Lake Simcoe Junction Railway
The History and Legislation
Not to be confused with the South Simcoe Junction Railway, a contemporary proposal by the Northern Railway of Canada to build from King via Angus to Penetanguishene to ward off prospective competition by the Hamilton & Northwestern Railway. It was never built.
The Lake Simcoe Junction Railway (LSJR) was a branchline that connected the east of York County from the shoreline of Lake Simcoe at Jackson’s Point through Sutton and Mount Albert to the former Toronto & Nipissing Railway at Stouffville.
Like many pioneer lines of the day, it was promoted by businessmen and local communities to be connected to the growing railway network of the nineteenth century. The communities along what is now Highway 48 between Ballantrae and Sutton naturally wished to take advantage of an opportunity to make a convenient connection with Toronto.
This wish was reciprocated by the narrow-gauge Toronto & Nipissing Railway (T&N) that had struck out in the direction of Coboconk with the aim of eventually reaching Lake Nipissing, and a connection to the prospective national transcontinental railway that was emerging into the planning stage.
The attraction of the LSJR for the T&N was the prospect of being able to tap Lake Simcoe at Jackson's Point just as the Northern Railway of Canada was doing at Bell(e) Ewart.
As early as March 1872, a preliminary discussion was held between representatives for the branch line and the T&N. The townships involved were to contribute $100,000 in bonuses, with the hope of the usual government grant of $2,000 a mile, which would net something just over $50,000. An early “mover and shaker” of the LSJR was Robert McCormack, born in 1818 in New York State of United Empire Loyalist stock. He had established himself as a millwright and in 1852 had become a lumber man in the north-easterly section of Whitchurch. He, along with a number of other local businessmen and landowners, including J.R. Stephenson, ].N. Blake, J.R. Bourchier, John Ramsden, R.A. Riddell, Donald MacDonald, William H. Summerfeldt, Angus Ego, Robert Rowland and David Baker formed the provisional directorship which in turn elected A.G.P. Dodge, M.P. to be president, and Robert McCormack to be vice-president.
“Arguably, the principal latterday ‘mover and shaker’ of the LSJR was A.G.P. Dodge, president of a lumber company with mills at six locations on the eastern shore of Georgian Bay, from Byng Inlet to Waubaushene. His involvement in the LSJR has been discounted because he wasn't active in the railway's affairs after 1873.
“Anson Dodge first came into the area in 1866, from New York, on the invitation of H.W. Sage, also of New York and owner of the Bell Ewart* sawmill. Sage had just purchased the cutting rights to timber in Oakley Township, on the Black River, in Muskoka.
“After touring Sage's Bell Ewart mill in October 1866, Dodge made his way to Oakley to get a look at Sage's recent purchase of timber there, whereupon he purchased standing timber there and also a sawmill on Lake Simcoe, near Atherley.
“In 1869 A.G.P. Dodge acquired additional timber limits on the Magnetawan River and constructed a mill at Byng Inlet, under the name of the Georgian Bay Lumber Co. In the same year Dodge played host to a delegation of Northern Railway of Canada executives at Gravenhurst, in an effort to get the NRC to build an extension to there from Barrie.
“So in addition to becoming a director of the Toronto, Simcoe & Muskoka Jct. Railway, Dodge became the first president of the LSJR. He was bankrupted by the economic depression that followed ‘the panic-of-1873’, that not only crippled the lumber industry, but also brought a temporary halt to the expansion of railways throughout eastern North America.
“*Bell Ewart was named for James Bell Ewart. He had purchased land on Cook's Bay when the Ontario Simcoe & Huron Union RR (the precursor of the NRC) built the railway spur in 1853 to the place that bears his name. It was surveyed into town lots and was intended to be an investment, but Ewart died late that same year. The building lots were sold by the Bell Ewart Land Co., but the place lost its importance after the railway was extended beyond the reach of steamers on Lake Simcoe. The railway spur was abandoned after the H.W. Sage sawmill burnt down in 1879.
"About 18 years later, a Toronto ice dealer established an ice harvesting operation there and the railway siding was rebuilt, but the proprietor changed the name of the place to Belle Ewart. Bell Ewart is the proper spelling of that place name for everything that happened there prior to 1897.”
"(Contributed courtesy of Brian Westhouse, a historian of the Ontario pioneering lumbering industry.)"
The (Ontario) charter had been approved on March 29, 1873 (36 Vic. Cap. 75), with full power to lay track, construct piers, wharves, etc. on Lake Simcoe; to construct, purchase, charter and navigate boats or vessels on Lake Simcoe "and the waters adjacent thereto"; to enter into a leasing agreement and to take out gravel for ballasting. The charter required the road to be completed in five years and it also had a three cent cordwood clause. (The transportation of cordwood was contentious. A “cordwood clause” required the railway to carry cordwood, in this case at 3 cents per cord per mile.)
The Government of Ontario duly came across with $53,000 and the townships contributed cheerfully -- everyone wanted the railway:
The County of York
North Gwillimbury Township
At the 1873 LSJR annual meeting, the directors authorized negotiation with the T&N for a lease in return for 25 per cent of the gross receipts and a T&N guarantee of the bonds to the extent of $150,000 (approximately 25% of the total issue), for an exchange of free passes and an agreement to carry freight at the same rates as the T&N over T&N tracks. All of this turned out to be a protracted and at times acrimonious affair, but the line did get built and was opened for traffic on October 1, 1877 on the same 3’6” gauge as the T&N.