Omemee, Ont. and "the Old Road"

Omemee first came to be served by a railway in late 1857, when the construction of the Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railway (as of 1870 the Midland Railway of Canada), worked its way north from Bethany along what is now Ski Hill Road, or Regional Road 38. It crossed King Street West, and then curved west along Deane Street North over to what is now Sibley Road/Avenue North, on its way to Lindsay. 

Lindsay 31D/7 topographical map DND 1931, showing the "Old Road", the junction and the West Omemee siding. The spur to the east of the village was to the Omemee tannery, later the Regal Stationery Company. The building still stands. Archives of Ontario


Aerial photo 1950s, Omemee Junction. The former roadbed north of King St. (Hwy 7) curves northwest on the west side of Deane St. North, and the former elevator is approximately two-thirds of the way between King St. and the junction itself. The site of the former junction station foundation is also apparent in the gore between the two roadbeds east of the junction. Courtesy Larry Murphy

The location of the first Omemee station is not known, but was likely in the vicinity of where the line crossed King Street West, possibly alongside Deane Street. This station was replaced by a new one in 1875 "east of the track, and not more than 20 rods north of King Street".  (A rod is an old Imperial measurement of length. There are four rods to a chain, which is 66 ft. So the second station was not to be more than 110 yards north of King Street.)

The diverging "Old Road" just east of Sibley Ave., formerly Victoria Road. The contour of the "Missing Link" mainline can be seen to the left. The view is looking east towards Sturgeon Road. 2008.


The George Stephenson Elevator remained for a number of years after the departure of "the Old Road". The view is looking southwest towards King St. from the approximate location of Deane St. North. The "Old Road" track ran south behind the buildings. Arthur Stephenson photo, Michael Stephenson Collection.

The Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railway had also built a branch from Millbrook to Peterborough in 1858. At that time there was no direct railway connection between Peterborough and Lindsay, travelers having to go via Millbrook Jct. For a more direct route between Peterborough, Lindsay and Toronto, construction of the "Missing Link" from Peterborough to meet "the Old Road" (the original direct line between Millbrook and Omemee) at Sibley Ave(Omemee West) was begun in 1882. This junction was effected in 1883 just east of Sibley Ave., and the 1875 station was then abandoned. Traces of this junction are still visible today. The first train passed over the new line on November 23, 1883. A new two-storey station and freight house were constructed in 1888 between the diverging tracks east of Sibley Ave.
(Note: The other hindrance to a direct route between Peterborough and Toronto [then via Lorneville] was eliminated by a connection between Manilla on the original Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Ry. and Blackwater [Wick Jct.] on the former Toronto & Nipissing Ry. This was completed a year or so previously, and opened for traffic in early 1883.)

The Midland Ry. was formally leased to the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (GTR) as of January 1, 1884, and was amalgamated into the GTR as of April 1, 1893. The GTR was in turn amalgamated into the new Canadian National Railways (CNR) on January 30, 1923.


Omemee Sturgeon Road station in the 1950s. The view is looking west towards Lindsay. The section house and tool shed appear down the line. Photo: Hilliard Williamson Collection, courtesy Omemee & District Historical Society.


Omemee Sturgeon Road station about 1971, turned sideways from the right-of-way. Ed Emery photo, Charles Cooper Collection.


Omemee Sturgeon Road station on the H0 scale (1:87) static diorama by Larry Murphy. Charles Cooper photo.

About 1909 the Village started to pressure the GTR to provide a more convenient stop, with the result that a platform (and later a waiting room), was established at Sturgeon Road. It is not clear when the station building now in the grounds of Lady Eaton Elementary School was erected, but it is likely sometime between 1915 and 1927. The "Old Road" between Millbrook and Omemee was abandoned in 1927. Coincidentally, on February 4, 1927 the Omemee Jct. station burned. The Lindsay Watchman-Warder of Thursday February 10, 1927 reports as follows:

Fire broke out in the Omemee Junction station about 10 o'clock Friday morning and in spite of the efforts of the fire brigade and dozens of willing workers, the building was completely destroyed. Three wells were pumped dry in an effort to subdue the flames, but all to no avail. Station master Dickson's family was in quarantine for measles, but they were quickly moved to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bradlay. The furniture downstairs was nearly all saved, but all clothing and upstairs furniture were destroyed. A passenger coach has been wired with telegraphic apparatus and is at present serving the purpose of the station, until other arrangements can be made.
(This clipping has been provided by Mr. Bob Dickson, great-grandson of Mr. William Dickson, the station agent. He also has in his possession a poignant letter from one of the station agent's sons George, to his brother James: 


... the station and house caught fire this morning between the ceiling of the waiting room and the floor of Marion's bedroom ... everything in the parlour was burned ... we got nearly everything out downstairs and in the freightshed and out in the back kitchen. It ws all a mass of ashes and burning timbers now. Twenty tons of coke is still burning ... we telephoned Lindsay before it got burning and the despatcher asked if there were any [railroad] cars in front of the station. There weren't any and he said that you won't need an engine, so he didn't have one come down until about one o'clock. It was all burnt then and they put the hose on the coke and platform, but I think it will all be gone when we get up tomorrow ... the Mixed [train] set a car off and we put in what we did save ... we do not know what they are going to do now [this presumably refers to the railway]. anyway I had better close now as I want you to get this news tomorrow [in Chicago, please note], and [Train No.] 94 will soon be here ... 
[In a footnote it appears that the reason for the fire was that "the local doctor insisted that the pipes from the waiting room stove be moved from one spot to another in the ceiling so that they would not pass through Tom's room and thus spread over the countryside the measles germs he had".]

The agent at the Junction, Mr. William Dickson, was then appointed to the smaller station at Sturgeon Road.

The last passenger train passed through Omemee on January 31, 1962, and the Lindsay – Peterborough line was abandoned in 1989.

This summary would not be complete without reference to the fact that the CPR also touched the railway history of Omemee, although much more modestly. When the Georgian Bay & Seaboard Railway was built from  Port McNicholl through to Montreal in 1912 (see my Victoria County Railway History), Omemee gained a flagstop between Franklin and Hillhead stations on the Bethany Junction - Lindsay Junction section of the line (removed in 1987). The shelter was no more than a converted old boxcar that sat on the east side of the track in Concession 10, Lot 5 of Ops Twp., south of Crosswind Road.  


CPR Omemee. Courtesy Larry Murphy

For a one-page summary of the railway history of Omemee, Ont., please click here.

For a two-page summary of the railway history of Victoria County, please click here.

Sources and recommendations for further reading:
Brown, Ron: Ghost Railways of Ontario, Vol I, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ont. 1994
Brown Ron: In Search of the Grand Trunk, Dundurn Press, Toronto, Ont. 2011
Corley, Ray: Iron Roads, Peterborough, Land of Shining Waters, an Anthology, City and County of Peterborough, Ont., U of T Press, 1967
Grand Trunk Railway, Building and Structures Inventory, Montreal, Que., 1907
Hansen, Keith: Last Trains Out of Lindsay, Sandy Flats Publications, Roseneath, Ont. 1997
Heels, Charles H.: Railroad Recollections, Museum Restoration Service, Bloomfield, Ont. 1980
Stevens, G.R.: Canadian National Railways, Volume I, Clarke Irwin, Toronto, Ont., 1960
White, James: Altitudes in Canada: Commission of Conservation, Canada. Second Edition, Ottawa, Ont., 1915.
Williamson, C. Hillier, Omemee Part I , Pigin Publishing and the Village of Omemee, 2000 

© Charles Cooper 2007. All rights reserved.

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