Perth and Huron Counties
The compelling economic urgency for railways in Perth and Huron in the mid-19th century was no different from that in any other part of Upper Canada of the day. With the land newly wrestled from the forest blanket, the tree stumps pulled and the wheat sown, the challenge was to get it to market. Before the railways, that part was almost as laborious and time-consuming as the clearing of the land in the first place, and agitation for a solution to that imperative became a strident chorus for the newfangled railway.
As elsewhere, it is a familiar story of pioneer initiative, rapid growth, financial distress, amalgamation, monopoly, renewed competition and eventual decline of the traditional network.
Initially, it was a choice between what was originally the proposed Toronto & Goderich Railway, chartered in 1847, re-chartered in 1851 as the Toronto & Guelph Railway; and the Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich (BB&G) Railway, chartered in 1851, and rechartered as the Buffalo & Lake Huron (B&LH) Railway in 1856.
The local intuition was that a vote in favour of the Toronto & Guelph would result in a branchline for Toronto's interests, and the decision was made to opt for what was perceived as the broader appeal and prospect of the Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich. There is no point in debating as to whether this proved to be the right decision. The story unfolds below on this page. As it turned out, the Toronto & Guelph proved to be far from a branchline for Toronto's interests. By 1854 it had become a stepping stone in the trans-national scheme of the Grand Trunk Railway.
The GTR was making its way across Upper Canada to reach its international destination at Chicago, Illinois, and had reached Toronto by acquisition of similar local railway pioneer enterprises all the way from Portland, Maine. In short, the Grand Trunk's aim was not to get to Goderich, but to get to Sarnia, following what was more or less the shortest distance to that place from Toronto.
Certainly, if the Huron County folks had thrown their support behind the Toronto & Guelph Railway, it would have produced (and did in fact produce) a railway line to Stratford, but not likely to Goderich, so to that extent the choice of the BB&G/B&LH turned out to be a prudent and informed one with the limited crystal ball vision of what the railway future of southwestern Ontario was to become.
Unfortunately, the B&LH was unable to hang onto its independence, and by 1864 it was in the fold of the Grand Trunk Railway, and there matters remained, with Goderich a branchline after all. And the northern parts of Perth and Huron had not got a lot of benefit so far. Granted the Wellington, Grey & Bruce, with its "subscribers' route" from Palmerston to Kincardine via Listowel, Brussels and Wingham afforded some relief for a railway connection at least, and until 1882 it was an alternative to the GTR if one lived far enough north to be able to take advantage of the service, but that too evaporated when the Grand Trunk took over the Great Western in that year, and with it the Wellington, Grey & Bruce.
And there was still no line that connected the southern part of Perth with the northern part. True, there had been a longtime proposal in the works in the form of the Stratford & Huron (S&H) Railway. This enterprise had been incorporated in 1855 with the design of building "from Stratford to Southampton; with branches to Penetangore (Kincardine) and Sydenham (Owen Sound), etc. etc.", but as with many of these grandiose plans, financing was a chronic problem, so that it was all talk and no action until it received authority to amalgamate with the equally impoverished Port Dover & Lake Huron (PD&LH) Railway in 1877, so at least the two financial cripples could then lean on each other. Construction did then get under way, completed from Stratford via Milverton and Listowel to Harriston in 1877. Amalgamation with the PD&LH did not actually take place until 1879, but it was wholly evident by then that was no cure. Railway competition had become a very crowded field in these parts, and further consolidation was inevitable.
The axe fell in 1881 when the Port Dover & Lake Huron, the Stratford & Huron and the Georgian Bay & Wellington Railways were folded into the GTR as a subsidiary under the name of the Grand Trunk, Georgian Bay & Lake Erie (GT,GB &LE) Railway. The section of the S&H from Listowel via Palmerston to Harriston (15 miles) was abandoned as duplicate trackage as soon as the Grand Trunk assumed control of the Wellington, Grey & Bruce Railway (a Great Western property) in 1882. The GT,GB &LE was fully amalgamated into the GTR in 1893.
So that's where things were in the late 19th century - one giant GTR monopoly, but the CPR was working to change that. The Canadian Pacific had its Trojan Horse Ontario & Quebec line into Toronto, it succeeded in picking up the Toronto, Grey & Bruce (ironically, wrestling it away from the GTR), which gave it access to Owen Sound; and the Credit Valley Railway (CVR), which, most importantly, gave it access all the way to St. Thomas and then to Windsor. It had picked up a branch to Elora with the CVR, already had Teeswater and created two more branches off its TG&B property to Wingham and to Walkerton. There was also a spur off its St. Thomas mainline to Guelph, which became the springboard for a venture to Goderich.
In 1907 Goderich, Milverton and Listowel got competing service, and the other communities along northern Perth and Huron got local railway service.
There is hardly a county of the former Upper Canada that was not affected or influenced by the omnipresence of the day of the Grand Trunk Railway. Its emergence in 1852 as a colossus that was destined to become a dominant economic and social force in the 19th century in Upper Canada resulted from overarching economic and political forces that combined to bring about its incorporation in the Province of Canada on November 10, 1852.
Its purpose was to create a trunk railway connection between Portland, Maine and Chicago, Illinois; and the chosen route through Canada was via Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, Stratford and Sarnia.
Construction on the Montreal-Toronto mainline began in 1853, and the first trains in each direction passed each other in October 1856. West of Toronto, the Toronto & Guelph Railway, with construction already underway to Guelph, was unceremoniously amalgamated into the GTR as the next leg of its mainline in its bid to reach Chicago. By late 1856, the GTR had reached Sarnia. To that end, anyone’s belief that the GTR stood to serve any local community with a primary focus was totally illusory – every community in what was then Upper Canada was a way-station in pursuit of a larger enterprise. If one happened to be on the route of that larger enterprise, clearly there were the immediate benefits of trade to elsewhere on the line and internationally on to the USA and to the UK. As the influence of the GTR grew, so did its acquisitions – until virtually all of southern Ontario was in its thrall. With its expansion, any community’s hope of having competing railway service was dashed in one way or another, as every surrounding railway undertaking was destined to become a feeder for the GTR – until the later entry of the CPR into what was by then Ontario in the mid-1880s.
In the context of southwestern Ontario in general and of Perth and Huron in particular, the turning point acquisitions by the GTR were the absorption of the ailing Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway (originally the Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich) in 1870, that of another important cross-Ontario feeder line, the Port Dover & Lake Huron Railway (along with the somnolent Stratford & Huron) in 1881, followed by the crowning acquisition of the GTR’s archrival in southwestern Ontario, the substantial Great Western Railway (together with its affiliates, such as the Wellington, Grey & Bruce Railway) in 1882.
During the last part of the 19th century, the GTR fought, unsuccessfully, to keep the CPR out of Ontario. With the dawn of a new century and the reality of two major railways in place, soon to be joined by a third – the Canadian Northern Railway – the GTR participated in the transcontinental adventure to the West with its subsidiary Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. WWI intervened, the immigrant flow dried up, and Canada’s railway development ended in over-expansion, and bankruptcy for the GTR in 1919. Following the end of WWI, the federal government, who already owned the Intercolonial and the P.E.I. Railways to the east, assumed the Canadian Northern in 1918, the Grand Trunk Pacific and the GTR itself in 1920, with total amalgamation by January 30, 1923 into the Canadian National Railways System (CNR).
There is an irony that in the subsequent network rationalization, the GTR’s mainline to Sarnia was abandoned in favour of the original Great Western line.
The Stratford shops
For Stratford, the emergence of the GTR as the dominating railway network in Ontario proved to have a distinctly favourable outcome. When the GTR assumed the Buffalo & Lake Huron in 1870 with its locomotive and car shops in Brantford, it reviewed its expanding network and decided that Stratford was better located for these with respect to its operations in southwestern Ontario. Property along the line of the B&LH was chosen and construction began in the same year and completed in 1871. The associated payroll was a huge boost for Stratford’s economy. When the GTR acquired the GWR in 1882, a further review took place and the GWR’s extensive locomotive shop in Hamilton was also transferred to Stratford. A further expansion took place in 1888 with the GTR’s final major acquisition of the Northern & North Western Railways. The “Stratford Shops” continued into the years of the CNR, provided work through the Depression years and were very busy during WWII when the need to keep the locomotive fleet rolling for the war effort was paramount. During the 1950s, diesel locomotives made their first appearance, and the days of the Stratford shops were now numbered. Layoffs began in 1957, other employees either retired or accepted transfers to Montreal or to Moncton, and closure took place in 1964.
Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich Railway (BB&G)
(reorganized as the Buffalo & Lake Huron [B&LH] Railway in 1856)
Goderich became connected to the emerging Upper Canada railway network by means of the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway in 1858. As a developing port of importance on Lake Huron, Goderich had been fingered by Buffalo commercial interests as a logical portage point to shorten shipping time diagonally across southwestern Ontario between there and Buffalo, thus cutting off two sides of a substantial triangle through the southern part of Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair itself and the whole length of lake Erie.
The plan was a bold one, encouraged by civic interests in Brantford which had felt snubbed by the Great Western Railway (GWR), as its mainline had bypassed that city to the north.
Unfortunately, two major factors conspired against the success of that plan.
The first was that the BB&G traversed relatively sparsely-populated territory (except for the emerging centres of Brantford and Stratford), so that its intermediate stop revenues were uneconomic.
The second was the attraction of the substantial profits that were to be had from the border-to-border transshipment of US goods between the States of New York and Michigan across southern Ontario. Competition for this traffic became the major focus of the two major railway companies in southwestern Ontario – the Great Western and the Grand Trunk (GTR).
As the B&LH’s financial woes increased, so did the interest of the GTR in that railway, as its line between Stratford and Fort Erie/Buffalo stood to provide the GTR with the necessary section of track to compete with the GWR for the border-to-border traffic. In the blizzard of this east-west traffic flow, the original notion of a portage railway from Lake Huron to Buffalo faded away. In 1864, the GTR struck a joint management agreement with the B&LH which provided financial support in exchange for control. (Part of that agreement required the B&LH to lay a 4’8½” standard gauge third rail between Buffalo and Stratford to facilitate the movement of standard gauge US freight cars over the 5’6” broad gauge of the GTR and the B&LH. Because of the extreme financial constraints of both companies, this never came about.) In 1870 the GTR’s ownership of the B&LH became absolute, and the Stratford-Goderich stretch was confirmed as a branchline in a GTR empire that had its priorities elsewhere.
The LH&B was chartered in 1870 by London business interests (with a good deal of rural support) to participate in the emerging bountiful riches of its destination title. It was to build “from London to Goderich, or Kincardine, etc, etc”. It signed a traffic agreement with the Great Western Railway in 1873 when the GWR assumed responsibility for the major portion of its construction costs, and thus obtained control, before acquiring the line outright by virtue of its assumption of the HL&B’s debt in 1876. The LH&B passed into Grand Trunk Railway control in 1882 with the latter’s acquisition of the GWR, and became part of the GTR in 1893.
The original object of the charter was, as noted, a terminal on Lake Huron to attract transit traffic from the Great Lakes. The involvement of the Great Western, however, inevitably brought into play business politics and traffic rationalization, since the GWR had previously in 1869 leased the Wellington, Grey & Bruce Railway, with its similar charter objectives. In fact the WG&B had already reached Southampton in 1872, and was on its way to reach Kincardine in 1874. Accordingly, the GWR dictated its own preferred route, taking off from its mainline at Hyde Park, five miles west of London, and running straight due north via Ilderton, Centralia, Exeter, Hensall and Brucefield to a crossing with the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway at Clinton, and then continuing on via Londesborough, Blyth and Belgrave to connect with and terminate at Wingham on the WG&B’s line to Kincardine: a plan that avoided direct competition and also stood to stimulate traffic at the Kincardine end of the WG&B.
Construction began in 1875, and the entire line was opened for traffic the next year – and indeed proved to be profitable in the early years of its operation.
Incoming traffic to the destination area was farm equipment, lumber, coal, feed and farm supplies, and the outgoing was grain, gain products and livestock; and much later sugar beets, corn and beans. The road obtained the nickname very early on as the “Butter and Eggs Special” in reference to the local farmers’ ready cash produce destined for London’s Covent Garden Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
As did almost all of the branchlines of the Grand Trunk Railway, the LH&B emerged into the Canadian National Railways (CNR) in 1923, and likewise endured curtailment of service during the 1930s. In 1941 the section north of Clinton was abandoned, but the remainder of the line persevered through WWII with an additional spike in traffic, both in military personnel and equipment to and from the RCAF bases at Centralia and Clinton.
Following WWII, “mixed” train service was discontinued in favour of rail diesel car (RDC or dayliner) service, and that ceased also in 1956. Following that there was way freight and then freight service “as required”, until another development took place in 1988 when the track was lifted between Ilderton and Centralia. The reason for this became clear when in 1990 the CNR sold its Stratford-Goderich operation (including the resulting Clinton-Centralia stub to Railtex Inc., San Antonio, Texas, as a shortline that is now the Goderich-Exeter Railway (the southern stub to Ilderton continues to be served by the CNR) in that the purpose of the break in track was to guarantee non-competition from a possible shortline operator connecting to the CPR at the south end.
Port Dover & Lake Huron Railway (PD&LH)
The PD&LH was incorporated in 1872 to build from Port Dover to Stratford. The company was allowed to acquire the roadbed and holdings of the defunct and scandal-ridden Woodstock & Lake Erie Railway and Harbour Company. The line was opened between Port Dover and Woodstock in 1875, and between Woodstock and Stratford in 1876. The PD&LH purchased Port Dover harbour from the federal government in 1877. The PD&LH crossed five east-west railways: the Canada Air Line at Simcoe, the Canada Southern at Waterford, the Brantford, Norwich & Port Burwell at Norwich, the GWR at Woodstock and the GTR at Stratford, which place it reached in 1876.
In 1877, the PD&LH received authority to amalgamate with the Stratford & Huron Railway. This was presumably for the purpose of enhancing its strategic interconnections and thus its revenue potential, but this was occurring in an increasingly crowded field of smaller competing companies, and rationalization was at hand. In 1881, the Port Dover & Lake Huron (along with the Stratford & Huron and Georgian Bay & Wellington Railways) were amalgamated into the Grand Trunk, Georgian Bay & Lake Erie Railway (GT,GB&LE) in 1881, a subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway. The seven-mile portion of the PD&LH from near Tavistock to Stratford ran parallel to the original Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich line. In 1893, when the GT,GB&LE was absorbed outright into the GTR, this section of the PD&LH was closed in favour of a short connecting track at Tavistock Jct., in the western part of Tavistock. Part of the original PD&LH line in the east end of Stratford, was retained as a connection between the BB&G, the GTR main line, and the Stratford & Huron to the north.
Stratford & Huron Railway (S&H)
The Stratford & Huron was incorporated as early as 1855 for the purpose of building from Stratford to Southampton, from where branch lines would radiate. Its incorporation was an attempt to forestall any invasion by the Northern Railway (which, ironically, Bruce County had actively but unsuccessfully been promoting with the Northern); but lacking financial backing, the S&H lay dormant until 1864 when Bruce County promised some financial support. At that time a survey was authorized and the charter updated. However funding remained an issue, and as already noted, in 1877 the PD&LH and the Stratford & Huron received authority to amalgamate. In view of the fact that Southampton had already been reached by the Wellington, Grey & Bruce, the S&H’s destination was changed to Wiarton. Construction was completed from Stratford via Milverton and Listowel to Harriston in 1877. The Stratford & Huron was amalgamated into the Grand Trunk, Georgian Bay, & Lake Erie in 1881, a subsidiary of the GTR and the sections from Harriston to Chesley to Wiarton were completed in 1882. The dictates of viability and consequent rationalization in the light of an increasingly crowded field of smaller competing companies had come to hand.
The Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway's chartered aim was to provide railway service to the two counties named in its title. It originally intended to reach Bruce County with a line to Walkerton, and there branching to Kincardine and Southampton, but because of the competing entry of the Wellington, Grey & Bruce with similar objects, settled for a branch to Teeswater in Bruce County, passing through Fordwich, Gorrie and Wroxeter in Huron. The CPR which had assumed the TG&B in 1884, added a spur to Wingham in Huron County in 1887. It branched off just before Teeswater at "Wingham Junction".
Guelph & Goderich Railway (G&G)
Goderich prided itself on being economically progressive and ambitious, and while the city had resigned itself to the relegation of what had been originally planned as a major economic artery with the downgrading of the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway to a branchline of the GTR, it continued to chafe under the monopolistic regime of the GTR. Goderich and Guelph had been “sister” cities from the Canada Company days, and Goderich watched the efforts of Guelph to escape from its own GTR stranglehold by means of the Guelph Junction Railway (GJR), which was chartered in 1884 to connect Guelph with the CPR’s mainline at a point west of Campbellville. The CPR had its own reasons for wanting to expand its influence in Ontario. In 1887 an extension of the GJR to Goderich was approved, and interest on the part of CPR gathered momentum to the point where the CPR signed an agreement in 1904, allowing it to build an extension to Goderich under the authority of the GJR. To that end, the Guelph & Goderich was incorporated that year; and leased its line to the CPR for 999 years.
The first sod was turned at Meneset across the river from Goderich in 1904, and the line was opened in stages from Guelph to Elmira, to Millbank, and then to Milverton, all in 1906. A branch to Listowel opened in 1908, but plans for a further extension to Stratford were shelved. Getting the line across the Maitland River into Goderich proved to be a real engineering challenge, but the railway opened to Goderich in 1907, somewhat to the chagrin of the GTR which now performed handsprings to compete with its newly-arrived competitor.
As with many other railway age enterprises, a 999 year lease proved optimistic in the extreme. The G&G performed well, although not as bountifully as the CPR had expected, but in any case fell victim to the end of the Railway Age. “Mixed” train service ceased in 1962, intermittent freight service continued into the early 1980s, and the line was abandoned from Guelph to Goderich in 1989.
Ontario West Shore Railway (OWSR)
At the turn of the 20th century, Ontario became enthused with the concept of the radial electric or “interurban” railway concept. Outside of Toronto, It was promoted, supported and often assumed by the then Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, whose Chairman Sir Adam Beck was the guiding enthusiast. In the first two decades of the 20th century, the Mann and Mackenzie empire was also involved as competition.
The “radials” offered a significant advantage over the steam railways with more frequent service and more convenient and frequent stops, and significantly – cheaper fares. There were many schemes planned as a loosely-knit southern Ontario network, but most of them never came to fruition.
The major reasons for the demise of the lines that were built were (1) politics, (2) financing issues after WWI, (3) the emergence of the automobile and of course (4) the Great Depression, where few had the money to afford the fare, let alone to buy anything once they got to where they were going.
The Ontario West Shore Railway was first chartered in 1902 as the Huron, Bruce & Grey Electric Railway “to build an electric railway from Town of Goderich, southerly through Townships of Goderich, Stanley, Hay and Stephen, to boundary line between Huron and Middlesex Counties; and from the Town of Goderich northerly to Owen Sound, with branches … etc etc.” Its name was changed in 1903 to the Ontario West Shore Electric Railway Company. In 1904 Then St. Joseph and Stratford Electric Railway Co. (never built) was authorized to “purchase rights of Ontario West Shore Electric Railway Co. in construction of line from St. Joseph to Hensall”, and in 1908 there was authorization for “Extension of lines to London; branch lines to St. Mary’s, Stratford and Kincardine …” In 1909, its name was changed again to the Ontario West Shore Railway Co. The handwriting was on the wall in 1913 with “Property, rights etc. of the Ontario West Shore Railway Co. vested in Thos. Stothers as Trustee for Municipalities which guaranteed the bonds of the railway company, and the end became official in 1919: “Cites sale, by Trustee, of assets of the above railway company; …, etc etc.” (Was there ever so much authorized for so little?)
Track was eventually laid from Goderich (branching off the CPR line at Meneset) to Kintail. The right-of-way of the line disappeared with the realignment of Highway 21 in 1946, but traces remain between the Maitland Trail and present-day Highway 21, and at Sheppardton.
One of the principal promoters of the Ontario West Shore Railway was Mr. J. W. Moyes of Toronto, who was also general manager of its Metropolitan Railway, until his resignation in 1905. There are lots of stories about this ill-fated enterprise. What we do know is that a 4-4-0 locomotive used for construction, numbered 999. It pulled two flat cars in addition to its tender back and forth along the line. The OWSR ended in scandal when all of the $385,000 raised for construction had been spent, but records could only be found to account for $228,000. According to The Intercity Electric Railway Industry in Canada, by John F. Due, Mr. Moyes refused to co-operate with the investigation by the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board, and was last seen at Scotia Junction, heading for Algonquin Park to evade arrest. Many questions remained. Was it just greed and scam? Incompetence? Or both?
St. Marys & Western Ontario Railway (SM&WO)
This railway was incorporated in 1905 "to build from point on Canadian Pacific Ry. between Woodstock and London, Ontario, to St. Marys, thence westerly to Exeter, thence southerly and westerly to Sarnia; with power to operate vessels and generate electricity, etc.; power to enter agreement with with Canadian Pacific Railway Co." In 1912 its lease to the CPR for 999 years was approved. Eventually it was planned to be built just to St. Marys. Construction began in late 1907 with a junction off the CPR mainline at Zorra just west of Woodstock. The line reached Embro in 1908, and was completed to St. Marys a year later. The CPR abandoned passenger service between St. Marys and Zorra in 1957, and abandoned the line altogether in 1995.