William Cornelius Van Horne

 © David W. Watts

When we set out on our national dream

Not knowing what we’d pay

Sir John made the contract perfectly clear:

Canadian all the way”

For some that meant the bosses must

Be Brits right down the hall

But a capital find came from south of the line—

The best one of them all.


O William Cornelius Van Horne: with you we won the day:

Drove through the line, and did it on time—well done in every way.


Will went to work when his father died

Once day he chanced to see

A railroad czar in his private car

And said “That’s the job for me!”

He learned the railroad inside out:

Each tool and trade explored

At twenty-eight he was Superintendent—

The youngest in the world.


Will Cornelius came north to build

The longest railway line

Sidelining those with conflict of interest

South of Forty-Nine.

The Dominion of Canada built its way

On the path of the CPR

Five hundred miles a year, and twenty a day

Dispatched from his railway car.




He’d show up out of nowhere in his private car

Roll up his sleeves and then

Place timbers and stones with his own two hands

And rally the working men

He’d join them at poker for hours on end

With a science, played to win

When they went to bed, he’d refresh with an air

Playing his violin.


O William Cornelius Van Horne: you showed us how to play…

Drove through the line, and did it on time–well done in every way.


He told speculators betting on stations:

Don’t put me to the test”

When Calgary bet near St. George’s Island—

He moved it one mile west

Port Moody said “We’ve got it in the bag

As the terminal on the sea”

But Van Horne pushed on to Gastown and said

Vancouver it will be.”




He ran an empire with an even hand

On the front or Montreal

From trout on a menu to fossils in rock

No matter was too small

Cities, towns, careers and fortunes

Moved at his command

And the height of his art was to say it in words

That all could understand.


When Donald Smith drove the Last Spike home

On his second try

Calls of “Speech” went up from the crowd

Of workers standing by

Van Horne was there to oversee

As the lines were finally joined

And the fifteen words he spoke that day

Were brief and to the point:

All I can say is that the work has been well done, in every way.”




William Van Horne came here on a job

And made up his mind to stay

Passing up offers with five figures

Back in the U.S.A.

Some Canadians followed fortunes south

Or titles across the sea—

Van Horne showed home isn’t birth but commitment:

Where we choose to be.


O William Cornelius Van Horne: we’re glad you chose to stay

Drove through the line, and did it on time—well done in every way.