William Cornelius Van Horne bigraphy, stories - Canadian businessman

William Cornelius Van Horne : biography

February 3, 1843 - September 11, 1915

Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, KCMG (February 3, 1843 – September 11, 1915) succeeded Lord Mount Stephen as President of Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888. He was key in building the Cuba Railway in 1901. He lived at the Van Horne Mansion in Montreal's Golden Square Mile.


Sir William Van Horne Elementary School in Vancouver, BC, is named after Van Horne, in honour of his contributions to British Columbia. There are streets named for Van Horne in several Canadian cities including Montreal, Toronto,Eric Ross Arthur and Stephen A. Otto, , University of Toronto Press, 1986, p. 292 Winnipeg, Sudbury and Brandon. In 2011, Van Horne was featured in Rocky Mountain Express, a 45-minute IMAX film about the construction of the CPR. In Cuba, a borough of the city of Camaguey (near to the railways) is named after van Horne, also a small stations in Central Railroad in the Province of Holguín.

Horne's summer estate on Minister's Island was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996.

Early life

Born in 1843 in rural Illinois, he moved with his family to Joliet, Illinois, when he was eight years old. He was the eldest child of Cornelius Covenhoven Van Horne (1794-1854) and his second wife Mary Minier Richards of Sandusky, Ohio. His father was of Dutch origin and studied law at Union College, but took his family out west to seek his fortune farming. Misfortune followed as his house, barns and law books were destroyed by fire, and his first wife died shortly afterwards. Abandoning farming, he returned to the law and became Recorder of Will County, Illinois, moving his family to Joliet. He was active in getting the city its first charter, and because of this he was elected Joliet's first Mayor. When the city later built a new bridge it was named The Van Horne Bridge.


Van Horne considered the railway an integrated communications and transportation system and convinced the directors and shareholders to create a telegraph service and an express freight delivery service as a complement to the railway. Van Horne was knowledgeable in nearly every element of the railway industry, including operating a locomotive. A wealthy man, he later became an investor of the Cuba Railroad Company, which managed to build the first trans-country railway connecting Havana with the two eastern provinces (Camaguey and Oriente) and the city of Santiago de Cuba in 1901.

He was also responsible for launching the sea transport division of the Canadian Pacific Railway, inaugurating a regular service between Vancouver and Hong Kong in 1891 on the Empress luxury liners, and lastly presided over the expansion of the CPR in the luxury hotel business and participated in the design of two of the most famous buildings in the chain, the Château Frontenac in Quebec City and Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta.

Van Horne served as a governor of McGill University from 1895–1915 and was one of the first in Canada to acquire artworks by members of the French impressionist movement.

He built the Van Horne Mansion in Montreal and a large summer estate which he named "Covenhoven" on Minister's Island, adjacent to CPR's resort town of St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The island estate is accessible by a road during the Bay of Fundy's low tide.

Following Van Horne's death in Montreal, Quebec in 1915 at the age of 72, his remains were interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Joliet, Illinois. His Montreal home in the Golden Square Mile was controversially demolished in 1973.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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