Site 10: Van Horne Farm

Sir William Cornelius Van Horne is famous for his work on the Canadian Pacific and other railways. He was a Renaissance man whose interests carried him into, among other things, farming. The farm he owned in St. Clements was a noteworthy landmark for decades.


Sir William Cornelius Van Horne was born the son of a lawyer in Illinois in 1843. When he was eleven, his father died, and he began finding work wherever he could.


At 14, he dropped out of school after insubordinate behaviour to the teacher. Even so, he proved himself an able worker and advanced through the ranks as a railway employee in his 20s.


On December 31, 1881, Van Horne arrived in Winnipeg, as the replacement for a less capable organizer on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He spent the next 34 years of his life in Canada, becoming famous for his role in the completion of the transcontinental line.


In his later years, he also built railways in Cuba. There, he established an experimental farm that was modelled on his East Selkirk operation.


Aside from railway ventures and 40 other businesses he managed over the course of his career, Van Horne engaged in various cultured pursuits. He was known to have one of Canada’s most distinguished art collections, and was an aspiring artist himself.


He was also responsible for commissioning the Canadian Pacific Railway artists to promote settlement and commerce in western Canada.


Van Horne’s astounding success was the result of his firm character. He was a very energetic man, with decisiveness, and a terrific memory. The first tenant in his creed was discipline. He required productivity of both himself and his employees.


He was also very much a family man who loved his wife and children deeply.


Van Horne’s 1915 funeral was held in a Unitarian church. This was a convenience. He said that man made his own gods.


Van Horne believed in strength and human self-sufficiency, trusting in his own tremendous success. Nevertheless, he had still absorbed the values of the Protestant work ethic of the Victorian era in which he lived.