Gordon Lightfoot: Canadian Railroad Trilogy

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Canadian Railroad Trilogy

There was a time in this fair land where the railroad did not run
When the wild, majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long the wheel
When the green, dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings, and the history and has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways, and they walked the forests tall
Built the mines, mills, and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man's fancy was turning to the spring
The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their days
And many a fortune lost and won, and many a debt to pay

For they looked to the future and what did they see?
They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to the young, growing land
All up through the seaports and into their hands
Look away said they across this mighty land
From the eastern shore to the western strand

CHORUS: Bring in the workers, and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart, let the lifeblood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow

CHORUS: Bring in the workers, and bring up the rails
We gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart and let the lifeblood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow
Get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow

Behind the blue Rockies, the sun is declining
The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie, our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark oceans in a place faraway

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright, blazing sun
Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey
Bending our backs 'til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway Swinging our hammers in the bright, blazing sun Laying down track and building the bridges
Bending our old backs 'til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St. Lawrence, all the way to Gaspe
Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay
Laying them in, and tying 'em down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the living, a toast to the dead

Oh, the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountaintops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops and our toil

Oh, there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
And the wild, majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel When the green, dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green, dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men, too silent to be real















songwriter: Gordon Lightfoot

performed by: 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, he 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, 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 tempo of the song in which he starts off slowly to mimic the departure of a locomotive and speeds up intermittantly 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.

In 2001, "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was honoured as one of the Canadian MasterWorks
by the AudioVisual Preservation Trust of Canada.


Gordon Lightfoot's awards and honours are numerous: sixteen Juno Awards; ASCAP awards for songwriting; five nominations for Grammy Awards; and induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986 as well as the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2003, he was made Companion of the Order of Canada, citizenry's highest honour. In addition, Lightfoot is also a member of the Order of Ontario, the province's highest honour.























Canadian Railroad Trilogy

There was a time in this fair land where the railroad did not run
When the wild, majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long the wheel
When the green, dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings, and the history and has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways, and they walked the forests tall
Built the mines, mills, and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man's fancy was turning to the spring
The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their days
And many a fortune lost and won, and many a debt to pay

For they looked to the future and what did they see?
They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to the young, growing land
All up through the seaports and into their hands
Look away said they across this mighty land
From the eastern shore to the western strand

CHORUS: Bring in the workers, and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart, let the lifeblood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow

CHORUS: Bring in the workers, and bring up the rails
We gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart and let the lifeblood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow
Get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow

Behind the blue Rockies, the sun is declining
The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie, our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark oceans in a place faraway

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright, blazing sun
Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey
Bending our backs 'til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway Swinging our hammers in the bright, blazing sun Laying down track and building the bridges
Bending our old backs 'til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St. Lawrence, all the way to Gaspe
Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay
Laying them in, and tying 'em down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the living, a toast to the dead

Oh, the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountaintops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops and our toil

Oh, there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
And the wild, majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel When the green, dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green, dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men, too silent to be real















songwriter: Gordon Lightfoot

performed by: 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, he 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, 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 tempo of the song in which he starts off slowly to mimic the departure of a locomotive and speeds up intermittantly 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.

In 2001, "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was honoured as one of the Canadian MasterWorks
by the AudioVisual Preservation Trust of Canada.


Gordon Lightfoot's awards and honours are numerous: sixteen Juno Awards; ASCAP awards for songwriting; five nominations for Grammy Awards; and induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986 as well as the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2003, he was made Companion of the Order of Canada, citizenry's highest honour. In addition, Lightfoot is also a member of the Order of Ontario, the province's highest honour.























+21 -5
Quiz #: 2868
Teachers, students, fellow bloggers...this is a true Canadian classic, so treat it with reverence.
Quiz by: Sharon Michiko Yoneda
High Intermediate

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