Hamilton & North Western/Lake Erie Railways

Note: Images to be added.

The Hamilton & North Western Railway (H&NW)

  When the Hamilton & North Western obtained its charter in 1872, the transcontinental railway was well under debate, and Hamilton’s ambitions had broadened their horizon far beyond the Hamilton & Port Dover Railway and traffic from Hamilton’s “hinterland”. The Hamilton & Port Dover had been a painful lesson in procrastination, and the Great Western, while it had a profound influence on Hamilton’s development, was not a railway that was Hamilton’s own – any influence that Hamilton had wielded in the affairs of the GWR had waned after the death of its home-grown railway baron, Sir Allan “railways are my politics” MacNab, in 1862. Moreover, the civic rivalry between Hamilton and Toronto was an all-encompassing passionate driving force in the mid-19th century. Toronto’s railway, the Northern Railway of Canada, was gradually working its way north, and there were other symptoms of Toronto’s ambitions, such as the Toronto & Nipissing Railway. Anything that Toronto did, Hamilton was determined to do better.

  Even before the push to the north could get under way, in 1875 the H&NW absorbed the ailing Hamilton & Lake Erie Railway and undertook to build the last leg of that line to Port Dover that should have been completed two decades earlier.

  Hamilton’s ambition of a connection to the forthcoming transcontinental railway was going to be realized chiefly at the expense of the citizens of Simcoe County who were desperate for an alternative to the Northern Railway of Canada whom they perceived to be a gouging monopoly and disdainful of serving the western portion of the county. The Northern, seeing its interests threatened, put up a game fight with the promise of a line diverging from King City through Beeton, Angus and on to Penetanguishene, but Simcoe collectively put up municipal aid totalling $300,000. With other civic bonuses totalling half as much again, a sizeable Province of Ontario grant, and with stock and bond issues, serious construction finally got under way in 1877. Simcoe’s aid included a condition for a branchline from Beeton to Collingwood that the promoters of the road were not that keen to construct, as it was a diversion of their master plan’s ultimate destination. Careful reading of the H&NW prospectus did not conceal the master plan, but Simcoe was blindly desperate to get some competition into the county. The road reached Barrie in late 1877 and Collingwood in mid-1879 (officially December 1878), and for a very brief time God was in His Heaven and Simcoe had its other railway.

   However, railway politics, big city civic ambitions and economic reality were bound to intervene. The Northern Railway of Canada was also endeavouring to reach the proposed transcontinental line, and the construction-hostile Canadian Shield across the Muskokas was a formidable barrier to be conquered. Both railways were seriously financially impacted from the difficult economic times of the 1870s, and the Northern was facing the additional burden of conversion to the Standard Gauge. There were other reasons too, including the stark fact that indispensable government aid for one railway through that barrier, let alone for two, would be a very tough sell, if not downright unlikely.

  So it was that in 1879, the Northern and the H&NW came to a joint management agreement as the Northern & North Western Railway (N&NW), and in effect became one railway. In Simcoe there was once again, horror of horrors, a dread monopoly. The realization now dawned that Simcoe County was a way-station and not a terminus. Barrie (which stood to benefit economically in any event from the significant railway infrastructure at Allandale), accepted the new reality more or less philosophically, but Collingwood was beside itself with fury at this perceived betrayal.

  The joint working of the two railways proved to be a stormy marriage from the outset, the major reasons being the self-interests of the two sponsoring cities, the institutionalized Northern chairmanship of the N&NW joint executive committee, the split loyalties of the H&NW board in its preference for the GTR and the CPR, and the overriding “bone of contention” of the Northern’s control of the Northern & Pacific Junction Railway, the tool of extension of the transcontinental connection project north of Gravenhurst.

  The near-monolithically powerful Grand Trunk Railway saw a house divided against itself and had bided its time. On January 24, 1888, the GTR took over the 494 miles of track of the Northern & North Western and its leased lines. With its passage into the GTR, the N&NW was at first described as the N&NW Division, but by the beginning of the 20th century it had been fully integrated into the GTR system of operating districts. Almost surprisingly, in 1923, the Canadian National Railways inherited the original N&NW network pretty much the same way as it had gone into the GTR 35 years earlier.

For more information and for some images of the H&NW, please consult: 

Hamilton’s Other Railway, Bytown Railway Society, Ottawa, Ont. 2001.

and  Simcoe County.

The Hamilton & Lake Erie Railway (H&LE)

  In 19th century Ontario, all lakeshore communities recognized the development of their harbours as the key to local prosperity, even before the emergence of railways as the dominant force in the development of commerce. As early as 1835, while still a town, Hamilton had chartered the Hamilton & Port Dover Railroad in recognition of the need for traffic to be brought to its harbour to stimulate local trade of goods, produce and natural resources.       At that time, the charter's intended purpose was to establish a portage link between the harbours of Port Dover and Hamilton to divert traffic from what was then the fledgling and hence very slow and congested Welland Canal. Nothing came of that charter because of the generally unsettled economic conditions in Upper Canada at that time, until the passing of the Railway Guarantee Act in 1849. This Act ushered in Canada's railway building boom, including the construction of the Great Western Railway, which arrived in what was by then the City of Hamilton, on its way to Windsor. The GWR, however, was a "through" rather than a "feeder" railway. While any railway was good for business, the GWR did not address the needs of the local economy that depended on a vibrant market and its "spin-off" benefits of local trade and manufacture, lower retail costs and the attendant creation of additional local employment. (For more about the GWR, see leaflet 13.)

  So it was that in the same year as the arrival of the Great Western Railway in Hamilton (1853), the original pioneer charter of the Hamilton & Port Dover Railroad was reactivated by Hamilton’s Sir Allan “railways are my politics” MacNab, as the Hamilton & Port Dover Railway (H&PD).
  One of its objects was still to establish a portage link between the harbours of Port Dover and Hamilton as a short-cut to passage through the Welland Canal, but its other aims were now "to facilitate and increase the local traffic [i.e., trade]", "to secure a portion of the freight and passenger business of the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway and of the Grand River" [Caledonia], and to "form a connection with the proposed [Canada Southern Railway] considered to be most strategic to capture the traffic from the broad agricultural belt along that proposed line".  
  All the interest in a railway to the south arose from Hamilton’s fear that it would be left isolated by the diversion of trade from the north to Toronto by means of the Northern Railway of Canada (the former Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union Railroad) and, similarly, that the lucrative trade from southwestern Ontario would be diverted to Buffalo.  This was a perfectly legitimate concern in view of the construction of the Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich Railway (later to become the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway).

  In 1856, the Hamilton & Port Dover Railway acquired a venture which had incorporated in 1855 “to build from Hamilton to Otterville or Simcoe”.  This was the short-lived Hamilton & South Western Railway.  Its objective was so close to that of the Port Dover project that amalgamation was inevitable, given the similarity of the routes, both of which entailed the prospect of lifting the rails up the side of the Escarpment to get out of Hamilton.

  If the H&PD had been completed in the 1850s, it would certainly have succeeded in its original intention of creating a portage link between Port Dover and Hamilton, but construction did not begin until 1856, and the cost of scaling Hamilton Mountain had been grossly underestimated. The result was that construction ceased in 1858 for lack of funds and a dispute with the contractor, and the railway had not even reached Caledonia.
  The project then languished and was not revived until 1869 with some new civic movers and shakers as the Hamilton & Lake Erie Railway (H&LE), by which time it also had to negotiate with the Grand Trunk Railway (successor owner of the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway) at Caledonia and with the Canada Southern at Hagersville for permission to cross their respective tracks. For both of these railways, access to Hamilton was a business opportunity, especially for the Grand Trunk who were by then in very keen competition with the GWR, and then with the GWR's Air Line at Jarvis for joint station facilities - all just to get as far as Jarvis in 1873.

  It was not until 1878 that the last leg into Port Dover was completed under the auspices of the Hamilton & North Western Railway (H&NW), which had assumed the H&LE in 1875. This last leg had really lost its point by then, as the much improved third Welland Canal was by then in progress, and also because of the failure of Port Dover's harbour to develop as a significant port for lake traffic. Moreover, to add to the H&LE/H&NW's misfortune, a rival railway, the Port Dover & Lake Huron, had already ensconced itself in Port Dover. Not only did that railway secure for itself the best harbour location, but it was also a fact of pioneering railway competition that the first railway into any location usually retained the higher volume of traffic, which also proved to be to the H&LE's detriment. However, Hamilton did come to benefit substantially from the railway's other later objects to attract traffic to its city (and in the early years, to some extent, its harbour). 

For more information about the H&LE, please consult: 

Hamilton’s Other Railway, Bytown Railway Society, Ottawa, Ont. 2001

and Haldimand and Norfolk Counties