|James J. Hill (2002)
Together with George Stephen, Donald Smith, and Richard B. Angus, James Jerome Hill was a railway builder and member of the original syndicate that signed the contract with the Government of Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1880.
Born in Canada, James J. Hill spent the early part of his railway career building railroads in the American mid-west. Described as “short, bandy-legged, barrel-chested, and one-eyed,” his interest in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was primarily spurred by his desire to connect the CPR at Winnipeg with his own Saint Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway. Connecting the newly-formed CPR with these American routes would present a significant revenue opportunity for Hill’s lines, and also avoid the construction of the “all-Canadian route” suggested by others in the CPR syndicate, via the rugged north shore of Lake Superior.
His act in 1881 of recommending the appointment of William Cornelius Van Horne as General Manager of the CPR proved to be Hill’s major contribution to Canadian railway history. Van Horne would go on to strongly oppose Hill’s plan of using United States routings for the CPR and insisted on the construction across the north shore of Lake Superior, prompting Hill to leave the CPR in May 1883 swearing revenge against Van Horne and the CPR.
After returning to the United States, Hill began an aggressive expansion of his Great Northern Railway, promising to build his own route to the Pacific and earning him the title of the “Empire Builder.” Hill and his staff — including many fellow Canadians — transformed the American west through his railroad construction efforts of the latter part of the nineteenth century and the Great Northern Railway went on to become a formidable rival of the CPR’s Canadian transcontinental route. The Great Northern today is part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway network.