CPR 2514 - Colonist Sleeper Car
Colonist cars were passenger coaches designed in the late 1800’s to provide inexpensive long-distance transportation for immigrants as they moved west, thousands of miles from the eastern seaports where they arrived.
They were first designed as boxcars with benches around the side, which could be converted to grain cars for the return trip east. By the 1890’s, large fleets were developed providing sleeping berths and kitchens so immigrant families could cook their own meals while aboard the train. Passengers could travel from Montreal to Vancouver for $7/person but they were required to provide their own food and bedding. The CPR eventually built a fleet of over a thousand colonist cars which played a key role in settling the Canadian West. (Check out the 1889 railway map of Canada to see what our country looked like more than 100 years ago).
During immigration restrictions in the 1920’s many colonist cars were converted to combine cars (carrying passengers and freight). They saw a renewed use in World War II as they were used to transport troops. By the 1960’s most colonist cars were worn out and replaced by standard passenger cars. Our No. 2514 Colonist Sleeper Car was built in 1905 and is only one of two colonist cars preserved in Canada.
In 1981, one of our WCRA members, Craig McDowall discovered the No. 2514 in the CPR Esquimalt yard in Victoria. It was being considered for disposal after years of “Maintenance of Way” use, (maintaining the upkeep and repair of the railroads) on Vancouver Island. After arranging purchase and prior to transportation by barge back to Vancouver, Craig went back to the island with another WCRA member, Grant Ferguson, and tarped the roof to prevent further water damage to the car.
The car had rotten wood throughout which required the interior to be completely stripped and replaced. Everything including original berths and seating, was saved to be re-used or to be used as templates for future renovations. The No. 2514 Colonist Sleeper Car is now an interpretive exhibit of how the railways wooed Europeans to Canada and then to the west. Currently two sets of replica berths are being created by our craftsmen and will show how the interior of such a car would have looked in the early 1900's.