Canadian Railroad Trilogy

Album: The Way I Feel (1967)
  • There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
    When 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

    But time has no beginnings and hist'ry 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 the mills and the factories for the good of us all

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

    For they looked in the future and what did they see
    They saw an iron road runnin' from sea to the sea
    Bringin' the goods to a young growin' 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
    Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
    We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
    Open 'er heart let the life blood flow
    Gotta get on our way 'cause we're movin' too slow

    Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
    We're gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
    Open 'er heart let the life blood flow
    Gotta get on our way 'cause we're movin' too slow
    Get on our way 'cause we're movin' too slow

    Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declinin'
    The stars, they come stealin' at the close of the day
    Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
    Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

    We are the navvies who work upon the railway
    Swingin' our hammers in the bright blazin' sun
    Livin' on stew and drinkin' bad whiskey
    Bendin' our old backs 'til the long days are done

    We are the navvies who work upon the railway
    Swingin' our hammers in the bright blazin' sun
    Layin' down track and buildin' the bridges
    Bendin' 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
    Swingin' our hammers and drawin' our pay
    Drivin' 'em in and tyin' 'em down
    Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
    A dollar a day and a place for my head
    A drink to the livin' and a toast to the dead

    Oh the song of the future has been sung
    All the battles have been won
    O'er the mountain tops we stand
    All the world at our command
    We have opened up the soil
    With our teardrops and our toil

    For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
    When 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 Writer/s: Gordon Lightfoot
    Publisher: Warner Chappell Music, Inc.
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 8

  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenLightfoot's comments (from his "Songbook" collection): This was part of a two-hour special that was played on New Year's afternoon. I got the idea to write it long from a mentor of mine named Bob Gibson, who is a major figure in the folk revival. He had written a song called "Civil War Trilogy," which had a slow part in the middle, and I followed that pattern. Without a piece of input like that, I probably wouldn't have been able to approach the song on that basis. The song says a lot. Canadian author Pierre Berton said to me, 'You know, Gord, you said as much in that song as I said in my book [about the building of the railroad across Canada].' I appreciated the compliment."
  • Phil from Wales, UkThe song was commissioned as a part of the celebrations of Canada's Centenial year (1967). A very moving song which I latched onto during the 8 months I spent in Canada that year. I haven't been back since but I still love the song.
  • Meocyber from Alma, Co Gordon' one of my top solo gutarists/composers. This song ,to me, talks of humans exploring and advancing to seek better lives in the unknown wilderness. Pretty and optimistic.
  • Heather from Los Angeles, CaI love Lightfoot's voice. He can take a Canadian history lesson and weave it into a touching, spellbinding song.
  • Nathan from From The Country Of, CanadaI hate to be an anti-narcissist Canadian, but thank you to the Chinese for our railroad.
  • Jodi from London, OnHearing this song is one of the few things that makes me proud of my country.
  • Kelley from Hickory, KyThere have been a lot of great train songs over the years, this one and "City of New Orleans" are the best. Sadly Americans know little about the building of our own transcontinental railroad, much less the Canadian achievement. Canadians get this great masterpiece; Americans get "I been workin' on the railroad, all the live-long day"
  • Roger from Mokena, IlPerhaps the "greatest train song ever written", said the late Johnnie Cash. I agree.
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