In 1873, Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald promised British Columbia that a railway would be built on Vancouver Island.
In 1875 legislation enabling construction of the Esquimalt-Nanaimo Railway went to Parliament in Ottawa. Though it passed through the House of Commons, it was rejected by the Senate. In fact, it would take another decade before the rail line would be completed.
A long political debate ensued over whether E & N would be part of the Canadian Pacific Railway or a different company. In 1884 a solution was reached when Robert Dunsmuir, owner of the coal mines in Nanaimo, was awarded the right to construct the railway as a separate company. Dunsmuir received land rights along the tracks right of way as an incentive for construction.
The first stage of the E & N Railway was completed on August 13, 1886.
The railway was an important element in the development of Nanaimo. It provided access to the Island’s forest and mineral resources, which increased employment, population.