Gordon Lightfoot composed “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” to commemorate the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The work was commissioned by Canadian Broadcast Corporation to start the centennial year. It was broadcast on 1 January, 1967, as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations.
The song encompasses the extremes of the railroad age – the enormous optimism as well as the unrelenting hardship of building an iron track from sea to sea.
Lightfoot’s masterpiece also gives a voice to the navies, the unskilled labour force, mostly from Scotland and Ireland, who made the vision possible at great personal expense.
“We are the navies who work upon the railway
Swingin’ our hammers in the bright blazin’ sun
Livin’ on stew and drinkin’ bad whiskey
Bendin’ our old backs till the long days are done.”