be the best man for the job. Onderdonk had gained a reputation as an efficient, no-nonsense achiever, intent on profits. His experience in laying track for the Norther Pacific in Oregon and the Souther Pacific in California provided him carte blanche in the buying of labour and materials. This, coupled with Tupper's desire to award all four contracts to one firm, thus sparing Ottawa from dealing with more than one company, sealed the bargain. The only glitch was Onderdonk's insistence that he be allowed to hire Chinese labourers. His experience in the United States had shown him that the Chinese had proven themselves to be industrious and steady. Always one to look to profits Onderdonk also knew that he would have ready access to willing Chinese workers and the cost to him would be far less than that of a white labourer. Once the Prime Minister stated in parliament that hiring of Chinese was necessary to have the railway, other politicians and railway investors admitted that their hiring was inevitable. The admission was based almost entirely on dollars and cents.