Go back to article: Uncovering the secrets of Canadian Pacific


Canadian Pacific stands as a powerful symbol of the work carried out by women in the Second World War. However, without the struggles of women on the early railways and the major changes carved out by women in the First World War this would not have been possible. Women worked on the railways as early as 1850 but real change occurred with the onset of the First World War. Women entered the railways in large numbers at this time, taking on jobs never before performed by women. It was not an easy task as railwaymen had many objections to female workers. But their perseverance and hard work challenged perceptions of women being both mentally and physically incapable of railway work. Even if, at the end of the First World War, women were forced back into female roles, their pioneering spirit paved the way for women in the Second World War to perform more physically demanding jobs, opening up more jobs even in the traditionally male preserve of the railway workshop. All this led to the ultimate achievement for women – to be involved in the building of locomotives, of which Canadian Pacific is a shining example.

Canadian Pacific, although in its third overhaul in preservation and much changed from its original design in 1941, is still a powerful symbol of the work carried out by women during the Second World War. We are lucky that some of the original locomotive survives and although the current work to restore her will further reduce its ‘originality’, it is an exemplar and surviving symbol of the work of women on the railways during this time. Eleven of the Merchant Navy class survive today, with 35029 Ellerman Lines preserved and sectioned in the National Railway Museum at York. However, Ellerman Lines was not built until 1949 when Eastleigh Works had lost the majority of its female staff, particularly those that had held male roles.

Canadian Pacific is a testament to the women who were engaged in skilled work in the railway engineering workshops during the Second World War. Historians have not given this contribution to the war effort the recognition it deserves and in many cases they gloss over the extent of women’s involvement with the railways. The locomotive is remembered for its performance and design rather than it being an example of female engineering. In fact, Canadian Pacific is also a tribute to the female workers that built the locomotive.

Figure 12

Colour photograph of the Canadian Pacific steam train on the move

35005 Canadian Pacific running across the Mid Hants Railway ‘Watercress Line’, Hampshire



I would like to express my very great appreciation to the Mid Hants Railway who have allowed me as part of the Canadian Pacific Project to research this topic. I also wish to acknowledge the help provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund who have generously given the project £895,000 to help us restore Canadian Pacific to working condition.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/181010/006