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The National Dream: The Great Railway, 1871-1881
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The National Dream: The Great Railway, 1871-1881

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  320 ratings  ·  22 reviews
In 1871, a tiny nation, just four years old — it's population well below the 4 million mark — determined that it would build the world's longest railroad across empty country, much of it unexplored. This decision — bold to the point of recklessness — was to change the lives of every man, woman and child in Canada and alter the shape of the nation.

Using primary sources — di
Paperback, 456 pages
Published August 14th 2001 by Anchor Canada (first published January 1st 1970)
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3.97  · 
Rating details
 ·  320 ratings  ·  22 reviews

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Mikey B.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, history
This is the first volume, of two, on the building of the railroad across Canada. As the title suggests this is the dream portion – the lead-up of parliamentary debates, potential railroad builders, and the land surveyors.

Background and Geography

British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast, joined the Canadian Confederation as a province in 1871. The deal that clenched this decision was a promise to connect British Columbia by railroad to the eastern provinces. This was no simple task. It would requi
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canada-eh
Pierre Berton was one of Canada's most popular historians, from the Donald Creighton school which opted for abandoning footnotes and references and dry overviews in favor of relating history like a good story—full of anecdote and big personalities—written more to appeal to fiction lovers than scholars. People have nitpicked about inaccuracies and liberties that Berton has taken with his subject matter over the years, but that overlooks his towering strength: the ability to make potentially dull ...more
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Received the two volume box set for Christmas, when I was 13, and still own it almost 40 years later. Pierre Berton's true masterpiece, bringing Canadian history to life, painting a portrait of what Canada was in the 1870's and 1880's. Although the railroad is built in The Last Spike, it is The National Dream where many dreamed of the future Canada and Berton lays out the visions of many.

From surveyor Walter Moberly, to Sandford Fleming; from Donald Smith to Charles Tupper; most of all the real
Gail Amendt
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is Part 1 of the story of the birth of Canada as a nation. Yes, I know that Confederation was in 1867, but with the addition of Manitoba and British Columbia, Canada had a big problem. It was virtually impossible to travel to these new provinces from the eastern provinces, and they really didn't feel connected to their new country. As it was considerably easier to travel north and south than it was east and west, people usually traveled to these provinces through the United States. It seeme ...more
Steve Tripp
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I remember being 12 or 13 when the CBC made Pierre Burton’s “The National Dream” and “The Last Spike” into a mini series. Being the son of a lifelong (2nd generation) CP Railway man (who was a bit of a railway historian), I recall that it became mandatory viewing in our house … all 8 painful hours. Nothing like being forced to study boring old Canadian history.

Fast forward to 2017; my friend Helen’s choir sang a rousing rendition of The Canadian Railway Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot at their summ
Debi Robertson
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Trying to read more Canadian history/authors for our 150th celebration. This book was interesting and one I have wanted to read for a long time. I was flabbergasted at the amount of corruption involved and the political fighting. I expected some but this was way beyond my imagination. It is a wonder that the railroad was ever started never mind completed. I found towards the end of the book the politics was getting tedious. Worth the read for the educational scope it provides. Berton does our hi ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it liked it
While definitely not my favourite Berton book thus far, it was an important read. The book is not bad; the content is just super dry 19th century politics which can make it a serious slog. Worth reading for historical import and I look forward to Vol II which covers the actual construction.
Glenn Schmelzle
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
You'll want to read its companion, the Last Spike
Marco den Ouden
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellent history of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. One of the things I like in history as written by Pierre Berton is his extensive use of anecdotes to bring the story alive. One I particularly liked in this book was the time John A. MacDonald was whistlestopping across the country during an election. He often spoke to crowds from the rear platform of the last coach on the train. On one occasion, John A., who was a notable toper, felt the booze swirling in his belly and spewe ...more
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was expecting something different from this book. If I had remembered more of what when on in high school I wouldn't have. I was expecting and wanted to read about the actual laying of the track and the trials and tribulations and I was expecting to read about the people that actually did the work. Instead the book was about the politics behind the railway and getting the financing for it. It was slow going and way more information that I "needed/wanted" - educational though and I'm glad I rea ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Canada begins here: this is Pierre Burton's thesis as he takes from from BC entering Confederation on the promise of the railway, to the Pacific Scandal, to the iron will and tortured soul of Sir John A. Macdonald. When you have finished the book, you WILL agree: Canada begins here, and we all owe a great deal to Macdonald for ensuring its birth. Steel and spirit and sweat...all present and correct, tied together with prose that flows like water.
Oct 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canadiana, history
Oh Pierre Burton....a staple of Canadian life, history and culture. The man has written what feels like 100 books on Canadian history, making him somewhat of the definitive source on the topic.

The National Dream is one of my favourites of his because the building of the CPR is such an integral point in history. The subject could come across very very dry, but in Burton's hands the material comes to life.
Jun 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Pierre Berton has often taken hits on his tendency to veer away from the facts for the sake of the story. However, through the years, he has made Canadian history exciting for many students. For this he should be commended. Often Canadian historians have written Canadian history as if it should be read in a University undergraduate class. Berton turned people on to our history and made it enjoyable to read.
May 30, 2015 rated it liked it
This book was a bit of a slower read for me. I think the problem was that I finished a biography of John A. right before this; and it was much of the same material. I definitely enjoyed the parts particularly about the Canadian Pacific Survey and the plights of the surveyors and their animals. I also enjoyed the many fantastic maps throughout. I will take a break before reading part 2 of this duo so I hopefully won't take as long to read it.
Feb 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Great history behind the politics of nation building. In 1871 British Columbia joined with Canada on the promise of an intercontinental rail connection that would be completed in ten years. This is the story of the struggle to keep that promise, the rise, fall and rise of Prime Minister Macdonald, and the birth of some of the east vs. west animosities that exist to this day in Canada. For those interested in Canadian history and politics, this is a must-read.
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Pierre Berton's book made for an interesting read about the history of the building of the transcontinental railway as told from a political and on the ground story. I look forward to reading the next book The Last Spike.
Dennis Osborne
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book 25 yrs ago. Remains a fascinating read on the building of the CPR. This book focuses mainly on the political side of getting the " Dream" pushed through. The follow-up novel "The Last Spike" deals more on the building of the railway
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Love the way Burton teaches history. He includes all the little stories that make the big picture so interesting. All the gossip of the time.
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a truly great account of the building of the railroad across Canada....a part of Canada's history
I think this taught me more about business than about trains.
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It was very interesting and I learned a great deal. I remember learning about the Pacific Scandal in school, but I had no idea the complexities involved in creating the CPR.
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this for a paper I wrote for a Canadian History course long long ago, and I remember it so clearly. Still hoping to take the train across Canada someday!
Bjorn Radstrom
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Apr 05, 2017
Gerry Mills
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Mar 28, 2011
Chad Gilmour
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Jan 21, 2016
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Aug 06, 2015
Jay Warner
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Jan 13, 2010
Wesley Pesley
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Jul 14, 2013
Lyle Richardson
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Jul 25, 2011
Matthew Gallant
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Sep 16, 2012
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From narrative histories and popular culture, to picture and coffee table books to anthologies, to stories for children to readable, historical works for youth, many of his books are now Canadian classics.

Born in 1920 and raised in the Yukon, Pierre Berton worked in Klondike mining camps during his university years. He spent four years in the army, rising from private to captain/instructor at the