Railway Gauges in Ontario

This page suggested by, and with input from, David O'Reilly.

History of the Railway Gauge

Much has been written, but in summary, the best speculation is that what became the “standard” or “Stephenson” gauge of 4 ft 8½ inches (1,435 mm) was adopted from early Northumberland UK horse tramways that transported “coals to Newcastle”. George Stephenson (1781-1848), a self-taught civil and mechanical engineer who did his apprenticeship around the Northumberland collieries, is widely acknowledged as being “the father” of the railways, although he may be more accurately described as the enabler who made steam locomotion a practical reality.

No one knows how the Northumberland tramways came to adopt the 4 ft 8½ inch gauge, although it may be a practical result of a wagon width determined more or less by the breadth of a wagon harness hitched to a well-built pit pony. As George Stephenson, partnering with his son Robert (1803-1859), went into the locomotive manufacturing business as Robert Stephenson & Co., this gauge was adopted for production. As there was an immediate robust export business to all parts of the world (often accompanied by British engineering expertise), the “off the assembly line” product was shipped to that gauge, with its consequent general adoption by the purchaser. 

This not did however result in the immediate global adoption of the “Standard” gauge – far from it, even today only just over 50 per cent of world railway mileage is on the standard gauge (Wikipedia). The rest is more or less divided into a 5 ft something or a 3 ft something gauge group.

This pattern started to emerge very soon after the advent of the railways. The extremes at either end of the gauge spectrum were Isambard Kingdom Brunel's 7 ft ¼ inch (2,140 mm) gauge of the UK Great Western (God’s Wonderful) Railway that was phased out by 1892, and the 2 ft gauge railways such as appeared in Maine USA, and with the Wales UK quarry railways. There was also the US 6 ft (1,829 mm) Erie Railroad, until its conversion to the standard gauge in 1880.

The underlying pros and cons of a narrower gauge versus a broader gauge are that with a narrower gauge, the advantages are lower costs of land acquisition and construction; and with a broader gauge, higher speeds, better stability and of course larger load capacity. The disadvantages are of course inversely applicable – lower speeds, bumpier rides and limited load capacity for the narrower gauges; and higher costs of land acquisition, construction and maintenance for the broader gauges.

A median standard gauge balances these pros and cons, and in the absence of other considerations – such as a narrower gauge for mountainous terrain – makes it a more economically-balanced consideration. In some cases non-standard gauges were chosen for political, commercial or strategic reasons, the last being to impede rather than to promote the smooth and economic flow of people and goods. Each “break in gauge” poses a barrier, operationally and economically.

Basic Gauge Description Terminology

Standard Gauge – also referred to as the “Stephenson” gauge, ranging from 4’8” to 4’9”, but most usually 4’8½”.

The Broad or Provincial Gauge – specifically the 5’6” gauge required in the Province of Canada in 1851 for eligibility for the government loan interest guarantee.

Broad gauge(s) – any gauge wider than the Standard or Stephenson Gauge.

Narrow gauge(s) – any gauge narrower than the Standard or Stephenson Gauge.

Notes:

  1. Somewhat confusingly, in Canada the original Provincial or Broad Gauge railways commonly referred to the Standard Gauge as the "Narrow Gauge", not to be confused with the usual definition of "narrow gauge".
  2. The commonly understood measurement of the gauge is the distance between the inner edges of the two rails.

The Rise and Fall (1851 to 1872) of the Broad Gauge in the Province of Canada

Railway development trailed behind that in the UK because of political and financial uncertainties, but some early railways such as the Champlain & St. Lawrence and the Montreal & Lachine Railroads were being built to the Standard Gauge, but railway development remained minimal in the 1830s and 40s until the passing of the Railway Guarantee Act in 1849. That Act guaranteed the loan interest on the construction of railways not less than 75 miles in length. This beneficial legislation 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. According to S.S. Worthen, in his treatise Referred to the Committee, this decision was 9-1 in favour of the 5ft 6in gauge, despite the fact that in committee, the 4ft 8½in gauge was supported by 6 of the 10 members. This treatise suggests that the decision may have been influenced by the fact that the construction of the Atlantic-St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence-Atlantic Railroads (Portland Me to Montreal) was already underway on the 5ft 6in gauge - these two lines being the starting point for the Grand Trunk's bold plan to create a transportation artery into the mid-USA. G.R. Stevens in Canadian National Railways - Sixty Years of Trial and Error supports this conclusion, and also pointed out that Portland's mercantile interests espoused the 5' 6" gauge to exclude competition to its traffic to Boston through the selection of a gauge other than the Standard Gauge. A.W. Currie, in his seminal work The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, also fingers the influence of Portland's mercantile interests as the reason for the GTR's acquiescence to the Provincial Gauge that was in effect forced on it in any event by the Board of Railway Commissioners' decree. (The reason for the selection of 5ft 6in itself remains unclear, but may have been motivated by the possible acquisition of available locomotives that happened to be of that gauge.)

This short-sighted decision proved to have enormous long-term adverse repercussions and consequences for railway development in Canada in general. It was an immediate imposition on railways in Canada seeking to interconnect with U.S. roads, as the U.S. railways bordering on southwestern Ontario (with the notable exception of the Erie Railroad with its 6ft gauge that was not converted to Standard Gauge until 1880) had already adopted the 4ft 8½in gauge, which was rapidly becoming universal in Europe and in the northern United States. During the 1860s, the increasing competitive pressure on the Great Western and the Grand Trunk Railways to interchange with the Standard Gauge American roads proved to be the reason for the Provincial Gauge’s eventual demise, when those two roads started to secure amendments to their charters to remove the gauge clauses around 1870; and as a consequence all of the other Canadian roads that had been obliged to opt for the Provincial Gauge and in turn interchanged with the GWR and the GTR, were obliged to follow suit.

All early Canadian railways that had initially adopted any gauge other than the Standard "Stephenson" Gauge, which included all of the railways that had adopted the Provincial Gauge as a result of the Guarantee Act, were faced with the major financial consequences of having to re-gauge to the Standard Gauge, or simply went out of independent existence. In all cases (except for the Cobourg & Peterborough Railroad, which became defunct for other reasons) the necessity of conversion led (other than for the Grand Trunk Railway itself) to their absorption into larger railway systems by the end of the 19th century.

In the 1870s any new roads were being built to the Standard Gauge (with the exception of two Ontario 3ft 6in narrow-gauge lines), but by then the crippling damage to the emerging Canadian railway system had been done.

US Border-to-Border Transshipment across Upper Canada

An emerging business opportunity for railways operating in southwestern Ontario was the realization by US commerce of the faster shipping between New York and Michigan States to be had by taking advantage of the shorter distance through Canada between Niagara Falls/Buffalo and Port Huron/Detroit. This border-to-border traffic demand was initially satisfied by means of unloading from the US railroad cars onto Provincial Gauge cars and vice-versa at the other end, an obviously expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome solution.

The Great Western Railway (GWR)

The GWR had been reconstituted from its original 1834 London & Gore Railroad charter for the express purpose of providing the border-to-border traffic link sought by adjacent US roads in New York and Michigan States. The US railroads bordering on southwestern Ontario had already adopted the 4ft 8½in Standard Gauge (with the notable exception of the Erie Railroad with a 6ft gauge that was not converted to the Standard Gauge until 1880).

The GWR was undoubtedly the most severely-affected road by the Provincial Gauge. It eventually met the transshipment challenge as of 1867 with the capital-cost-intensive laying of a third (inside) rail along its main line to accommodate direct through movement of US Standard Gauge cars.

Ironically, that proved to be the tipping point for the Provincial Gauge’s nearing demise. The GWR started to convert to the Standard Gauge in 1870. The enormous cost of the laying of the third rail and the eventual conversion from the Provincial to the Standard Gauge were major contributing causes to the GWR’s failure in 1882.

The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR)  and the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway (B&LH)

The GTR on the other hand was traversing southwestern Ontario as an international road from Portland, Maine across what was then Upper Canada to Chicago, Illinois, and its route lay via Toronto, Stratford and Point Edward (Sarnia) across to Port Huron in Michigan. What the GTR lacked was a connection to pick up this lucrative traffic at the New York State end. Enter the B&LH.

The B&LH began its existence as an intended portage railway (promoted by Buffalo commercial interests) between Lake Huron at Goderich and Lake Erie at Fort Erie/Buffalo. It was first chartered as the Brantford & Buffalo Joint Stock Railroad Company in 1851. Built to the Provincial Gauge, it was opened from Fort Erie to Brantford at the end of 1853 as the Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich Railway (BB&G), and to a junction with the Great Western at Paris in 1854. (On the US side, there was a rail link between Black Rock and Buffalo, with a ferry across the Niagara River.)

At that point the BB&G was out of money, and the debts continued to pile up in 1855. The Canada Company then intervened, as the railway’s prospective failure would have an adverse effect on the development of the Huron Tract. So in 1856 the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway (B&LH), with backbone UK financial support, was incorporated to take over the BB&G. The railway was completed to Stratford in 1856, and despite the financial crash of 1857, to its ultimate destination at Goderich in 1858.

By 1861, the road needed a substantial capital infusion for much-needed improvements in order to stay in business, and was also considering acquisition of the Hamilton & Port Dover Railway, to give it access to Lake Ontario and to an intermediate harbour on Lake Erie. This proposal fell through, presumably because the B&LH was by then close to bankruptcy. It offered to lease itself to the Great Western Railway, but this proposal was rejected unanimously by the Great Western's London, England board of directors.

So it was that the B&LH came into the orbit of the other major competitor in southwestern Ontario, the Grand Trunk Railway. The Grand Trunk also had a plan to capture this transit traffic more effectively by laying an inside rail to its Provincial Gauge track between Stratford and Sarnia, with the strategically-placed B&LH with the already-existing line between Fort Erie and Stratford to provide the corresponding third rail between Fort Erie and Stratford.

Unfortunately, although this plan was also very much to the benefit of the B&LH, it could not come up with the capital, and thus in 1864 entered into a joint management agreement with the Grand Trunk to bring the plan about. Even then, the B&LH could not pull its financial weight, and after some infighting, bickering and acrimony, in accordance with an agreement ratified in 1870, the Grand Trunk acquired the B&LH under a perpetual lease [i.e., outright] effective July 1, 1869. The issue of the laying of a third Standard Gauge rail (which never came about for the B&LH and the GTR) contributed to the early demise (1864) of the Buffalo & Lake Huron as an independent road because of its need to ally itself with a senior partner on account of its chronic financial distress.

Thus the Grand Trunk, which was also in continual financial turmoil, settled for a less-than-successful solution with movable (telescopic) axles, and then with interchangeable bogie trucks (two-axle wheel assemblies). Those substitute solutions lasted until the sections between Fort Erie and Stratford, and between Stratford and Sarnia, were converted to the Standard Gauge in 1872* ; as part of the GTR’s general conversion of its entire system from the Provincial to the Standard Gauge in those years**. The enormous cost of all this reverberated as a contributing factor to the eventual failure of the GTR in the early 20th century.
*The GTR line between London, St. Mary's and Stratford was briefly dual gauge  to allow Provincial Gauge locomotives to be moved to Stratford for conversion or scrapping.
**The section of the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway between Stratford and Goderich was converted to the Standard Gauge in 1873)

Two other major pioneer railways on the Broad Gauge in Upper Canada:

The Northern Railway of Canada

The NRC was first incorporated in 1849 as the Toronto, Simcoe & Lake Huron Union Railroad, and was renamed the next year as the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union Railroad. The road was built to the Provincial Gauge and opened to Machell's Corners (now Aurora) on May 16, 1853, and Allandale by late 1853. At that time the location of the northern terminus had not yet been decided upon, but was subsequently confirmed in early 1853 by a survey expedition to a place to be subsequently named Collingwood. In 1858 the road was formally reconstituted as the Northern Railway of Canada. It subsequently reached North Bay and became part of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1889.

Finances remained tight despite the general prosperity of the road. The Northern Railway of Canada, for whom the Grand Trunk was a major interchange railway, did not begin conversion until 1879, and did not complete it until 1881. Conversion was forced on the Northern by necessity on account of its merger with the Standard Gauge Hamilton & North Western (see below). The reason for the delay was undoubtedly the financial necessity of postponing the cost of conversion for as long as possible, combined with the fact that the railways interchanging with the Grand Trunk Railway in Toronto were not as pressured competitively as the trans-Ontario roads competing for American transshipment business.

The Midland Railway of Canada

The genesis of the eventual Midland Railway was the Provincial Gauge Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railway (PHL&B). It was originally chartered in 1846 as the Peterborough & Port Hope Railway (P&PH), but re-incorporated in 1854 as the PHL&B with a new focus on Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay. Construction reached Lindsay in late 1857, and terminated there for the time being. The PHL&B became the Midland Railway of Canada in 1869 to reflect its amended goal to reach Georgian Bay. Still on the Provincial Gauge, the railway reached Beaverton in 1871, and Port Hope’s expanded ambitions were consummated with extension to Orillia in 1873, Waubashene in 1875 and on to the lucrative grain traffic at Midland in 1879. It changed to the Standard Gauge in 1874.

George Stephenson

George Stephenson

Robert Stephenson in 1856

Robert Stephenson in 1856

Isambard Kingdom Brunel FRS in 1857, beside the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern. Robert Howlett photograph

Isambard Kingdom Brunel FRS in 1857, beside the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern. Robert Howlett photograph

Northern Railway of Canada on the Provincial Gauge. Toronto station and freight shed. 1860s. Toronto Public Library, J. Ross Robertson Collection

Northern Railway of Canada on the Provincial Gauge. Toronto station and freight shed. 1860s. Toronto Public Library, J. Ross Robertson Collection

The first station at Collingwood on the Provincial gauge Northern Railway of Canada. Archives of Ontario

The first station at Collingwood on the Provincial gauge Northern Railway of Canada. Archives of Ontario

Looking south at Collingwood on the Provincial Gauge Northern Railway of Canada. 1860s. Engine house and freight shed. National Archives Canada PA 138976

Looking south at Collingwood on the Provincial Gauge Northern Railway of Canada. 1860s. Engine house and freight shed. National Archives Canada PA 138976

Ontario Simcoe & Huron Union RR (Northern Railway of Canada) engine # 1 "Lady Elgin", built by the Portland Co. (Maine USA). CNR Photo Archives

Ontario Simcoe & Huron Union RR (Northern Railway of Canada) engine # 1 "Lady Elgin", built by the Portland Co. (Maine USA). CNR Photo Archives

Ontario Simcoe & Huron Union RR (Northern Railway of Canada) engine # 2 "Toronto", built by the Good Foundry, Toronto. CNR Photo Archives

Ontario Simcoe & Huron Union RR (Northern Railway of Canada) engine # 2 "Toronto", built by the Good Foundry, Toronto. CNR Photo Archives

Ontario Simcoe & Huron Union RR (Northern Railway of Canada) engine # 3 "Josephine", built by the New Jersey (USA) Locomotive Co. National Archives of Canada

Ontario Simcoe & Huron Union RR (Northern Railway of Canada) engine # 3 "Josephine", built by the New Jersey (USA) Locomotive Co. National Archives of Canada

The Great Western Railway station at Hamilton, looking west in the dual gauge years 1867 - 1870. CNR Archives 11948

The Great Western Railway station at Hamilton, looking west in the dual gauge years 1867 - 1870. CNR Archives 11948

Great Western Railway Yards Windsor. Dual gauge. SW Ontario Digital Archive U of W.

Great Western Railway Yards Windsor. Dual gauge. SW Ontario Digital Archive U of W.

GWR Broad Gauge engine # 52 "Prospero" built by the Robert Stephenson Co. 1856. Note the NG (for "Narrow Gauge") disk on the front pilot beam, warning any switchman that this train includes Standard Gauge cars. CNR  Photo Archives

GWR Broad Gauge engine # 52 "Prospero" built by the Robert Stephenson Co. 1856. Note the NG (for "Narrow Gauge") disk on the front pilot beam, warning any switchman that this train includes Standard Gauge cars. CNR Photo Archives

The Hamilton GWR shops, about 1865. Stratford-Perth Archives

The Hamilton GWR shops, about 1865. Stratford-Perth Archives

GWR engine #88 at an unidentified roundhouse. Dual gauge in the foreground. Photo Rail Archive Stephenson ID 257300

GWR engine #88 at an unidentified roundhouse. Dual gauge in the foreground. Photo Rail Archive Stephenson ID 257300

B&LH ex BB&G Broad Gauge engine # 12 "Heseltine" temporarily named "Victoria" for the 1860 visit of HRH the Prince of Wales. National Archives Canada PA-209082

B&LH ex BB&G Broad Gauge engine # 12 "Heseltine" temporarily named "Victoria" for the 1860 visit of HRH the Prince of Wales. National Archives Canada PA-209082

Touring car built at the B&LH Brantford shops for the 1860 visit of HRH the Prince of Wales. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson

Touring car built at the B&LH Brantford shops for the 1860 visit of HRH the Prince of Wales. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson

GWR Paris Jct station. 1867-1870. Note the dual gauge tracks. Paris Museum & Historical Society

GWR Paris Jct station. 1867-1870. Note the dual gauge tracks. Paris Museum & Historical Society

Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge stereo view looking to the USA, showing the Erie RR 6ft, the Provincial and the Standard Gauges, and avoiding the  need for guard rails. Library of Congress, Washington DC

Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge stereo view looking to the USA, showing the Erie RR 6ft, the Provincial and the Standard Gauges, and avoiding the need for guard rails. Library of Congress, Washington DC

Table of Canadian Railways on the Broad Gauge
(Upper Canada [Ontario] Railways in BOLD):
(Adapted from Lavallée, Omer: The Rise and Fall of the Provincial Gauge
[CRHA Canadian Rail #141 Feb 1963])

Railway

Year(s) Sections Built

Year(s) changed to 4’ 8½”

Grand Trunk Railway

1847-1864

1872-1874

Great Western Railway

1853-1870

1870-1873

Northern Railway of Canada

1853-1875

1881

European & North American Ry

1857-1860

1875

Nova Scotia Railway

1855-1867

1875

New Brunswick & Canada Ry

1857-1871

1878

Intercolonial Ry of Canada

1868-1875

1874-1875

Midland Railway of Canada

1857-1873

1874

Brockville & Ottawa (CC) Ry

1859-1876

1880

Buffalo & Lake Huron Ry

1856-1858

1872-1873

London & Port Stanley Ry

1856

1872

Cobourg & Peterborough Ry

1854

Abandoned c1860

Welland Railway

1859

c1875

Carillon & Grenville Railway

1854

Abandoned 1916

Erie & Ontario Railway

1854

c1875

Windsor & Annapolis Railway

1869

1875

Saint John & Maine Railway

1869

1877

Fredericton Railway

1869

1877

Paris Jct. The Broad Gauge Buffalo & Lake Huron and the Great Western Railways intersect. Looking east. The engine on the GWR line is # 35 "Venus" built by the Norris Locomotive Works (PA USA). Ca 1860. Paris Museum & Historical Society

Paris Jct. The Broad Gauge Buffalo & Lake Huron and the Great Western Railways intersect. Looking east. The engine on the GWR line is # 35 "Venus" built by the Norris Locomotive Works (PA USA). Ca 1860. Paris Museum & Historical Society

A Valentine post card view of a Carillon & Grenville train, a relic of the Broad Gauge  era, in charge of "Ottawa", a former GTR "Birkenhead"-built engine. Ca 1910.

A Valentine post card view of a Carillon & Grenville train, a relic of the Broad Gauge era, in charge of "Ottawa", a former GTR "Birkenhead"-built engine. Ca 1910.

Fredericton "Branch" Railway engine # 2 "Fredericton", built in 1869 by the Rogers Locomotive Works (Paterson NJ USA). October 1875. C.W. Anderson Photo Collection

Fredericton "Branch" Railway engine # 2 "Fredericton", built in 1869 by the Rogers Locomotive Works (Paterson NJ USA). October 1875. C.W. Anderson Photo Collection

The Narrow Gauge Phenomenon in Ontario

The railway construction climate that encouraged the narrow gauge option in Ontario was in major part the railway financing mechanism that shuttered down in the aftermath of the Crimean War that ended in 1856, and remained more or less closed during the American Civil War that ended in 1865 (bearing in mind that much, if not almost all, of the financing came from British financial houses).

During that period there was stagnation in further railway construction, a decline in government political will for financing support, with the result that there was increasing reliance on municipal bonuses, call them downloads, local levies, incentives or bribes, to finance local railways. The euphemistically described “bonus” was essentially a debentured municipal lump sum subscription to have a railway come through its territory. It was paid for the most part with a grudging acknowledgment that a railway was needed – in some cases there were threats by the railway to bypass if the commitment was not forthcoming, but many municipalities were smart enough to figure out that their location was strategically placed to the direction of the railway and were able to hold out for the best terms, including no payment until completion. That was an important negotiating point because it was not uncommon for a first section of railway to be built using funds obtained from bonuses in the second section – sort of an early pyramid scheme. Just the same, these “bonuses” constituted a huge long term liability for fledgling municipalities with, for the most part, modest tax bases.

The “mover and shaker” of the narrow gauge promotion was one George Laidlaw, a Scot who immigrated in 1855 to become a wheat buyer for “little brown jug” Gooderham & Worts, the prominent Toronto distiller (whose plant has been commemorated today as the Distillery District). He espoused a 3’6” narrow gauge  as rebellion against the monopoly and perceived financial excesses of the Grand Trunk Railway; and closer to home, as an effort to break the stranglehold that Toronto’s Northern Railway to Collingwood exercised over the price of cordwood, the key industrial, commercial and residential fuel of the day.

Laidlaw argued passionately (and correctly) that the narrow gauge choice offered significant savings in construction and operating costs, arguments that resonated in the cash-strapped decade of the 1860s and resulted in the incorporation in 1868 of the Toronto & Nipissing Railway to the north-east; and its equally narrow gauge sister, the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway that was to strike out in a northwesterly direction from Toronto to Owen Sound to service railway-hungry Grey and Bruce Counties. The issue of the Toronto cordwood monopoly aside, the immediate incentive for the promotion of both of these railways was that their sponsoring distillery needed grain to make its whiskey.

For the Toronto & Nipissing Railway, there was an additional specific object: There was already talk of the planned transcontinental railway, and entrepreneurs were quick to catch the enormous economic implication of such a plan – Toronto’s Northern Railway of Canada and Hamilton’s North Western Railway were already eyeing the prospect for a connection to that vision. Thus the naming of the Toronto & Nipissing Railway was no random stab at a lake somewhere up in the north – it was a strategic strike towards the ultimate connection.

For the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway, it was to reach a port on Georgian Bay (at Owen Sound) to offer competition to Toronto’s Northern Railway of Canada to Collingwood that was disinclined to build branches to service the emerging lucrative farmlands of Grey and Bruce Counties.

George Laidlaw was the driving force behind four railways in all (The Toronto & Nipissing Railway [T&N], the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway [TG&B], the Credit Valley Railway and the Victoria Railway).   Of these four, the T&N and the TG&B were chartered (in 1868) while the 5’6” Broad Gauge was still a condition for the Province of Canada financing guarantee, and both were built to the 3'6" narrow gauge. (the other two were built to the Standard Gauge.)

Both railways were an immediate success, hauling prodigious amounts of grain and lumber into the big city, and with impressive passenger traffic receipts besides. Within a few years, however, the inherent limited capacity of a narrow gauge operation became apparent, interchange with the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in Toronto became an issue, and both railways began to struggle to meet traffic demands. At the same time the light rails began to wear out and the accumulating costs of maintenance and renewal began to hover over their balance sheets.

By the early 1880s, this brave experiment was over. The Midland Railway (itself soon to be leased to the Grand Trunk) bought out the T&N in 1881 and assumed the cost of gauge conversion by 1883.

By 1880 the financial situation of the TG&B was equally dire, and control of the railway was handed over to the Grand Trunk in 1882 in exchange for the enormous cost ($800,000 [over $19 million today]) of re-gauging and re-fitting the line. The GTR did not however obtain a controlling interest, as it was financially stretched itself in its frantic bid to keep the CPR out of Ontario. In 1884, the GTR had to sell its TG&B stock, which was snapped up by the Ontario & Quebec Railway, the CPR’s unobtrusive cat’s paw bid to enter the lucrative Ontario market.

As with the Provincial Gauge, the obvious and overarching drawback of a break in gauge was the cost of transshipment of goods, and the inability to interchange freight cars as business required flow between adjoining railways. This proved to be a painful lesson for Canada and Canada’s early railways. As already noted, the eventual costs of conversion to the Standard Gauge unquestionably had a huge impact on subsequent railway development in Canada.

George Laidlaw

George Laidlaw

The Toronto & Nipissing engine # 9 "Shedden" at Scarboro Jct. in 1879. Boston Mills Press Collection

The Toronto & Nipissing engine # 9 "Shedden" at Scarboro Jct. in 1879. Boston Mills Press Collection

The Toronto & Nipissing engine # 6 "Uxbridge" fresh out of the Kingston Locomotive Works plant in 1871. Note the narrow gauge track placed on top of the regular track. National Archives Canada C2604

The Toronto & Nipissing engine # 6 "Uxbridge" fresh out of the Kingston Locomotive Works plant in 1871. Note the narrow gauge track placed on top of the regular track. National Archives Canada C2604

A Toronto & Nipissing combine smoking-mail-baggage car at the Berkeley Street station in 1872, probably on the occasion of fresh delivery. Boston Mills Press Collection

A Toronto & Nipissing combine smoking-mail-baggage car at the Berkeley Street station in 1872, probably on the occasion of fresh delivery. Boston Mills Press Collection

The Toronto & Nipissing engine # 6 "Uxbridge" arrives in Sutton at the opening of the subsidiary Lake Simcoe Junction Railway in 1877. A&D Grant photo, Hubert Brooks Collection

The Toronto & Nipissing engine # 6 "Uxbridge" arrives in Sutton at the opening of the subsidiary Lake Simcoe Junction Railway in 1877. A&D Grant photo, Hubert Brooks Collection

A group  photo just outside one of the Uxbridge car sheds. Note the narrow gauge/standard gauge dual track, placing the date as somewhere between 1881 and 1883. Uxbridge-Scott Museum

A group photo just outside one of the Uxbridge car sheds. Note the narrow gauge/standard gauge dual track, placing the date as somewhere between 1881 and 1883. Uxbridge-Scott Museum

Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway engines

Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway engine # 5 "Albion". Avonside Engine Company (UK). 1870 Hubert Brooks Collection

Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway engine # 5 "Albion". Avonside Engine Company (UK). 1870 Hubert Brooks Collection

Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway engine # 7 "Caledon". Avonside Engine Company (UK). 1871.

Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway engine # 7 "Caledon". Avonside Engine Company (UK). 1871.

Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway engine # 8 "Mono". Avonside Engine Company (UK). 1871.

Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway engine # 8 "Mono". Avonside Engine Company (UK). 1871.

The double-header Porter engines #1 and #2 leaving North Portage on the pre-1948 3'8.5" gauge, with a full consist. Winger Studio photo.

The double-header Porter engines #1 and #2 leaving North Portage on the pre-1948 3'8.5" gauge, with a full consist. Winger Studio photo.

Flooded-out and near-derelict South Portage in 1957. The two tracks in the foreground were converted to the 3'6" gauge to accommodate the new locomotives, the track on which the flatcar stands remained at 3'8.5". Hubert Brooks photo.

Flooded-out and near-derelict South Portage in 1957. The two tracks in the foreground were converted to the 3'6" gauge to accommodate the new locomotives, the track on which the flatcar stands remained at 3'8.5". Hubert Brooks photo.

Diesel switcher No. 3 on duty that day about to run round its consist at the Fairy Lake terminus on the 3'6" tourist H&LoB re-enactment railway. 2007.

Diesel switcher No. 3 on duty that day about to run round its consist at the Fairy Lake terminus on the 3'6" tourist H&LoB re-enactment railway. 2007.

Kirkfield Crushed Stone Ltd. (AKA the Kirkfield Quarry). A 3ft gauge railway.

View of the 3' gauge yard from the unloading ramp. Shows entire roster of engines, with "spare" on the spur at left. Looking north. Last year of rail operation. 1959. Robert J. Sandusky photo.

View of the 3' gauge yard from the unloading ramp. Shows entire roster of engines, with "spare" on the spur at left. Looking north. Last year of rail operation. 1959. Robert J. Sandusky photo.

The "spare" Vulcan engine on the spur (see picture to the left). 1960. Ray F. Corley photo

The "spare" Vulcan engine on the spur (see picture to the left). 1960. Ray F. Corley photo

Looking up to the unloading ramp. The newly-arrived loaded train is on the left. The empties are on the right. Looking south. Beside the engine is a semaphore signal used to tell the other train in the quarry whether to wait or come forward. 1954. Robert J. Sandusky photo

Looking up to the unloading ramp. The newly-arrived loaded train is on the left. The empties are on the right. Looking south. Beside the engine is a semaphore signal used to tell the other train in the quarry whether to wait or come forward. 1954. Robert J. Sandusky photo

Sources and Recommendations for further reading:

Beaumont, Ralph: Steam Trains to the Bruce Boston Mills Press, Erin, ON 1977.
Churcher, Colin: Break of Gauge at Prescott Junction (BRS Branchline June 2003)
Clarke, Rod: Narrow Gauge Through The Bush, self-published, 2007
Cooper, Charles: Narrow Gauge For Us, Boston Mills Press, Erin, ON 1982
Cooper, Charles: Railway Gauges in Ontario (this web page in PDF format)
Currie, A.W.: The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, U of T Press, Toronto ON 1957.
Dorman, Robert: A Statutory History of the Steam and Electric Railways of Canada 1836-1937, Canada Department of Transport, Ottawa, ON 1938
Gilhuly, Brian: The True Story of the Provincial Gauge (BRS Branchline May/June 2017)
Guay, David R. P.: Great Western Railway of Canada, Dundurn Press, Toronto, Ont. 2015
Lavallée, Omer: The Rise and Fall of the Provincial Gauge (CRHA Canadian Rail #141 Feb 1963)
Lavallée, Omer: List of 5'6" gauge railways in Canada, with dates of construction/conversion/abandonment.
Lavallée, Omer: Narrow Gauge Railways in Canada (CRHA News Report #130 February 1962)
Lavallée, Omer S.A.: Narrow Gauge Railways of Canada Railfare Enterprises, Montreal QC 1972.
McIlwraith, Thomas F.: The Toronto Grey & Bruce Ry 1883-1884 UCRS Toronto, ON Bulletin 56, September 1963
Mull, John; with Hooton, Dave; Thorning, Steve; Beaumont, Ralph: Rails to Goderich - A History of the CNR and CPR Lines from Stratford/Guelph Junction to                           Goderich, self-published, distributed by the Credit Valley Railway Company, Mississauga, Ont. 2017.
Rowland, John: George Stephenson, Creator of Britain’s Railways Odhams Press Ltd. London UK 1954
Spriggs, W. M. The Broad Gauge and the Great Western Railway (CRHA Bulletin #2 August 1937)
Stevens, G.R.: Canadian National Railways, Volume I, Clarke Irwin, Toronto, ON 1960
Trout, J.M. and Edw.: The Railways of Canada, Toronto ON 1871 (reprinted 1970, 1974)
Underwood, Jay: The Stephensons and the Standard Gauge (CRHA Canadian Rail #489 Jul Aug 2002)
Wikipedia – various: Track gauge - Track gauge in Canada - List of track gauges
Wilson, Donald M: The Ontario and Quebec Railway, Mika Publishing Co., Belleville, ON 1984
Worthen, S.S.: Referred to the Committee (The Provincial Gauge) (CRHA Canadian Rail #292 May 1976)

Copyright © 2014 Railway Pages and Charles Cooper. All Rights Reserved.