Completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway Introduced New Diseases in the West


The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, infamously known as the 'Last Spike,' occurred on Nov. 7, 1885. With this new transportation network came a host of new diseases to the Plains which further devastated malnourished reserve communities on the southern plains. In 1886, whooping cough & measles, which was particularly deadly spread to the Plains via the railway. Some of the Cree population who travelled as far north as Peace River to find relief from introduced disease in southern reserves, suffered consumption (tuberculosis), rheumatism, and scrofula and competition for resources with the local Dane-zaa population.



As conditions in reserve communities continued to worsen a divergence in health outcomes between mildly affected northerners and southerners from the reserve communities became apparent. Aside from the measles epidemic which spread among the northern communities, Indigenous populations in the north did not suffer the same level of food scarcity or tuberculosis that effected southern communities. Northern communities relied less on the bison population that was rapidly dwindling due to American Settlers south of the 49th parallel, as such northern populations did not endure the same food crisis as those of the southern Plains. By and large, the northern populations also benefited from a greater deal of isolation from emerging European settlements and less contact with the Department of Indian Affairs.



Daschuk, James W. Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013. 100-110.