Peterborough County


BACKGROUND

Before the Railway Age, travel and the movement of goods in Upper Canada were primarily dependent on waterways, and to some extent on such trails and crude strips of dust or quagmire that passed for roads. Needless to say, both of these traditional modes of transportation relied very much on the seasons and the weather. Agitation for a more efficient mode for the movement of goods and people (in that order) had started to build with the news of the new-fangled railroad, but the economic depression of 1837 and the years following were bad years for Upper Canada and for railway development, especially in view of the unsettled economic and political conditions in Europe in general and in England in particular, on whose financial houses the crucial investment in railway ventures depended. 

However, in 1849 the Province of Canada passed the Railway Guarantee Act which guaranteed the interest on loans for the construction of railways not less than 75 miles in length. It was this legislation that triggered Canada's railway building boom.

While the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (GTR), incorporated in 1852, busied itself with the construction of the Ontario component of its, well, trunk line from Portland, Me. to Chicago via Montreal, Toronto and Sarnia, the towns along the Lake Ontario waterfront east of Toronto were busy with their own railway ambitions. They saw themselves as gateways to the untapped resources of the "hinterland", and thus emerged a pattern of what might be termed "development roads" from the centres of Whitby, Port Hope, Cobourg, Trenton and Belleville. (Toronto had already led the way with its portage road to Collingwood, and later participated in additional development roads to Owen Sound and Coboconk. Other development roads also emanated from Napanee, Kingston, Brockville and Prescott.)

The territory north of Lake Ontario was a region rich in natural resources, and with a rapidly expanding population as successive waves of immigration had to seek land further and further away from the immediate shore line of Lake Ontario.  This original south-north development road pattern was eventually knit together by east-west connecting links or "bridge routes" north  of the GTR main line, with the result that in due course Peterborough (and Lindsay, for that matter) found itself at the crossroads of several of these routes with, certainly in Peterborough's case, a seemingly tangled web of pioneer railway lines.

From 1853 to 1893 - THE YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT - The early Pioneers


Cobourg & Peterborough and Peterborough & Chemong Railways

Cobourg was the first of these shoreline communities to grasp the nettle of railway construction. The charter of the Cobourg Rail Road Company was one of the two earliest railway charters in Canada of the day, granted on March 6, 1834 with authority to construct an iron or wooden railroad to Rice Lake. The charter lay dormant until June 9, 1846 when it was revived as the Cobourg & Rice Lake and Ferry Company, but the plank road to Rice Lake was vulnerable to winter upheaval and was abandoned after one year of operation - an omen that might well have been heeded for what was to follow.

On November 10, 1852 the Cobourg & Peterborough Railway Company (C&P) was incorporated to build between those two places. The line expediently followed the roadbed of the abandoned plank road to Harwood on the south shore of Rice Lake, where a trestle was built across to Hiawatha on the northern shore, using Tick Island as an intermediate base. The first train reached Peterborough at Ashburnham on the east side of the Otonabee River in December 1854, where terminal facilities were set up between Elizabeth (now Hunter) and Robinson Streets. No sooner were the celebrations over than the Rice Lake trestle was ravaged by ice in January 1855, and again in 1856-57, 1859-60 and 1860-61. While the railway operated, Peterborough benefited substantially (without any investment on its part) from the line, but the northern portion from Hiawatha to Ashburnham was closed permanently after the damage to the trestle in the winter of 1860-61.  

The promoters of the C&P also had plans for traffic that could be obained from Chemong Lake north of Peterborough, and accordingly incorporated the Peterborough & Chemong Lake Railway (P&CL) on May 30, 1855, and by midsummer 1859, four miles of track north of Ashburnham to Perry's Mills (Nassau) had been completed. Its fortunes were tied to the lingering C&P, and the line became isolated with the abandonment of the section of the C&P road between Hiawatha and Ashburnham. There for the foreseeable future the P&CL remained, while the citizens of Cobourg, their dream of a continuous railway link with Peterborough shattered, struggled to recoup at least some of their enormous investment in the C&P. Its owners effected a merger with the Marmora Iron Works with a view to iron ore shipments from that district, and so on August 15, 1866, the Cobourg, Peterborough & Marmora Railway and Mining Company (CP&M&M) was formed, and the following year a railway line was completed from Trent Bridge at the northeastern tip of Rice Lake to Crowe Lake. The ore was taken by barge from Trent Bridge to Harwood, and thence by rail to Cobourg. When the iron ore traffic was in decline, the CP&M&M was auctioned off and the residual assets were then held by a new company, the Cobourg, Blairton & Marmora Railway and Mining Company, incorporated on on June 23, 1887. After an unsuccessful bid to connect the Blairton trackage with the Ontario & Quebec Railway (see below), the death throes of the original C&P were mercifully extinguished by the Grand Trunk Railway (see below) as of April 1, 1893, at which time all the remainder of the trackage of the Blairton line was abandoned, and the trackage between Cobourg and Harwood closed. A few miles were used for storage of old box cars until complete abandonment in the first decade of the 20th century.

In the meantime, the Cobourg interests stubbornly clung to their ownership of the Peterborough & Chemong Lake Railway, and renewed their efforts to reach Chemong Lake by means of a bridge ("the Black Bridge") across the Otonabee (constructed between 1867 and 1871) and over the Midland Railway's (see below) Lakefield line, but for lack of funding, the project languished again. In 1882 that bridge was closed and there the P&CL rested again until it reappeared under the auspices of the Grand Trunk Railway as of March 23, 1888, branching off its Lakefield line on the west side of the Otonabee near Park Hill Road. By this time its lumber business purpose had all but disappeared, and by 1902 the P&CL was all gone.

Port Hope & Peterborough and Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railways

More auspiciously, in 1846 the rival town of Port Hope had chartered the Port Hope & Peterborough Railway, with the same sort of aims as Cobourg had for the C&P. It called for a route via Bewdley at the very southern tip of Rice Lake, but likely for the economic climate reasons cited in "Background" above, the project did not get into motion until 1854, and then re-incorporated as the Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railway (PHL&B). With its re-incorporation came a new focus on Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay, and perhaps having sized up Peterborough's disinclination to lend financial support to the C&P, playing a little "hard to get" with Peterborough? The line reached Lindsay in late 1857. Incidentally the PHL&B became the Midland Railway of Canada in 1869, and was extended to Beaverton as planned in 1871, and reached Midland by 1879.

In their ambitions, the Port Hope promoters did not lose sight of the benefits of bringing Peterborough into their fold. While that city was being reasonably well served by the C&P (at no cost to it), the difficulties with that line had already begun to appear, and every winter month increased the uncertainties. So in 1857, Port Hope leased its line to Tate & Fowler, the contractors, on condition that they would construct a branch into Peterborough. The 13-mile branch was begun later that year, and on May 12, 1858 the first train from Millbrook Junction appeared in Peterborough, and a few weeks later on June 7 the Port Hope & Peterborough Railway was officially opened for traffic. That winter, it was advertised without mercy as "the reliable route to Peterborough" and the PHL&B entrenched itself in the very heart of Peterborough with a large tract of land bounded by Charlotte, Bethune, Sherbrooke and Aylmer Streets. A station was erected and yards built in expectation of the business to be had. With further extension already in mind, the PHL&B endeavoured to negotiate (unsuccessfully) with the C&P for use of its spur to Nassau as a continuum of a line to reach Lakefield. With an eventual parliamentary ruling in its favour, the PHL&B extended the spur it had already prepared at the northerly end of its Bethune St. terminus, to cross over the Otonabee at Auburn Mills to assume the portion of the C&P spur that it needed. The line to Lakefield was completed and opened for traffic on January 1, 1871.

Grand Junction Railway

Meanwhile, to the east of Peterborough, railway development plans were also afoot as the citizens of Belleville incorporated the Grand Junction Rail-Road Company to build a "loop line" arching from Belleville through the "hinterland" portions of the respective counties, and on to Toronto. This was in fact a bridge route to connect together the development roads that were snaking north from the Ontario shore line. The Grand Trunk Railway acquired this charter as early as 1854, which led the Belleville promoters to believe that their vision would now be assured. However, with the economic fallout of the Crimean War on the financial houses of Great Britain, and the Grand Trunk's chronic financial operating woes, the project was shelved. It was revived again by the GTR in 1870 as the Grand Junction Railway Company,  but the 1870s saw another economic depression and much bickering in Belleville as to the degree of financial support that Belleville should accord the project. The original plan was modified to a line from Belleville to Peterborough, with a continuation to compete with the Midland. As the fast-changing railway politics inevitably called the wisdom of that strategy into question as the GTR had to contemplate the possible future usefulness of the Midland Ry., the scheme was again redefined as being from Belleville to Lindsay only, with a branch to Bobcaygeon. At long last, the first train reached the easterly outskirts of Peterborough at Downer Corners in 1880. The problem of entry into Peterborough, or Ashburnham at least, was happily solved with the lease of the derelict portion of the almost-defunct C&P's road north from Hiawatha, and on October 17, 1880 the first GJR train steamed into the old Ashburnham station.

George Cox and the Midland Railway of Canada

In that age, railways exercised power, and power was to be had with the right promotion of railways. George A. Cox of Peterborough understood that leverage, and learned quickly how to work the levers of power.  George Cox had a humble beginning as a telegraph operator in Colborne, Ont., but he had business acumen and on moving to Peterborough, he gained the confidence of influential area families. He had seven one year terms as Mayor of Peterborough and had been a director of the Midland Railway for three years when its financially and physically exhausted president Adolph von Hugel of Port Hope retired to make way for Cox as president. He went to work most energetically to consolidate the surrounding pioneer lines into a unified railway system with its hub at Peterborough. With the original Midland Railway as the nucleus, Cox brought the following lines into the fold in 1882:

The Grand Junction Railway referred to above,
The Toronto & Nipissing Ry., to Coboconk (1872), and the leased Lake Simcoe Junction Ry. branch to Jackson's Point (1877),
The Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Ry., reaching Port Perry in 1871, and Lindsay in 1877,
The Victoria Ry. from Lindsay to Haliburton (1878),
The Medonte Tramway, a short lumbering line from Medonte to Knight's Mills (1883 to 1893),
The Toronto & Ottawa Ry. (T&O), re-incorporated from the Huron & Quebec Ry., originally intended to be competition to the Midland. 

(The T&O never came into being as a continuous line, but its charter was used to fill in three short gaps of trackage in the Midland system. Two of these were in Peterborough County, namely:

(a) a direct connection between Peterborough and "the  Old Road" at Omemee [the original direct line of the PHL&B between Millbrook and Omemee]. This enabled a more direct route between Peterborough, Lindsay and Toronto (instead of having to travel via Millbrook) that came to be known as the "Missing Link" - begun in 1882, completed in late 1883 and officially opened for revenue service on January 1, 1884.

(b) a short section of line to link Downer Corners (across the Otonabee River) and the Millbrook branch of the former PHL&B, connecting a few blocks south of the Bethune Street complex to provide a more direct route for direct traffic between Lindsay and Belleville, in 1888. 

[The third, not in Peterborough County, was a connection between Manilla and Blackwater, also completed in 1883, to eliminate  another "kink" in the route between Peterborough and Toronto {via Lorneville}].

Notes: 

1. In 1883, the Midland also completed route rationalization in Lindsay, but that was not under the T&O charter.)

2. Also included in this consolidation was the Ontario Sault Ste. Marie Railway, incorporated in 1881, to be built from Coldwater on the Midland Railway to Sault Ste. Marie, a distance of 320 miles (but never constructed).  

There is some uncertainty as to Cox's exact relationship with the Grand Trunk Railway, but it is for certain that Cox was an entrepreneur and capitalist (as the Victorians so fondly called their developers of the day), and not a professional railroad man.  Certainly Cox was always on friendly terms with the GTR. For sure, the GTR needed a bulwark against the prospect of the CPR in Ontario, and Cox needed the funds to further his ambitions in life - his biography asserts that he vowed to become president of the Canada Life Assurance Company the day he became its representative in Peterborough.

Whatever the exact truth, everything points to Cox as a go-between for the GTR, and on September 22, 1883, the Midland system that Cox had so deftly and assiduously assembled, passed officially into the control of the GTR. At the Midland's 1884 annual general meeting, Cox declared that this development "was the natural outcome of the consolidation of the lines now forming the Midland system, and that to the proprietors of the Midland Company it at once affords to their securities the safety and protection from competition that can only be assured by casting in their lot with a large and wealthy corporation like the Grand Trunk Company".

Cox went on to fulfil his ambition as the president of the Canada Life Assurance Company, as well as becoming an influential financier. 

The coming of the CPR

In any event, no more than King Canute could hold back the tide, could the Grand Trunk keep the CPR out of Ontario. The planning for the tap into lucrative Ontario was almost as early as that for the transcontinental railway. The original charter of the Ontario & Quebec Railway (O&Q) was granted on March 21, 1881. Among the directors were a number of Montrealers including George Stephen, the Cardinal Richelieu of the CPR. Stephen was a good friend of George Laidlaw, the creator of trhe Credit Valley Railway with its branch to St. Thomas. And in 1883 the O&Q acquired the Toronto, Grey & Bruce from the GTR which had become rather stretched financially in its bid to keep its competitor at bay. On November 30, 1883 the Credit Valley Railway amalgamated with the O&Q, and on January 4, 1884, the O&Q was leased to the CPR for 999 years. On May 5, 1884, trains were running between Toronto and Smiths Falls, and the CPR was in Peterborough. The GTR's Maginot Line had been breached. 

Into the Twentieth Century

So at the beginning of the 20th century, the CPR ran east-west through the County, and the GTR had inherited the local network of lines. The Cobourg & Peterborough and Cobourg's last-ditch stand at Blairton were already history, and the Peterborough & Chemong Lake was rapidly wilting away.

In retrospect, the 19th century was the golden period of what has now come to be known as the "Railway Age". Even before World War I and the advent of the automobile, amalgamation, and hence rationalization of the ruinous competition and the spider-like railway network was inevitable. The loss of the prairie development business as a result of World War I accelerated the inevitable collapse of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, and as of January 30, 1923, there was a new beginning for the former GTR as part of the now-government-owned Canadian National Railways System. The newly-constituted CNR hardly had a chance to take stock of itself when the Great Depression stalked the land. With passenger and freight receipts very much "down", the railways pruned service and trackage, but the Peterbough County railway network survived the Depression years remarkably well.

The World War II movements of people and goods had sustained the railways into the 1950s, but with the advent of the automobile within the reach of most people in the burgeoning post-war economy, and the development of bus and truck service, the traditional railway service was doomed. The final blow was the cancellation of the lucrative post office bread-and-butter mail contracts in favour of the truck and aeroplane. As a generality, the traditional "mixed" service ended altogether on branch lines in the 1950s, local passenger service ceased in the 1960s, and the trackage destined for abandonment lingered on with occasional way freight service during the 1970s, or into the 1980s at the latest. 
The railway as the generations of its time knew it was finished. 

Decline and Abandonment

CNR

1927 - The ailing "Old Road" of the former PHL&B between Millbrook and Omemee Junction abandoned.

1951, May 31 - the Toronto-Lindsay-Peterborough-Port Hope service ceased with the abandonment of the Port Hope-Millbrook section of the former PHL&B, and Peterborough thus lost its connection with Port Hope.

1931 - passenger service to Lakefield ends. "Mixed" trains [local freights with a combine coach attached] were substituted, a common economy during the Depression years. This accommodation ended in 1950 when the combine was taken off and the Lakefield spur became "freight only as required".

1958, October 25 - On the Toronto-Lindsay-Peterborough-Belleville corridor, the Toronto-Peterborough trains made their last run.

1962, January 30 - On the Toronto-Lindsay-Peterborough-Belleville corridor, the last train went through to Belleville, returning to Toronto the next day, ending all passenger service on the Midland system after 105 years.

1964, April 30 - The Peterborough-Millbrook Stub closes, leaving only "the Peterborough Industrial Spur" at its Peterborough end.

1987 - The Peterborough-Belleville line abandoned, leaving only "the Campbellford Spur" at the Peterborough end.

1989 - The Lindsay-Peterborough section, and the Lakefield, Ashburnham, Peterborough Industrial and Campbellford Spurs; abandoned. (For a summary of, and more detail about, the 1989 abandonments, click here for this extract from the Upper Canada Railway Society Newsletter No. 478, August 1989 [Toronto, Ont.])


CPR

By 1912 there were six passenger trains a day each way through Peterborough, but with the advent of the CPR's Ontario shore line in 1914 the Montreal service became somewhat trimmed. However, by 1919, service that had previously terminated at Lindsay then continued on to Port McNicholl.

1932 - the Lindsay-Port McNicholl branch (Georgian Bay & Seaboard) discontinues passenger service.

1934 - Burketon Jct.-Nestleton-Lindsay branch closes, but one "mixed" train a day to Bobcaygeon remains via Dranoel (Bethany) Jct..

1937 - the Lindsay-Port McNicholl branch (Georgian Bay & Seaboard) is abandoned.

1954 - Between Havelock and Toronto an RDC "Dayliner" service is instituted. The CPR moved to discontinue the service in 1964, but public protest sustained a reprieve until the advent of VIA Rail when the service was again cut in 1981, restored in 1985 and axed for good in 1990.

1954, May - the CPR instals a branch northwards from its former O&Q line east of Havelock to Nephton (and then to Blue Mountain) upon the discovery of nepheline syenite (a valuable industrial mineral) deposits. 

1957, October 26 - the Bobcaygeon combine is dropped and "mixed" service to Bobcaygeon ceases.

1961, June 15 - service to Bobcaygeon ceases altogether.

1962 - the Lindsay - Bobcaygeon branch is abandoned.

1971-1972 - The original CPR (O&Q) main line between Glen Tay (west of Perth where the Shore Line diverged from the O&Q main line) and Tweed is torn out.

1987 - The Lindsay – Dranoel (Bethany) Jct. spur is abandoned.

1988 - The original CPR (O&Q) main line between Tweed to a point just east of Havelock abandoned where its spur to Nephton and Blue Mountain curves northwards. 


Envoi

Fortunately some of the recent abandonments have been returned to the public as rail trails. Whether Peterborough will retain its railway link will undoubtedly remain a race between the continued profitability of nepheline syenite and the realization that a renewed railway link with Toronto may be sustainable after all when all of the escalating actual and hidden costs of road transportation including the eventual ETR 407 toll fees are factored in — admittedly an alternative that could still be a decade or two away. The good news is that there is no final chapter to the saga of rail transportation — it continues to evolve. The reality alone of greenhouse gas emissions and their threat to survival, and the fact that of all forms of public transportation, rail remains the most efficient in that regard, will surely bring it back into favour as the only real option for GHG reductions in the transportation sector that will have to come about sooner than later.

 

Archives of Ontario DND 1932 Peterborough Sheet 31D. The vertical series of dashes to the north represent the abandoned Peterborough & Chemong Lake Railway; and those to the south, that of the Cobourg & Peterborough Railway.

Archives of Ontario DND 1932 Peterborough Sheet 31D. The vertical series of dashes to the north represent the abandoned Peterborough & Chemong Lake Railway; and those to the south, that of the Cobourg & Peterborough Railway.

Believed to be the second Peterborough Ashburnham station. Wayne Lamb Collection

Believed to be the second Peterborough Ashburnham station. Wayne Lamb Collection

The trusswork of the long Cobourg & Peterborough Railway bridge across Rice Lake. For its day and age, a daring feat of engineering that proved to have lessons for the rigours of Canadian winters. NAC PA 127486

The trusswork of the long Cobourg & Peterborough Railway bridge across Rice Lake. For its day and age, a daring feat of engineering that proved to have lessons for the rigours of Canadian winters. NAC PA 127486

The ice has wreaked its havoc again and again on the the trusswork of the Cobourg & Peterborough Railway bridge across Rice Lake. It will not be long before the direct route to Peterborough will close for good. NAC PA 127491

The ice has wreaked its havoc again and again on the the trusswork of the Cobourg & Peterborough Railway bridge across Rice Lake. It will not be long before the direct route to Peterborough will close for good. NAC PA 127491

Looking south across the main street at Millbrook in the Grand Trunk era. The "Old Road" coming in from Omemee occupies the view, while the road to Peterborough branches off to the left of the station building. Charles H. Heels Collection

Looking south across the main street at Millbrook in the Grand Trunk era. The "Old Road" coming in from Omemee occupies the view, while the road to Peterborough branches off to the left of the station building. Charles H. Heels Collection

GTR Millbrook Jct. station sometime before 1927. The rails of the "Old Road" are in the foreground, with the tracks to Peterborough behind the building. Al Paterson Collection

GTR Millbrook Jct. station sometime before 1927. The rails of the "Old Road" are in the foreground, with the tracks to Peterborough behind the building. Al Paterson Collection

Millbrook Junction on the Peterborough branch side. The "Old Road" to Omemee on the other side of the station has long since been abandoned. Date not known. 1960s?

Millbrook Junction on the Peterborough branch side. The "Old Road" to Omemee on the other side of the station has long since been abandoned. Date not known. 1960s?

The railway bridge at Auburn Mills in 1967. The former Midland Railway crosses the Otonabee River to reach its branch terminus at Lakefield. The view is looking south. Ed Emery photo.

The railway bridge at Auburn Mills in 1967. The former Midland Railway crosses the Otonabee River to reach its branch terminus at Lakefield. The view is looking south. Ed Emery photo.

Busy Lakefield on an excursion day, looking south to Peterborough. The station building is still at its original location. Ca 1910 in the Grand Trunk era.

Busy Lakefield on an excursion day, looking south to Peterborough. The station building is still at its original location. Ca 1910 in the Grand Trunk era.

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