Victoria and Haliburton Counties
Before the Railway Age, travel and the movement of goods in Upper Canada were primarily dependent on water ways, 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.
Geographical location assigned different roles and levels of financial involvement. Victoria County was fortunate to be the beneficiary of the economic and political ambitions of others. Examination of the early Central Ontario network, the connecting thread of the Grand Trunk Railway aside, shows that the earliest routes along the shore of Lake Ontario stretched north as "development roads" from Toronto, Whitby, Port Hope, Cobourg, Trenton and Belleville. Victoria County and Lindsay stood to gain directly from the Port Hope and Whitby roads, and indirectly from the Toronto and Belleville roads when the Midland Railway consolidation took place. In addition, arguably, the direct benefit from the Port Hope road was augmented by the tragic and costly failure of the Cobourg-Peterborough Railway across Rice Lake.
From 1853 to 1893 - The Years of Development
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, Port Hope and Peterborough were busy with their own railway ambitions. The original 1846 charter of the Peterborough & Port Hope Railway became the 1854 Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railway (PLH&B) that had an abiding belief in the superiority of the Port Hope harbour, and set its sights on Georgian Bay. Construction reached Reaboro in December 1856, and Cunningham Corners just southeast of Lindsay in August 1857. The first train arrived at the St. Paul and King Streets station on the east side of the Scugog River on October 16, 1857. A branch to Peterborough was commissioned, and the first train operated from Millbrook to Peterborough on May 12, 1858. The name of the PHL&B was changed to the Midland Railway of Canada in 1869, and Port Hope's ambitions were consummated when the railway reached Beaverton in 1871, Orillia in 1873, Waubashene in 1875 and on to Midland in 1879. Around the time of the completion of the line to Midland, Peterborough interests under the directorship of its several-times mayor George A. Cox took control of this railway.
The next railway to reach Lindsay was a struggling line that had begun as the Port Whitby & Port Perry Railway, reaching that place in 1871. In 1876 it was extended to Lindsay, reaching Albert Street on June 15, 1877, becoming the Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Railway (WPP&L).
While all this was going on, the Toronto Gooderham & Worts Distillery, under the leadership of George Laidlaw who was employed there as a wheat buyer and was about to make a name for himself as a railway promoter, had chartered the narrow gauge Toronto & Nipissing Railway (T&N) in 1868 (amended in 1869 to include a branch to Lindsay, but not built), and entered Victoria County between Cannington and Woodville. Its immediate purposes were to extract grain for the distillery and to break the Toronto firewood monopoly. The railway was also planned to reach Lake Nipissing (and connect up with the forthcoming CPR transcontinental railway), but never went further than Coboconk, which was reached in late 1872. However, the steamer Coboconk plied between Coboconk and Fenelon Falls from 1875 to 1887 through the rebuilt Rosedale lock to provide a link between the T&N and the Victoria Railway (see below).
Railways in Haliburton County
George Laidlaw also had plans to tap the natural resources in the Haliburton Highlands and further north. The project began modestly as the Fenelon Falls Railway in 1871. When this did not find financing favour, it broadened its scope with plans to extract timber and minerals from Haliburton County and what is now Algonquin Park, and in the next year became the Lindsay, Fenelon Falls & Ottawa River Valley Railway. To improve its promotional prospects, its name was changed in 1873 to the Victoria Railway. Contrary to Laidlaw's earlier railway promotions, this was a standard gauge project from the outset. The first sod was turned in Lindsay in 1874, Kinmount was reached after many vicissitudes in 1876, and the line reached and terminated at Haliburton in 1878. Politically, conflicts over the necessary subsidies for the line caused 23 northern Peterborough and Victoria County townships to secede and form the provisional County of Haliburton.
At its Lindsay end, the Victoria Railway connected with the original Midland Railway route (from across the east bank of the Scugog) at the top of William Street at "Victoria Junction". The Victoria Railway therefore applied to the Town of Lindsay for permission to extend its railway down Victoria Avenue to Glenelg Street to connect up with the WPP&L, and upon the town's approval, a brick station was subsequently built on the east side of Victoria at Melbourne in 1879 to replace the first WPP&L station and serve the two railways as a union station.
The Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa Railway that branched off at Howland Junction was a backwoods mineral exploitation enterprise. Incorporated originally as the Snowdon Branch Railway in 1879, it was re-incorporated as the Toronto & Nipissing Eastern Extension Railway in 1880 with Henry S. Howland as president and Charles J. Pusey as vice-president. It became the IB&O in 1884 and in 1886 acquired the pioneer 6½ mile Myles Branch Tramway to Furnace Falls (built in 1880 originally with wooden rails). The IB&O opened to Irondale in 1887, to Wilberforce in 1893, to Baptiste in 1897, to Mud Creek (2½ miles east of Baptiste) in 1898. In 1899 Pusey died. In 1905 control was assumed by Zebulon A. Lash who was solicitor for the Canadian Northern Railway and a major creditor of the IB&O and of Pusey personally. Lash retained control of the moribund line until 1909, when it was acquired by Mackenzie, Mann & Co. for the newly created Ontario & Ottawa Railway. (When Mackenzie and Mann took over the IB&O, the rolling stock consisted of three locomotives, two box cars and 28 flat cars, baggage and passenger cars.) From Mud Creek, the IB&O reached Bancroft (going no further) in 1910 by virtue of a junction at York River, and was leased by the Central Ontario Railway (COR). The COR in turn was acquired outright by the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) in 1914. The CNoR merged with the Canadian Government Railways in 1918 into what was to become officially the Canadian National Railways system in 1922-4. The first through train from Kinmount/Howland Junction to Bancroft ran on September 12, 1910. From its beginnings with its iron ore and timber traffic, the line eked out a skimpy existence until its last train and abandonment on March 31, 1960, with rail-lifting following in July 1960.
Lindsay and Victoria County become a Railway Hub
The days of the small companies were numbered, both for economic and political reasons. Economically, the necessary conversion of the PHL&B gauge from 5'6" to the standard 4'8 1/2" gauge in 1874 was a major financial burden in an era of declining traffic receipts, as proved to be the T&N's prospective conversion from the 3'6" gauge to the standard gauge in 1881. The Province of Canada had legislated a "broad" or "Provincial" 5'6" gauge in 1851, so that to obtain the financial benefits of the 1849 Railway Guarantee Act, any railway had to have the 5'6" gauge. The politics and reasons for this decision remain controversial among historians even today, but it proved to have enormous consequences for railway development in Canada. While this unfortunate legislation was repealed in 1870, the damage had been done.
The year 1881 was also a major change for the Midland Railway, in that it completed buy-outs of its neighbouring smaller lines, and used the dormant charter of the Toronto & Ottawa Railway to construct four "missing links", two of which were in Victoria County. One link was between Wick (Blackwater) of the T&N and Manilla of the WPP&L, connected up in early 1883 and thus affording a direct route between Lindsay and Toronto; and the other was between Peterborough and Omemee, completed in late 1883 after some engineering challenges with sink holes, for a direct connection between Peterborough and Lindsay. In Lindsay itself, a new entry was decided upon at that time, and a bridge was built over the Scugog River at the east end of Durham Street. The track now came along just south of Durham Street to Cambridge Street, where it curved north to connect with the former Victoria Railway on Victoria Avenue. A new station was built at the south end of William Street in 1883, at which time the King at St. Paul Street station was abandoned. The new station burned in 1885, and the former union station continued to be used until 1890 when a grand new station was built, that lasted until 1963. The union station was demolished around 1890, and a freight shed erected on the site that lasted until 1954, when it was replaced by the building that remained until August 2006, when it was in turn demolished to make way for redevelopment.
In 1887 the Midland Railway (by then already leased to the Grand Trunk Railway) decided to make Lindsay its operational headquarters. A large freight yard was built south of Durham between Lindsay and Hamilton Streets, and the Port Hope engine house was dismantled and rebuilt in Lindsay as a running shed, together with the attendant shops, on the east side of Albert Street south of Durham. In the meantime the old swing bridge across the Scugog River at Lindsay and Colborne Streets was dismantled in 1887, and the former Midland Railway route across Victoria Junction and through what is now the Lindsay airport was abandoned when the new direct line from Lindsay out to Midland was built in 1907 to put an end to the heavy grain traffic having to come south on mid-town Victoria Avenue through Victoria Junction.
The Midland Railway's decision to centralize its operations at Lindsay was continued by the Grand Trunk Railway, and Lindsay became a division point for the GTR's 8th (east of Lindsay), 9th (Lorneville Jct., Midland and Coboconk) and 10th (Haliburton and west of Lindsay to Scarboro Jct. and Whitby) Districts, with the Maynooth Subdivision being added in 1931 during the CNR tenure — the height of Lindsay's function as a railway centre of some considerable importance. While a number of reasons were at play for the consolidation of the Midland Railway system, as a bulwark it also had the backing of the GTR in its prospective struggle to keep the impending entry of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) into Ontario at bay.
Above Left: Lindsay in 1931, clockwise from the north:
The remains of Victoria Jct. in the vicinity of Eglington and William Streets, and the entry of the GB&S a little further north of there (the abutments over the former Haliburton line are still in place), curving south across the Scugog to join the CPR line from Bobcaygeon at the CPR station at Caroline St.
The former right-of-way of the PHL&B southbound from its original station location at King and St.Paul Sts. along the Scugog River, joining up with the "new" route across town along Durham St. at the west end of the former "Santiago yards", and then continuing southeasterly via Omemee to Peterborough.
Lindsay Jct. (CPR) also to the southeast, with the line straight south heading for Janetville and Burketon Jct., and the line to the south-east heading for Bethany Jct. (or Dranoel).
To the southwest, the routes of the 1907 Midland track and the 1876 track to Manilla Jct. diverging at Albert St. South are clearly visible.
The abandoned right-of-way (1907) of the former PHL&B across what is now Lindsay airport.
For a map of the tracks in Lindsay at the height of the railway era, please click here.
Despite all of the efforts of the Grand Trunk Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway succeeded in its thrust into the heartland of Ontario in 1884 by means of its cat's-paw Ontario & Quebec Railway (O&Q) that passed through the southern edge of Victoria County at Pontypool, on its way from Peterborough to Toronto.
Meanwhile, with an eye to the grain traffic on the Great Lakes, the CPR sponsored the Georgian Bay & Seaboard Railway, also known as the CPR's Port McNicholl branch, to avoid the delays and the additional distance of shipping grain through Toronto. This route was opened in 1912 by building a link from the newly deepened Victoria Harbour, creating a community known as Port McNicholl, with stations via Brechin across country to Lindsay, and thence to Bethany Junction, or Dranoel (east of Pontypool) on the CPR's O&Q line. The very lightly-used passenger service was discontinued in 1932, and this road was abandoned from Orillia through to Lindsay in 1937. The abutments that carried this road over the former Haliburton line can still be seen on the Victoria Rail Trail a short distance north of the former Victoria Junction.
In retrospect, the 19th century was the golden period of what has now come to be known as the "Railway Age", but this was not go on forever. 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.
But 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. The first section to go even before the onset of the Dirty Thirties was the ailing "Old Road" of the former PHL&B between Millbrook and Omemee Junction in 1927. In 1932, the CPR abandoned the original portion of the LB&P between Burketon and Lindsay Junctions. A short spur from Manilla Junction south to Cresswell was retained briefly, but the Manilla Junction — Port Perry portion of the former WPP&L was abandoned in 1936. The Georgian Bay & Seaboard Railway south of Orillia was abandoned in 1937 (an unfortunate decision perhaps in view of 1939 and the renewed grain movements through Toronto).
With the advent of World War II, the revived movements of people and goods 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. The railway as the generations of its time knew it, was finished. As a generality, the traditional "mixed" service ended on branch lines in the 1950s, local passenger service ceased in the 1960s, and the trackage destined for abandonment lingered on with way freight service during the 1970s, or into the 1980s at the latest.
Locally, the last mixed train on the Coboconk branch was in March 1955, followed by the Bobcaygeon branch in October 1957, to Midland in 1958, and the IB&O and the Haliburton branch in 1960. The last passenger train out of Lindsay (to Toronto) was on January 31, 1962. The Lindsay Dispatching Office closed in April 1960, and the Lindsay Terminal closed in April 1978. Freight service as required continued on the remaining tracks into the 1980s.
Abandonment resumed after WWII with the lifting of track between Coboconk and Woodville in 1965 following the closure of the Kirkfield quarry in 1961, then that of the former PHL&B route from Lindsay to Beaverton in 1966. The CPR abandoned its Bobcaygeon branch in 1961, and its Lindsay – Dranoel spur in 1987. The CNR abandoned its Haliburton branch in 1981, the Lindsay – Peterborough section in 1989, followed by the Lindsay – Uxbridge section in 1991.
Fortunately some of these abandonments have been returned to the public as rail trails. Arguably Lindsay still has not got over the shock of losing its entire railway network. It might stagger the outside observer to note in particular that Lindsay lost its rail connection to its provincial capital, but there it is in company with places such as Owen Sound, Midland, Collingwood and for a while - Barrie. Still, Barrie has since regained GO-Train service. And there is also GO-train service to Stouffville and the rails are still in place as far as Uxbridge.
Moreover, there is the prospect of the proposed Shining Waters (shortline) Railway between Peterborough and Toronto, so perhaps all hope is not lost. In the meantime, let us hope that the rail trail corridors to Dranoel and Uxbridge stay preserved.
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.
Victoria County - Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railway - Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Railway - Toronto & Nipissing Railway - Coboconk Station - Victoria Railway - Kinmount Station - Donald Chemical Plant - Haliburton Station - Midland Railway of Canada - Lindsay - Lindsay's Five Railway Stations - Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa Railway.
For a video of a ride by train from Lindsay to Gelert in the winter of 1959, please click here.
For a video presentation of Lindsay and Victoria County railway history, please click here
Sources and recommendations for further reading:
For reference to 1880 County Atlases, please click here and then click on 24 for Victoria County.
Andreae, Christopher: Lines of Country: An atlas of railway and waterway history in Canada The Boston Mills Press, Erin, Ont. 1997 (Then an Affiliate of the Stoddart Publishing Co.)
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
Carr, Ross N. Mrs., Ed. Land of Plenty, Ops Township Council, Lindsay, Ont. 1968
Clarke, Rod: Narrow Gauge Through The Bush, self-published, 2007
Cooper, Charles: Narrow Gauge For Us, Boston Mills Press, Erin, Ont. 1982
Corley, Ray: Iron Roads, Peterborough, Land of Shining Waters, an Anthology, City and County of Peterborough, Ont., U of T Press, 1967
Hansen, Keith: Last Trains Out of Lindsay, Sandy Flats Publications, Roseneath, Ont. 1997
Heels, Charles H.: Railroad Recollections, Museum Restoration Service, Bloomfield, Ont. 1980
Kirkconnell, Watson, A Centenial History of Victoria County, Victoria County Council, Lindsay, Ont. 1967
Stevens, G.R.: Canadian National Railways, Volume I, Clarke Irwin, Toronto, Ont., 1960
Wilkins, Taylor: Haliburton by Rail and the I. B. & O., self-published, Haliburton, Ont. 1992
Wilson, Donald M: The Ontario and Quebec Railway, Mika Publishing Co., Belleville, Ont. 1984
Wilson, Ian: Steam Memories of Lindsay, Branchline Miniatures, Orillia, Ont. 2010.