Passengers listen in aboard Maple Leaf radio car CSTM/CN Collection: CN000299

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) emerged out of the Canadian National Railway Ottawa (CNRO) radio network. CNR President Henry Thornton believed radio broadcasts would enhance the experience of travellers as well as facilitate management of the railway system.

Station personnel in CNRO broadcast room, 1926 CSTMC/CN Collection CN000300

Beginning as a relay station for route information, CNRO soon began to broadcast programs that it thought would educate and unite Canadians such as high brow drama and classical music.

Train crewman communicates by radio, Hornepayne, Ontario, Canada, 1957 CSTMC/CN Collection CN000310

CNR workers used handheld radios to keep track of freight cars across Canada.

Downtown Ottawa showing the Chateau Laurier at left and Union Station at right CSTM/CN Collection: CN002816

CNRO operated out of the Jackson Building on Bank Street between 1924 and 1929 before moving to the Chateau Laurier directly opposite Union Station. From there the CBC would transmit for eighty years until moving to its current location on Sparks Street in 2004.

CBC Radio Logo from CBC Radio Magazine, CSTM collection. Photo: Phoebe Mannell.

The formation of a coast-to-coast railway and radio network were important elements in shaping Canadian national identity. With so much of the CBC now located in Toronto and Montreal, it is worth remembering that the Jackson Building, the Chateau Laurier, and Union Station played such an essential role in the making of Ottawa as the nation’s capital through railways and radio waves.


This story was researched and developed by Phoebe Mannell as a contribution to the Workers’ History Museum’s Capital History Kiosk’s project for Ottawa 2017. It formed part of her course work for Professor David Dean’s graduate seminar on museums, national identity, and public memory (Department of History, Carleton University).

We are grateful to the Canadian Science and Technology Museum for permission to use photographs in their collections.

Thanks also to Megan Michie of the City of Ottawa and Marie-Soleil Bergeron of Ottawa 2017 for their assistance, and to councillor Catherine McKenny and the Glebe BIA for their support.

This entry for capitalhistory.ca and its related installation at Bank and Exhibition was made possible by Ottawa 2017, CIBC and the three Arts, Culture and Heritage Program Stewarding Partners AOE Arts Council, Ottawa Arts Council and Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa.


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