Dufferin County, which was formed in 1881 from parts of Grey and Wellington (and Simcoe) Counties, is a “gatekeeper” (along with Wellington) in any discourse over the emergence of railways in Grey and Bruce Counties. It was also agriculture-based and therefore had the same interest in the advent of a railway to promote its prosperity. The Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway reached Orangeville in 1871, and the formal opening took place on November 3 of that year in Orangeville with the usual grand dinner, ball and plethora of interminable Victorian-style speeches and toasts. The Orangeville Sun reported that “the celebration of the formal opening of the TG&B was an epoch in the history of Orangeville. The days of muddy roads and inconvenient staging over the bleak mountains of Caledon receded into the irrevocable past, and a means of locomotion, in accordance with the progress of the age and the rapidly increasing requirements of the country, was introduced among us.”
Dufferin County is unusual, if not unique, in only having been served by the CPR (except for that brief period between 1880 and 1883 when the Grand Trunk was aiming for control of the TG&B) in the grand struggle of competition between the Grand Trunk and the Canadian Pacific for traffic supremacy in Ontario in the late 19th century.
In 1849, the Province of Canada passed loan interest legislation that triggered Canada’s railway building boom. Unfortunately, in 1851 the Province of Canada enacted further, inter alia, to create a Board of Railway Commissioners, one of whose duties was to administer the 1849 loan interest guarantee. The Board required that to obtain the loan interest guarantee benefit, any railway had to build to the 5ft 6in gauge, which came to be known as the "Provincial" or "Broad" Gauge.
During this “broad gauge” era of railway development in Upper Canada from 1850 to 1870, one George Laidlaw rose to prominence as an advocate of the economies of the narrow gauge. An emigrant from Scotland, he obtained a position with the Toronto distillery firm of Gooderham & Worts, and persuaded his employers to invest in the narrow gauge concept in sponsoring feeder lines for their business. Accordingly on March 4, 1868, the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway (TG&B) was chartered “to build from Toronto to Orangeville, Mount Forest, Durham and Southampton; with branch to Kincardine and Owen Sound.”
The objects were (1) to provide a pipeline of grain to the distillery; (2) to break the firewood monopoly of Toronto’s existing development road, the Northern Railway of Canada; (3) to provide increased business from railway access to Grey and Bruce Counties; and (4) primarily, to establish a port for trade and transfer on Georgian Bay in competition with the Northern Railway of Canada, and secondarily, ports for trade on the Lake Huron coast.
The first sod was turned at Weston on October 5, 1869 with HRH Prince Arthur presiding. Construction from Queen’s Wharf in Toronto began immediately, facilitated between there and Weston by a third rail on the GTR’s Stratford-Sarnia line. It then wound its way around the Humber River in Woodbridge, pushing out to Bolton and then addressed the Caledon hills with its innovative but later notorious Horseshoe Curve. It reached Orangeville in mid-1871, and Mount Forest in December of that same year.
The original plan was to build from Orangeville to Mount Forest, with a “Grey” branch from there to Owen Sound; and a “Bruce” branch on to Walkerton, with two lines from there to Kincardine and to Southampton. The politics of municipal bonuses, the premier revenue source, did however lead to a change in this plan. In a deft feint, the new plan for Owen Sound was to build direct northwards from Fraxa Junction, leaving speculators along the anticipated way holding an empty bag. The rails of the Owen Sound branch reached there in June 1873, just over a year later after the Northern reached Meaford with its belated North Grey Railway in April 1872.
As the TG&B had beaten out the plan of the Northern to reach Owen Sound, so however did the Wellington, Grey & Bruce (sponsored by the Great Western Railway) dash the TG&B’s plans for Kincardine and Southampton, so that instead of continuing on from Mount Forest to Walkerton, the TG&B settled for an extension to Teeswater (completed in 1874), even foregoing a spur to Wingham (later installed by the CPR in 1887).
In summary, the TG&B did a most satisfactory job of bringing a railway to Dufferin and Grey Counties, but its promise to Bruce was met only with its line from Fraxa Junction (just northwest of Orangeville) to Teeswater, barely into the county; notwithstanding its charter objectives. Its successor owner, the CPR, built a branch from Saugeen Junction, just south of Flesherton, to Durham, Hanover and Walkerton in 1906.
By 1865, George Laidlaw had become a grain merchant in his own right, and his passion for transportation issues (the benefits of the narrow gauge system in particular) and his involvement with railway projects had come to dominate his career. After inception of the TG&B and the T&N, Laidlaw also became a moving force in the Credit Valley and the Victoria Railways. While the disadvantages of the narrow gauge system had not yet become apparent, in the meantime, the 5’6” “Provincial Gauge” was falling economically and politically out of favour. During the 1870s, in order for any railway to obtain the important contribution of the now Government of Ontario grants, it had to be built to the 4’8½” Standard Gauge, making Laidlaw’s hitherto favourite denunciation of railway construction profligacy moot.
In 1870, the Credit Valley Railway was incorporated to build from Toronto to Orangeville, via the Credit River Valley and Streetsville; with branches to Galt, Berlin, Waterloo, etc.; and then had its charter amended in 1873 with power to extend to Woodstock and St. Thomas; entered into amalgamation with the Ontario & Quebec Railway (O&Q) in 1884, and then as the O&Q in 1887 had its charter extended to the Detroit River. By 1881, the newly-engineered Credit Valley was in financial difficulty (as were many other fledgling railways at that time, including the TG&B and the T&N). Laidlaw was commercially and politically very well-connected and in particular was on good terms with George Stephen, who was the driving force behind the CPR syndicate and its secondary ambition for Ontario (the primary one being of course the transcontinental railway). Going by its name, the primary focus of the Credit Valley may reasonably have been assumed to be a connection with Orangeville (although why remains a conundrum, in view of the fact that Laidlaw’s TG&B had already been there since 1871, but perhaps it was the prospective entry into Wellington County to Fergus and Elora), but the CPR’s focus was on the “branch” to Woodstock, as the line’s subsequent extension to St. Thomas and beyond made abundantly clear.
Surveys were in hand by 1873, and construction followed in 1874, a major engineering challenge being the numerous bridges including the iconic trestle across the Forks of Credit. Aside from the straight engineering challenges, the project was plagued by lawsuits over land, labour problems, financing difficulties, loss of supplies at sea, fence and snow-clearing issues, and the extra-ordinarily complex issue of trackage rights into Toronto itself. In the event, the railway was formally opened at Milton by His Excellency, the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada, on September 19, 1879. The line to Milton had been open since 1877; and was opened to Galt, Streetsville Jct., to Orangeville, and Cataract Jct. to Elora in 1879. St. Thomas was reached in 1881.
When the CVR was built into Orangeville, it crossed over the TG&B line at Melville Junction, about 2.5 miles south of Orangeville and terminated just north of Broadway in Orangeville, where its station was located. When the CPR (O&Q) assumed the CVR and the TG&B in 1884, it consolidated its entry into Orangeville using the TG&B right-of-way, and the CVR spur into Orangeville was abandoned.