Dreams in Treasure Island

24 April 2015

Empire and Globalism | History


At the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925 the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, aiming to promote their railway to a British audience, showcased their wildly popular ‘Treasure Island’ installation. The island was a magical world created for children and big children alike where they could clamber aboard miniature trains Peter Pan and Alice to explore the Canadian Rockies. On board they would pass landmarks such as Mount Sir Donald and Lake Louise, meeting their familiar friends Miss Muffett, Jack and Jill and Mother Goose.

                             Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The custom of migrants had always been integral to the success of CPR. The Empire Settlement Act passed in British Parliament in the early 1920s brought about provision for the assisted passage of citizens to Canada and was utilised by over 130,000 people. It was important for CPR to secure the custom of these new migrants, as well as to play in a role in encouraging more across the Atlantic.

This leaflet, from the Robert Opie collection to be included in part one of our upcoming Migration to New Worlds resource, presents a beautifully illustrated and romanticised narrative of the Treasure Island journey. The author Charles Rudy begins:
‘Let me whisper you a big, big secret – of an Island of Treasures tucked away where only you and I who have eyes that see pictures will ever find it.’

Later he describes the scenery:
‘We are in the Rockies, following the famous Canadian Pacific route from sea to sea. Suddenly to our left, we see Lake Louise, the gem of lakes, lit up like a living picture.’

                           Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The narrative ends with the grown up following the children and taking the leap of faith, lured by the promise of adventure and the reassurance of a childhood friend: ‘“Oh come, uncle, let’s go down to Banff Station.” “Yes, do take them,” – the voice was a sweet one and I turned; there was Peter Pan the real Peter Pan-“and let them slide down the shoot instead of walking down.” There was no resisting. So I saw the youngsters shoot down to the beach and then my turn came.’

The exhibition was a huge success and the miniature trains carried over half a million visitors before the closing day, including royal visitors King George and Queen Mary. CPR later went on to continue this success, showcasing Treasure Island at exhibitions around the world.



Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Migration to New Worlds features primary sources taken from leading archives such as Museum Victoria, The National Archives, Merseyside Maritime Museum and the California Historical Society. Available from November, it tracks the migration of people from Great Britain, mainland Europe and Asia to the New World and Australasia. To find out more, click here.



About the Author

Rosie Perry

Rosie Perry

Since joining Adam Matthew in April 2014 I have worked on a variety of projects including Mass Observation Online and American History 1493-1945. Previous to this I completed a degree in Art History and particularly enjoy exploring and discovering the rich visual content of our resources.