The Northern Railway of Canada Group
It is ironic that the first steam railway in Upper Canada has not been accorded its own definitive history other than by Dr. Frank N. Walker's modest Four Whistles to Wood-Up published in the 1953 on the occasion of the centenary of the opening of the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union Railroad to Machell's Corners, now Aurora, Ont., on May 16, 1853. The following has been compiled from the sources cited at the end this article.
A portage railway had been coffee house talk when Toronto was still York (before 1834). The early trails to Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay had defined logical lines of communication; and the availability of wheat and firewood were domestic necessities. Above all, early pioneer railways were predominantly built with one of two objectives: either to shorten a circuitous water route by overland transportation; or for a burgeoning and ambitious community to "tap the resources of the hinterland", that is to bring resources to its port for consumption or for the spin-off profits of reciprocal onward transportation. As it happened, Toronto's railway vision satisfied both of these criteria.
A False Start
The precursor effort was the incorporation of the Toronto & Lake Huron Railroad on April 20, 1836. The railway was to run from Toronto "to some portion of the navigable waters of Lake Huron within the Home District [originally the counties of York and Simcoe]". The road was to be started in three years and to be completed in ten. As it happened, this charter expired, along with a number of other ambitious early projects from other places, for "non user", that is to say its terms were not taken up within the times alloted by the charter concerned. Despite the wide reverberation of the Lancashire UK Rainhill Locomotive Trials in 1830, the political and economic climates in Upper and Lower Canada, and in England on whose financing these projects depended to a very large extent, were fraught with considerable uncertainty, and the developing railways in England were a heavy drain on whatever capital was available.
Turning Point Legislation
At the height of the real uncertainty surrounding the development of railways in Canada, in 1849 the Province of Canada showed enlightened self-interest by passing the Railway Guarantee Act with the stimulus of loan interest guarantee on the construction of railways not less than 75 miles in length. This beneficial legislation triggered Canada's railway building boom, and the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railroad, as it was then, was to the forefront in taking advantage of this legislation.
The Issue of the Gauge
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 5' 6" gauge, which came to be known as the "Provincial" or "Broad" Gauge. This decision was strongly influenced by civic leader John A. Poor of Portland, Maine, and that city’s mercantile interests, in espousing a “trunk” railway to its port, and to exclude competition as a result of diverted traffic to Boston or New York through the selection of a gauge other than the Standard 4' 8½" Gauge. (The reason for the selection of 5' 6"n itself remains unclear, but may have been motivated by the possible acquisition of available locomotives that happened to be of that gauge.)
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.
Note: The history of the railway gauge in general and its relevance to railway development in Upper Canada is treated in more detail at my page "Railway Gauges in Ontario".
Civil engineer, railway manager, politician, military officer, public servant. Primary profession public servant.
Born in England 1818. At first employed on various public works in Canada, beginning in 1844.
Conducted the surveys for the Victoria Bridge (GTR), Montreal in 1851-2 with Thomas Keefer.
Then appointed assistant engineer for the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railroad, and served as its Superintendent from 1853 to 1856.
Toronto Alderman St. George Ward 1857-59, 1861-62.
Organized the 10th Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles in Toronto 1862, then gazetted in the rank of Major. Retired from active duty 1871 as Lieutenant-Colonel.
Appointed Inspector of Customs, Excise and Canals 1863.
Assistant Commissioner of Inland Revenue in the new Dominion civil service.
Promoted to Commissioner 1871, retired in 1882.
Died in Norfolk, England 1881, at age 63.
Frederick Chase Capreol
Businessman and promoter. Born Hertfordshire, England 1803. Emigrated to Canada in 1828. At first lived in Montreal setting up the affairs of the North West Fur Company, returned briedly to England, married and settled in York (Toronto) in 1833. Pursued various business ventures, but his main enterprise was an auction room in Toronto. Never fully accepted because of a questionable land transaction. In early 1848 Capreol started to promote a railway to Georgian Bay, and in August 1849 became a director of the Toronto, Simcoe and Lake Huron Union Rail-Road Company. To address the issue of chronic lack of capital for early railway construction, Capreol sponsored a "Grand Canadian Railroad Lottery" by means of tickets in the form of debentures for two million dollars in stock prizes. The scheme was put to a civic referendum but Toronto The Good won out. Still regarded with suspicion, he was fired from his position of office or general manager of the railway two days before the official sod-turning on October 15, 1851. Subsequently engaged in diverse enterprises, notable among them the ill-fated and belated Huron and Ontario Ship Canal. Capreol died in Toronto in 1886 at age 83 as a successful merchant, but without the acclaim or the public honours he had coveted. His only memorial is the former railway junction in northern Ontario that bears his name.
Engineer, architect, railway manager and politician. Primary profession initially that of architect, subsequently that of railway manager.
Born in London, England 1820. Came to Toronto in 1847. Was attracted by the novelty of railways, and gradually moved into railway management. In 1852 the floundering Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railroad appointed him chief engineer. From 1852 to 1854 he reorganized the engineering department under his control rather than that of the contractors. He returned to his architectural practice in 1854, but the railway continued to flounder. In 1859 he returned as managing director (general manager), and streamlined the railway's entire managerial structure, while supervising renovations, new construction and capital purchases. He expanded only when forced to by the depletion of lumber along the Northern's route, or by competition. Despite both external and internal financial strictures of the 1860s, Cumberland strengthened the Northern and guided it though the joint management arrangement with the Hamilton & North Western in 1879. His premature death in 1881 at age 61 left the Northern bereft of his advocacy and managerial ability. Aside from those of his architectural legacies that still survive, he is remembered by a cairn and bust erected in his honour (formerly in the grounds of the Allandale station) by the employees of the then Northern & North Western Railway.
Surveyor, draftsman, engineer. Born Scotland 1827. Emigrated to Canada in 1845, settled initially in Peterborough, Ont. Licensed as a Province of Canada surveyor in 1849. Brought over the Fleming family in 1847, and established a family farm at Craigleith. Moved from Peterborough to Toronto 1849, and in 1852 became an assistant engineer reporting to Cumberland on the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union Railroad. Discharged by Cumberland in 1855, he was reinstated as chief engineer on condition that he devote all his time to the railway. Fleming left the Northern in 1862, became the Province of Canada Chief Surveyor and was appointed engineer-in-chief in 1867 by the new Dominion Government to build the Intercolonial Railway, completed in 1876. Also appointed in 1871 by the Dominion Government as chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, where he led an initial survey and co-ordinated others. Discharged from his post at the Dominion Engineering Department in 1880. Became a Director of the CPR in 1884, and conducted another survey for a passable route through the Selkirks. He was a fervent advocate of science education, tenacious promoter of a Pacific cable, also the driving force in the implementation of North American railway standard time in 1883, followed by world standard time in 1884. (He was incidentally also the designer of Canada's first postage stamp that promoted the beaver as a distinct Canada emblem.) Knighted in 1897, died in Halifax, N.S. in 1915 at age 88.
John Harvie (Harvey)
Railway conductor, manager, businessman, politician. Born Scotland 1833. Emigrated to the USA in 1851, settled in Toronto in 1852. Obtained a position as freight conductor on the OS&HU in 1853, but when the newly-hired passenger train conductor failed to appear for the opening run to Machell's Corners, Superintendent Brunel gave him the job. The high point of his conductorship was when he ran the Prince of Wales's special train to Georgian Bay in 1860. In 1867, he became train and traffic manager for the Northern (see below), but in 1878 he was replaced and made station master at Toronto's new (1873) Union Station. He retired from the railway in 1881 and turned to real estate development and politics. He died in 1917 at age 84 in Guelph, Ont. The railway community is indebted to him for his foresight in having the first three locomotives of the OS&HU (Lady Elgin,Toronto and Josephine) photographed before being scrapped.
Wheat buyer, merchant, railway promoter. Born Scotland 1828. Emigrated to Canada in 1855, obtained a position as a wheat buyer with the Toronto distillery Gooderham & Worts, and became a grain merchant in his own right in 1865. It was through the grain trade that Laidlaw came to understand the challenges and importance of transportation, and he became a tireless and eloquent advocate of the benefits of narrow gauge railways. He also fulminated against the monopolistic rates for firewood, neither of which made him any friends at the Grand Trunk Railway or the Northern. He persuaded his former employer to sponsor two narrow (3ft 6in) gauge lines out of Toronto, the Toronto & Nipissing Railway northeasterly with an intended destination to Lake Nipissing, and the other northwesterly to Owen Sound. Incorporated in 1868 and running by 1872/3, these feisty little lines broke the Northern's firewood monopoly and the northwesterly Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway to Owen Sound became the first challenge to the Northern's railway monopoly.
Laidlaw also promoted and was actively involved as president in two other later railways (on the Standard Gauge), the Credit Valley Railway from Toronto to Orangeville with a branch to St. Thomas, and the Victoria Railway from Lindsay to Haliburton.
He was good friends with George Stephen, president of the CPR. Two of his railways, the Toronto, Grey & Bruce and the Credit Valley, eventually became part of the CPR and were instrumental in breaking the GTR's Ontario monopoly in the 1880s. His career had taken a toll on his health and he retired to his estate at Balsam Lake in 1881 and died there in 1889, also (as did Frederic Cumberland) at the early age of 61.
The Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union Railroad
With initial support from the Toronto city fathers, the prime mover of the first steam railway in Upper Canada was the imaginative and energetic Frederick Chase Capreol. The OS&HU was first incorporated in 1849 as the Toronto, Simcoe & Lake Huron Union Railroad, but the bill contained some unusual features, the most controversial being an innovative scheme for fundraising by means of a stock lottery, whereby 100,000 raffle tickets would be sold at $20 each. A total of 15,954 ticket holders would receive stock in amounts descending from two prizes for $100,000 in stock to 7,500 allotments of $20 in stock.
The lottery scheme was not received well by Toronto the Good and it was dropped from the bill, the railway being re-named the next year as the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union Railroad. (An associated notoriety was a scandal [known informally as the "ten thousand pound job"] that came to light in 1853, involving inside foreknowledge by J.G. Bowes, then Mayor of Toronto and Sir Francis Hincks, the Province of Canada Inspector-General, of the prospective redemption at par of improperly authorized bonds owned by the City of Toronto with a par value of 50,000 pounds sterling, but with a discounted market value at 80 per cent.)
The construction contract was awarded to M.C. Storey & Company (an American firm), and the first sod was turned by Lady Elgin, the wife of the Governor-General, on October 15, 1851. The road's first chief engineer was H.C. Seymour, whom Capreol had recruited from New York State. Immediately before the sod-turning, Capreol had been summarily dismissed from his post of office or general manager of the railway for reasons never officially divulged, but speculation has it that it may have been a personality clash between the Board of Directors (the Chairman the Hon. H.J. Boulton was of staunch Family Compact descent), and Capreol who was a colourful Reformer and not quite accepted in the staid Toronto high society circles. Chief Engineer H.C. Seymour subsequently resigned, at which time Frederic Cumberland was called upon to take his place.
Cumberland immediately made a number of changes to the survey to straighten the route. The road 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. An initial survey to inspect, among other locations "the Hen and Chickens harbour" (after one larger and four smaller islands offshore in Georgian Bay) for the terminus of the railway had been carried out by assistant engineers Sandford Fleming and Alfred Brunel. Selection of the terminus was subsequently confirmed in early 1853 by an expedition consisting of Frederic Cumberland, Sandford Fleming, E.C. Hancock (affiliation not traced, possibly a director) and B.W. Smith, the Sheriff of Simcoe County, and the place was named Collingwood after Admiral Lord Collingwood who succeeded Lord Nelson as commander of the British fleet upon the latter's death at Trafalgar.
The Allandale-Collingwood portion of the line was then completed and ready for traffic in June 1855. (A branch to Belle Ewart, significant for the capture of the steamer traffic on Lake Simcoe, had been built in 1854.) With the road now "up and running", Cumberland returned to his successful and busy architect practice and Sandford Fleming became Chief Engineer in 1855. In 1856, Alfred Brunel resigned as Superintendent and William Huckett, the master mechanic who had arrived with the road's first engine from Portland, Me., the Lady Elgin, moved on to a career in vaudeville. The OS&HU was at that point fortunate to acquire three key men from the upstate New York Rome & Watertown Railway: Lewis Grant as Superintendent, James Tillinghast as master mechanic and L.S. Williams as chief locomotive engineer.
The OS&HU had all of the growing pains of a pioneer railway with managers who had to learn on the job. Much of the road had not been fenced, which led to disputes with farmers over destroyed cattle, the track lacked ballast and the locomotives and rollingstock were in constant need of upgrade and repair. However, the railway's three most defining financial issues were unprofitable freight contracts (volume before profit), express trains that did not pay and a fleet of steamships that could not turn a profit on the traffic they brought to the road at Collingwood. By 1858, the OS&HU was in serious trouble.
The Northern Railway of Canada
After return to his architect practice, Cumberland continued to keep in touch with the railway's affairs. and was elected a director in 1857. In 1858 he was made vice-president of the board and was delegated to go to England to discuss increasing the railway's debentures with the bondholders to wipe out the railway's debts. This was agreed to on condition that Cumberland became managing director of the road, which condition was met, and in 1859 Cumberland effectively embarked on a new career. The OS&HU had been formally reconstituted as the Northern Railway of Canada in 1858. Cumberland's immediate focus was to transform the Northern into a viable economic proposition. He developed a policy that freight would only be carried at a profit, substituted stopping "accommodation" trains for the unprofitable expresses and disposed of the money-losing steamship fleet. While the timber traffic continued to be lucrative and became the source for capital improvements, remarkably perhaps the new emphasis on local convenient passenger trains was the bread-and-butter that met the payroll during the 1860s. For the Northern, the 1860s were a decade of consolidation and if not retrenchment, at least containment, but two pressures began to manifest themselves.
The first was the malodorous monopoly. In Toronto this manifested itself over the Northern's firewood monopoly, a commodity crucial to Toronto's economy in all aspects, the domestic hearths, heating for businesses and energy for its steam-driven industry. And along the line, while this new form of transportation had been heartily welcomed (except by the stagecoach operators) in York and Simcoe Counties, the "take it or leave it" freight rates and the inconvenient distances from the far reaches of those counties to the railway began to engender rumbling resentment for both real and perceived reasons.
The first pressure begat the second - developing competition. This began for the Northern in the 1860s almost subtly with the realization by Toronto business interests that the Northern had a stranglehold on hinterland development. At the same time there was incipient pressure from Grey and Bruce Counties, in that railway service was going to be necessary for the furtherance of their prosperity. From Orangeville to the south in what was later to become Dufferin County and between there and the established ports at Kincardine and Owen Sound there was a vast grid of Concessions with emerging hamlets and villages dotted about the landscape that were relying for the movement of goods and people on such primitive roads that had been established. Agitation for a better option came to a head, and in 1864 the Northern was approached for a branchline from Angus to Grey County's market town of Durham. When Cumberland, still well ensconced in his containment policy, refused on the ground that there would be insufficient traffic, he was roundly abused in the press and in the legislature.
There the matter rested for the Northern except that this altercation underscored not only the need for competition, but also drew attention to the developing opportunities for connections to Lake Huron. The Toronto distillery of Gooderham & Worts proved to have some key influence in railway politics in the day. They had hired a wheat buyer by the name of George Laidlaw who was an ardent and eloquent advocate of the economies of 3' 6" narrow gauge railways. The distillery not only needed firewood, but grain to feed its stills. Laidlaw was an entrepreneur at heart and persuaded his employer to underwrite two such narrow gauge lines, one northeast to Lake Nipissing (did not get further than Coboconk) and the other northwest to Owen Sound. Relief was at hand for the northwest with the incorporation of the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway in 1868 and its completion to Owen Sound in 1873. The Northern had started to lose its stranglehold of being "the only game in town".
An additional circumstance that contributed adversely to the Northern's image in the 1860s was certainly the celebrated fight over "the Barrie Switch", a local campaign for the construction of a spur from Allandale to downtown Barrie. One of Cumberland's adjustments to the original surveys was to have the railway pass through Allandale rather than wind its way through Barrie. Barrie and Allandale were at that time separate emerging communities in fierce competition with each other, and the railway's decision to cut through Allandale and bypass Barrie on its way to Collingwood was a source of real civic anger in Barrie. The conspiracy theory was that Barrie had been snubbed because it had not bonused the railway, but the real reason was undoubtedly the comparative level topography and consequent simplified engineering challenge that represented both saved cash and precious time for the fledgling railway anxious to reach its terminus. With Cumberland in his "no expansion" mindset however, the campaign to get a spur into Barrie was a bitter one, aggravated by the spur for all to see that had been built into Belle Ewart. Still the issue was finally settled in 1865 when the first Northern train steamed into Barrie, but the ill-feeling continued to rankle.
All in all, under Cumberland's leadership, during the 1860s the Northern rebounded from a pioneer railway on the point of disintegration in 1858 to what was described later on the 1870s as "what was for all the world like a flourishing and well-ordered English line". In 1867, Cumberland penned his philosophy of railroading that he was to spread abroad in eloquent addresses:
In the very nature of things, railways are necessarily costly, the unceasing character of their business, which can never be postponed, its hazardous nature, the value of the things conveyed, the pressure of stringent laws affecting the common carrier, and (especially in a climate such as ours) the excessive wear and tear and waste of every appliance of its works, machinery and stock, all contribute to render sound and permanent provisions the truest and indeed the only economy: and thus it is that experience has led to the abandonment of "cheap" expedients ... in favour of more reliable, even if ... more costly provisions, which secure safety and efficiency of service, and more remunerative investment.
It was a strategy that the Grand Trunk Railway had espoused from the outset, and a lesson which the Great Western Railway, other pioneer lines and the narrow gauge advocates were to learn to their detriment. Cumberland had restored financial respectability and operational viability to the Northern, but the 1870s proved to be even more challenging and turbulent. The advent of the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway, harbinger of change though it was, proved to be only the foretaste of what was to come. There were four factors that were to change and influence the policies of the Northern for the next two decades:
1.) The conversion of wilderness into settlements that clamoured for their share of prosperity. Prosperity was tied inexorably to access to a railway, or preferably more than one! (Ironically this was a factor that pioneer railways everywhere had created for themselves simply by virtue of their very existence.)
2.) The exhaustion of the initially easily-reached timber stands, the early railways' prime source of revenue. This resulted in the lumbering companies' removal further and further to the north, so that the railways that craved that revenue had no choice except to follow.
3.) The emerging prospect of the transcontinental railway that transformed local competition into a much larger vista of potential prosperity.
4.) In southern Ontario, the emerging dominance and influence of, and intertwining dependence on, the behemoth Grand Trunk Railway. By virtue of its acquisition of every pioneer railway that did not fall to the eventual entry of the Canadian Pacific Railway into southern Ontario in the mid-1880s, it reinstituted a railway monopoly throughout much of southern Ontario by the end of the 1880s.
So the story of the Northern continues into the 1870s.
The North Grey Railway
The Northern's eventual response to Grey County's clamour for railway service was the sponsorship in 1871 of the North Grey Railway which, along with the Toronto & Muskoka Junction Railway (see below) was leased back to the Northern as the Northern Extension Railway Company. (The Northern Extension Railway was absorbed back into the Northern in 1875.) The North Grey Railway was incorporated to build from Collingwood to Owen Sound, and the 22 miles from Collingwood to Meaford were speedily completed in 1872. Laidlaw's Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway however arrived in Owen Sound in 1873 and effectively satisfied Grey County's need for railway service. The section from Meaford to Owen Sound never was completed. For more detail on the North Grey Railway, please click here.
The Toronto, Simcoe & Muskoka Jct. Railway
In the meantime, by 1869, some prominent Toronto families but also some Simcoe County business and civic interests were agitating for an extension of the Northern Railway from the end of its line at Barrie to Orillia. That pressure resulted in sponsorship by the Northern and incorporation in late 1869 of the Toronto, Simcoe & Muskoka Junction Railway to build from Barrie to Orillia and beyond to a terminal on Lake Muskoka.
The line to Orillia was completed in 1872, crossed the Narrows between Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching at Atherley, reached Washago in 1873, Severn in 1874, Gravenhurst in late 1875 and was at Muskoka Wharf in 1876 to open up the Muskokas to a new era of holiday resorts for the well-to-do. (Corporately, the Toronto, Simcoe & Muskoka Jct. Railway and the North Grey Railway were combined into the Northern Extension Railway, leased back to the Northern and finally absorbed into the Northern in 1875.)
The North Simcoe Railway and the Flos Tramway
The North Simcoe Railway had been incorporated in 1874 by Toronto business interests "from a point on the Northern Railway" (Colwell) to Penetanguishene, was leased to the Northern and built and opened in 1878, just before the Northern & North Western merger (see below). Its principal target was the rich timber stands in Flos Township, resulting in the incorporation and opening of the Flos Tramway in 1880. This spur ran from Elmvale to Hillsdale, south of Orr Lake, and was acquired by the Northern & North Western Railways (see below) in 1882. Lumbering operations are believed to have ceased in the 1890s, but the track was not lifted until 1917, a portion of it as late as 1927. The North Simcoe Railway provided a transportation artery to Penetang which the Grand Trunk was later (in 1911) to enhance with a connection from just north of Elmvale at Birch to Midland via Wyebridge.
The Northern & North Western Railways
All this activity had not escaped the business community of Hamilton, which in 1872 had chartered the Hamilton & North Western Railway to build through Simcoe County to connect with the forthcoming transcontinental railway. The challenge from the Hamilton & North Western proved to be the major event of the 1870s for the Northern. What began as competition for traffic in Simcoe County crystalized in and then focused on a connection to the forthcoming transcontinental railway.
The Northern already had a springboard to the North with its Toronto, Simcoe & Muskoka Junction Railway, but the initial issue was the prospective competition for business in Simcoe County. The Northern viewed this prospective inroad into its preserve with great concern, and endeavoured to stave it off with its counterproposal of the South Simcoe Junction Railway, a line projected to branch off at King City in York County, and to serve the western portion of Simcoe County by way of Beeton, Alliston, Angus and Penetanguishene. Meanwhile a Simcoe County delegation was putting pressure on the Hamilton & North Western to build a branch from Beeton to Collingwood to serve the western part of Simcoe County. This was an expression of another grievance against the Northern, whereby the westerly part of Simcoe County had for two decades had a long trek to the railway for mail and transportation. The outcome was that Simcoe County, chronically fed up with the Northern monopoly and still smarting from such injuries as the Barrie Switch, voted its bonuses to the Hamilton railway. The South Simcoe Junction Railway was never built, although its proposed northern portion more or less planned the same route to Penetanguishene as the one followed by the subsequent North Simcoe Railway (see above).
Behind the skirmishes for Simcoe County's business, the reality of the transcontinental railway hovered in the wings. It was after all the founding purpose of the Hamilton & North Western Railway and an object that the Northern could not afford not to be part of, now that a move was being made to have a connection from southern Ontario become a reality.
In taking stock of themselves, the two railways were both strapped for capital with the adverse financial climate of the 1870s; and revenue to make the railways pay was an ongoing struggle. In summary, for the Hamilton & North Western, getting into Simcoe County had been "touch-and-go", and maintaining a respectable financial profile had continued to be a challenge for the Northern. Moreover, it was clear that two competing railways slogging through the rugged and forbidding terrain of the Canadian Shield could not be justified and would likely not get the necessary Dominion or provincial support.
For the Northern, there were two additional issues:
1. Its visionary driving force and manager Frederic Cumberland was in declining health by the late 1870s - the travails of the Northern had taken their toll.
2. The Northern was still on the Provincial Gauge, whereas the latterday Hamilton & North Western had been built to the Standard Gauge. The Grand Trunk had converted to the Standard Gauge by 1872, and the Midland Railway had followed by 1874, so it was only a matter of time for the Northern to be compelled to follow suit. The Northern knew full well that this impending necessity had been the downfall of the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway, and was "the elephant in the room" for the substantial Great Western, let alone for the lesser Laidlaw narrow gauge lines.
So the Hamilton & North Western reached Barrie in late 1877, and struggled to build its branch through Alliston, Lisle, Creemore and Duntroon to reach Collingwood in mid-1979 (not counting the construction train that squeaked in at the end of 1878 to satisfy the bonus requirement). For a few short months, Simcoe basked in its second railway, and then for Simcoe County, the bad news broke.
The Northern and the Hamilton & North Western had merged under a joint management agreement to form the Northern & North Western Railways. As discussed above, the main reason for this merger was financial necessity arising from the ambition of both railways to make a connection at North Bay with the proposed transcontinental railway.
Arguably, the merger also gave impetus to the need for the Northern to convert from the 5'6" Provincial Gauge to the Standard Gauge, and this was completed on July 14, 1881.
Upon news of the merger, predictably, a storm of civic anger erupted in Simcoe County, but the inevitable had arrived and was not about to be undone. The anger was palpable in Collingwood, somewhat more restrained in Barrie/Allandale, and the rest of the County settled down into acceptance of reality. After all, the Northern still ran as it always had, Tottenham, Beeton and Cookstown now had a railway, and Alliston over to Duntroon had just managed to squeak in with a line that the Hamilton & North Western had not really wanted to build in the first place, but had been obliged to in order to gain the necessary financial support in Simcoe County. Arguably if the merger had happened two years later, the Beeton branch might never have been built at all, engineering nightmare that it was over the Blue Mountain ridge.
At the Hamilton & North Western's Board, four directors were "sympatico" with the Grand Trunk, and the other four leaned towards the Canadian Pacific Railway - an interesting mix for the projected combined thrust to reach the CPR. And closer to home, there was the immediate issue of abandonments at Collingwood and at Allandale/Barrie as the duplicate installations were promptly rationalized in the resulting strained local civic atmospheres, and of course it was the Hamilton & North Western facilities that were about to be sacrificed. The merger was intended to be an arrangement between equals subject to the proportionate contributions of revenue, but the Northern was inclined to behave as if it had taken over the Hamilton & North Western, and mutual suspicions and resentments were rife.
After the merger, the two railways' corporate culture was never the same anymore. The Northern, its Board always somewhat aligned with the philosophies of the Grand Trunk Railway, found itself embroiled and wrestling with Hamilton politics, the impending change of gauge and all of the implications of that with respect to financing, equipment and rollingstock.
And the one man, Frederic Cumberland, who had been the driving force of the Northern and with his financial acumen, managerial skills and his political astuteness had held the various interests and factions together succumbed to his health issues on August 5, 1881.
(The book Hamilton's Other Railway is a detailed and definitive history of the Hamilton & North Western Railway. To read more about that railway and the book, please click here.)
The Northern & Pacific Jct. Railway
As referenced above, the whole purpose of the merger between the Northern and the Hamilton & North Western had been to join forces to find a combined way of carving a way though the granite of the Muskokas to reach the Northwest.
Sault Ste. Marie was then seen as the immediate springboard to the West with the object of an improved claim to a proportionate share of the expected traffic between the great "Northwest" and Ontario. The CPR had its own plans for a link-up at "the Soo", and the Grand Trunk interests/alliances had two "irons in the fire". One was the Ontario Sault Ste. Marie Railway, incorporated in 1881, that (on paper) had been part of the Midland Railway consolidation (see the history of Peterborough County).
The other was the Northern, North Western & Sault Ste. Marie Railway, also incorporated in 1881, the project of the Northern & North Western Railway.
By 1883 however, the CPR was vigorously building its branch from Sudbury Junction to Algoma Mills. The Ontario Sault Ste. Marie remained "a paper railway" and the Northern, North Western & Sault Ste. Marie Railway settled to build from Gravenhurst to Callandar, and thence to Nipissing Junction. In 1883, the name was changed to the Northern & Pacific Junction Railway, and a contract for the 111 miles was let to Hamilton's Hendrie construction firm. Surveys were completed and the line reached Callander (just south of North Bay) in early 1886. Its financing created a political scandal in the House of Commons with the additional need for public subsidy, and Cumberland's Northern Railway empire was now rife for take-over.
The Grand Trunk Railway takes all
Joseph Hickson, General Manager of the Grand Trunk Railway, had been quietly buying up preference shares of both progenitor companies, and had also been skilfully nurturing their mutual suspicions of the past 10 years. By late 1887, the Grand Trunk was in control, and by Deed of Union of January 24, 1888, the GTR took over the 497 miles of the Northern & North Western Railways. The Grand Trunk now had its access to the CPR from southern Ontario, thus forestalling the CPR's own connection for another two decades. Ironically, the Hamilton & North Western's survey to the North was close to the subsequent route of the CPR's MacTier Subdivision.
The 19th century was the golden period of what has now come to be known as the "Railway Age". However, even before World War I and the advent of the automobile, amalgamation, and hence rationalization of the spiderweb-like railway network was inevitable. This had already begun in 19th century southern Ontario, when the Grand Trunk took over a major Ontario rival, the Great Western Railway, in 1882. As it happened, for Simcoe County, this process was already under way in 1879 with the Northern & North Western Railways merger, followed by the Grand Trunk's acquisition of the N&NW in 1888, and its outright acquisition of the Midland Railway of Canada in 1893.
The Grand Trunk Railway in turn, caught in its expansionary Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the downturn in immigration with the advent of World War I, finally became bankrupt, and on January 31, 1923, was absorbed into the Canadian National Railways System.
Abandonments and related dates
1879 - The Hamilton & North Western facilities on Walnut Street, Collingwood.
1879 - The Hamilton & North Western facilities at Allandale, and its route to its terminus at Sophia Street, Barrie.
1917-27 - The Flos Tramway
1923 - With the advent of the CNR, the CNoR and GTR tracks at Washago rationalized
1931 - The Belle Ewart spur
1932 - The GTR connection Birch on the Penetang Sub. to Tay on the Midland Sub..
1934 - The Magnetawan River spur, Burk's Falls
It is remarkable that the Great Depression did not trigger more abandonments. World War II sustained the railways into the 1950s. However with the automobile within the reach of most people in the burgeoning post-war economy, and the development of bus and truck service on improved roads, the traditional railway service was doomed. The final blow was the cancellation of the lucrative post office mail contracts.
1950s - the Muskoka Wharf spur had become part of the Gravenhurst yard limit and fell into disuse with the decline of the steamboat traffic on Lake Muskoka.
1950s - "Mixed" service to Penetanguishene ceased.
1955 - the former H&NW branch between Alliston and Creemore abandoned and lifted.
1955 - the former Northern Railway of Canada/GTR route at Washago re-aligned again with the reconstruction of Hwy 11.
1960 - passenger service from Hamilton via Allandale, Collingwood to Meaford ceased.
1960 - the stub from Lake Junction (Collingwood) to Creemore abandoned and lifted.
1963 - Barrie station demolished.
1975 - the former North Simcoe Railway north of Elmvale to Penetang abandoned.
1975 - the former Hamilton & North Western Railway between Georgetown and Cheltenham abandoned.
1982 - GO-Transit assumed VIA Rail Barrie -Toronto service at Bradford.
1984 - the former Hamilton & North Western Railway between Cheltenham and Beeton abandoned.
1985 - the former North Grey Railway abandoned.
1986 - the former North Simcoe Railway south of Elmvale to Colwell abandoned.
1986 - Tottenham Chamber of Commerce acquired the Tottenham-Beeton right-of-way of former Hamilton & North Western.
1990 - the former Hamilton & North Western Railway between Beeton and Highway 400, including the Alliston Spur, abandoned.
1990 - GO-Transit extended rail service to Barrie/Allandale.
1992 - South Simcoe Railway started operations between Tottenham and Beeton.
1993 - GO-Transit cut back rail service to Bradford.
1996 - trackage in Collingwood removed.
1996 - the former Toronto, Simcoe & Muskoka Junction Railway trackage from Barrie through Orillia to Longford (south of Washago) abandoned as the CNR consolidated its transcontinental traffic onto the former James Bay Railway line (Bala Sub.)
1997 - Collingwood station demolished.
1997 - Barrie and Collingwood purchased the rail line between those two cities.
1998 - The Barrie-Collingwood Railway (BCRY) commenced operations from Collingwood through Allandale to the Beeton spur at Hwy 400, and one lone track now traverses the former division point complex at Allandale, with the hard-fought-for "Barrie Switch" from Allandale into Barrie now lifted.
2007 - GO-Transit restored rail service to a new station south of Allandale.
2009 - Metrolinx acquired Toronto-Barrie rail commuter corridor.
Sources and some recommendations for further reading:
For reference to 1880 County Atlases, please click here and then click on 22 for York County and on 21 for Simcoe 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, Robert B.: Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway, Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin No. 85, USA 1952
Cooper, Charles: Hamilton's Other Railway, The Bytown Railway Society, Ottawa, Ont. 2001
Currie, A.W.: The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ont. 1957
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: http://www.biographi.ca
Dorman, Robert: A Statutory History of the Steam and Electric Railways of Canada 1836-1937, Canada Department of Transport, Ottawa, Ont. 1938
Gilhuly, Brian: The True Story of the Provincial Gauge, Branchline (May/June 2017), Bytown Railway Society, Ottawa, Ont.
Green, Lorne: Chief Engineer, Dundurn Press, Toronto, Ont. 1993
Hopper, A.R. and Kearney, T.: Synoptical History of Organization, Capital stock, Funded Debt and other General Information CNR Accounting Department, Montreal, Que., 1962
Hunter, Andrew F.: A History of Simcoe County, The Historical Committee of Simcoe County, Barrie, Ont.1948
Lavallée, Omer S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Provincial Gauge, Canadian Rail (February 1963), CRHA, St. Constant, Que.
Leitch, Adelaide: The Visible Past, The County of Simcoe, Minesing, Ont. 1992
Mika, Nick and Helma: Railways of Canada, A Pictorial History McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., Toronto-Montreal, 1978.
Riff, Carl H.: The Northern Railway of Canada Diary, Unpublished, Hamilton, Ont. 2013
Russell, Victor L.: Mayors of Toronto Vol I 1834 - 1899, Boston Mills Press, Erin, Ont. 1982
Shaw, Dr. Gordon C.: Railway Connections to the Muskoka Steamers, UCRS Newsletter #450 April 1987
Smith, Jeffrey P.: CNR Ontario Research http://cnr-in-ontario.com
Stevens, G.R.: Canadian National Railways, Volume I, Clarke Irwin, Toronto, Ont., 1960
Trout, J.M. and Edw.: The Railways of Canada, Toronto Ont., 1871 (reprinted 1970, 1974)
Walker, Dr. Frank N.: Four Whistles to Wood-Up, Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto, Ont. 1953
White, James: Altitudes in Canada: Commission of Conservation, Canada. Second Edition, Ottawa, Ont., 1915.
Wilson, Ian: Steam at Allandale, Canadian Branchline Miniatures, Orillia, Ont. 1998
Wilson, Ian: Steam Scenes of Allandale, Canadian Branchline Miniatures, Orillia, Ont. 2007
Wilson, Ian: Steam in Northern Ontario, Canadian Branchline Miniatures, Orillia, Ont. 2006
Worthen, S.S.: Referred to the Committee: Canadian Rail (May 1976), CRHA, St. Constant, Que.