The Canadian Railroad Trilogy

Gordon Lightfoot: Canadian Railroad Trilogy

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

 "When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun"

"When the green dark forest was too silent to be real."

 "As to this verdant country they came from all around. They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forest tall"

"And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay."

 "They saw an iron road runnin' from the sea to the sea."

"Bring in the workers and bring up the rails. We got to lay down the track and tear up the trails."

 "We are the navvies who work upon the railway. Swingin' our hammers in the bright blazin' sun."

 "And many are the dead men, too silent to be real"

artist:  Gordon Lightfoot

songwriter:  Gordon Lightfoot

date released:  1970 by Gordon Lightfoot

 Born in Orillia, Ontario, in 1938, Gordon Lightfoot is regarded as a national treasure in the realm of Canadian music. As a youth, singing in a choir encouraged emotion and confidence in his young voice.  As a teenager, he learned to play the piano and later taught himself to play drums and other percussive instruments. Playing the guitar was soon added to his many natural talents. Later, he moved to California where he studied jazz and orchestration for two years and jammed with many American luminaries in the folk and jazz genres.

Lightfoot returned to Canada in 1960 and began his professional singing career with various groups; as well, as developing a talent for songwriting.  His first big hits as a songwriter came for the group, Peter, Paul and Mary in "In the Early Morning Rain" and "For Lovin' Me". He went on to write hit songs for other well-known artists.

 Between 1965 and 1969, Lightfoot recorded his own songs which consistently placed in Canada's Top 40. 

Undoubtedly, Lightfoot's greatest tribute to his Canadian roots came with his songwriting and production of The Canadian Railroad Trilogy in 1967, Canada's Centennial year. Commissioned by the CBC, the song glorifies the history and the optimism of the railroad age as it unified the country from east to west. Lightfoot's musical artistry is apparent in the song's tempo in which he starts off slowly to mimic the departure of a locomotive and speeds up intermittently as a train would over the diverse terrain of Canada.  

In this song, Lightfoot omits nothing; the tragic themes of the building of the railroad are also represented in the slowing of the tempo in the middle of the song.  Listeners envision the toil, the sweat and the bloodshed of "the navvies" in building "an iron road runnin' from sea to the sea."  As a Westerner, I am particularly reminded of the sacrifice of the Asian Canadians whose sorrows remain largely unrecognized in Canadian railroad history.