46 John Henry Cambie

John Henry Cambie from County Tipperary Ireland.

(October 25, 1836 in Tipperary Ireland-April 23, 1928 in Vancouver B.C. was a Canadian surveyor and civil engineerand a notable figure in the completion of that country’s Transcontinental Railway. He was also a notable pioneer resident of Vancouver.

Cambie emigrated to the Providence of Canada as a youth, where he learned to be a surveyor. In 1852, he found employment with the Grand Trunk Railway, moving to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) seven years later. With the Confederation of Canada in 1867, the CPR was contracted to build a transcontinental railway, which would link the new country and the adjacent colonies and territories of British North America. With the expansion of the railway into British Columbia, Cambie found himself as the chief surveyor for the CPR in the province. In this capacity, Cambie argued for a route through the Fraser Canyon, terminating at the small logging community of Granville on Burrard Inlet. He was convinced of the superiority of this route over the alternatives of Howe Sound and Bute Inlet after a trip down the canyon to Granville in 1874.

Cambie’s views prevailed, and in 1876, he was made chief surveyor of the CPR’s Pacific Division, a position he would hold for the next four years, following which he was promoted to chief engineer. His work completed, in 1887 Cambie settled in Vancouver, which had been incorporated as the successor to Granville the previous year. As he recalled in a later interview:

In May 1887, much to the amusement of my friends, I went out into the country and purchased two lots at the corner of Georgia and Thurlow streets. I could not, however, induce the city to clear a track so I could reach my property until near the end of that year, when I at once started building and moved out there in 1888. I had to lay the first sidewalk on Georgia at my own expense, as the city would not do it, and when I got the telephone the company dunned me for more than a year to pay for the poles from Granville Street down to my place, as they told me that no one else in that generation would ever go to live west of Granville Street.[1]
The area of which Cambie spoke is now located near the centre of downtown Vancouver, in one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the country, and the site of Cambie’s home is now the location of Vancouver’s tallest building, the Living Shangri-La.

Cambie was a prominent citizen of the nascent city, and was an important advocate for the development of its infrastructure. He was also instrumental in building Christ Church Cathedral, the major Anglican church in downtown Vancouver, where he was a key figure for over forty years (a memorial plaque commemorating him can be found inside the church). In this and other developments, Cambie’s connections with the CPR — and especially, its president, William Van Horne — were crucial to his success, since the company owned much of the land around Vancouver. Cambie remained employed by the CPR, only retiring in 1921.

Cambie died in Vancouver in 1928 at the age of 91.


John Henry Cambie Biography


Pat McCan

In memory of the many of those of Irish birth or descent who helped build the railways and canals of Canada from St. Johns Newfoundland to Victoria B.C. the communittee have selected the fictional name of Pat McCann in their honour so that their work and contribution to transport in Canada will always be remembered.

Between 1815 and 1867 well over a million immigrants from Great Britain entered the seven colonies of British North America: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Lower Canada (Quebec), and Upper Canada (Ontario). This large-scale movement reinforced the Anglo-Protestant character of most of the colonies. Lower Canada was, of course, the major exception; there, French-speaking Catholics represented approximately 70 percent of the population in this period. The Catholic character of the province was reinforced by the arrival of thousands of Irish immigrants, most of whom gravitated towards the rapidly expanding city of Montreal, which by 1851 had a population of about 58,000. Their integration into this new environment was not always harmonious, however.Throughout the nineteenth century Irish immigrants often vigorously competed with French Canadians for jobs, for neighbourhoods, and even for control over Catholic parishes in the city. The Irish were also an important element in the unskilled labour force of Upper Canada and New Brunswick, especially in the lumber camps and as canal and railway navvies. By the 1850s they formed a core group within the urban working class in Toronto and Saint John, New Brunswick. Competition between the Irish and other groups of immigrants from the British Isles was also evident in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.


Vancouver’s Cambie Bridge named in honour of Henry Valentine Edmonds.

Dedication Plaque on the Cambie Bridge




The Irish Navvy

  • Every morning at seven o’clock
    You see a gang of tarriers a-drillin’ in the rock
    The foreman says, “Now don’t stand still
    And come down heavy on that cast iron drill.”

Chorus: So drill, ye tarriers, drill
Drill, ye tarriers, drill
For it’s work all day for the sugar in your tay
When you work upon the CP railway
So drill, ye tarriers, drill.

Now the boss sent us to drill a hole
He cursed and damned our Irish soul
He cursed the ship that brought us through
To work on the CP railway crew

Now the foreman’s name was Pat McGann
My son, he was a darn fine man
Last week a premature blast went off
And a mile in the sky went Big Jim Gough.

Now the boys quit work to tell his wife
About how Jim had lost his life
Says she, “We’ll take him into town”
Says they, “Well he ain’t yet come down.”

But the very next day we heard a cry
And saw Big Jim coming down from the sky
He lit on the top of a big rock dump
And he said, “My Lord, that’s a hell of a bump.”

Next week when payday rolled around
Big Jim a dollar short was found
When asked what for, came this reply
“You was docked for the time you was up in the sky.”

  • Doctor Boskin is a real fine man
    He’s a man who really don’t give a damn
    He’ll give you three or four black pills
    To take you over the Eagle Hills.

Will Grant, our cook, was a Bluenose man
At making up hash, you bet he can
His bean’s so fine they’d make a stew
To fatten the ribs of the Frank Brothers crew.