Wellington County

Note: Please also see Grey and Bruce, and Dufferin  Counties.


Wellington is a “gatekeeper” county in any discourse over the emergence of railways in southwestern Ontario. The Wellington, Grey & Bruce (WG&B) Railway is an example in point. Wellington County was, as most Ontario counties of that day, agriculture-based and therefore had the same interest in the advent of a railway to promote its prosperity. From a development point of view, the advent of the WG&B was the premier railway, followed to a lesser extent by the Credit Valley (CVR) that terminated in Elora (and also passed through Wellington along its southern border) , and then the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway (TG&B), whose Teeswater branch  passed through Wellington along its northern border.
  Because of its strategic location and the emerging importance of its seat at Guelph, the county also became host to a number of other railways:

The Toronto & Guelph Railway (T&G)
The Galt & Guelph Railway (G&G)
Georgian Bay & Wellington Railway (GB&W)
The Guelph Junction Railway (GJR)
The Guelph & Goderich Railway (Gu&Go)
The Guelph Radial Railway
The Toronto-Guelph interurban electric railway (The Toronto Suburban Railway [TSR])

Toronto & Guelph (Grand Trunk Railway)

Rockwood CNR ex GTR. 1936. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson

Rockwood CNR ex GTR. 1936. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson

Guelph GTR. Guelph Public Library Archives

Guelph GTR. Guelph Public Library Archives

The Toronto & Guelph Railway
(with research from Pat Scrimgeour)
The Toronto & Goderich Railway Company was established in 1848 to build from Toronto to Guelph, and on to Goderich, on Lake Huron. The Toronto & Guelph was incorporated in 1851 to succeed the Toronto & Goderich with powers to build a line only as far as Guelph.

The Toronto & Guelph was amalgamated with five other railway companies in 1854 to form the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada. The GTR opened the Toronto & Guelph line in 1856. The Grand Trunk extended its line west from Guelph to Stratford in 1856, to St. Mary’s Jct. in 1858, and to Point Edward, near Sarnia, in 1859. A connecting line under construction from St. Mary’s Jct. to London, the London & Grand Trunk Junction, was amalgamated into the GTR in 1857.

Click here for the 1852 AGM report by the Guelph Advertiser. (The Esquesing Historical Society)

The Galt & Guelph Railway
(with research from Pat Scrimgeour)
  The Galt & Guelph was incorporated in 1852 as an extension of the Great Western Railway’s Harrisburg-Galt branch, which had been authorized in 1850, and became the “springboard” for the start of the Wellington, Grey & Bruce Railway at Guelph, a venture that graduated from interested to tangible support with the GWR.The Great Western leased the G&G in 1854, and took complete control by foreclosing on a mortgage in the 1860s. The line was completed and opened from Galt to Preston in 1855, and to Guelph in 1857. (A branch of the railway to Berlin was separated from the company as the Preston & Berlin Railway Company, in 1857.)

  The Galt & Guelph was an integral part of the Great Western system when the GWR agreed to a deed of union with the Grand Trunk in 1882, and the Galt & Guelph was formally amalgamated into the GTR in 1893.

The Wellington, Grey & Bruce Railway (WG&B)

See also Grey and Bruce Counties

The emergence of the WG&B arose from the fervent need for railway service in its namesake counties, and the solid refusal of the Northern Railway of Canada to build branch lines. The first step in the realization of this need was the incorporation in 1856 (one year after the Northern reached Collingwood) of the Canada North-West Railway Company “to build from Southampton on Lake Huron to Toronto on Lake Ontario with branch to Owen Sound, etc. etc.”.

Sandford Fleming carried out a preliminary survey and endorsed the project. Tight money, as everywhere, remained the obstacle, but in 1864, Francis Shanly, prominent engineer and railway consultant, led the move to a successor company, the Wellington, Grey & Bruce, incorporated in that year “to build from Guelph to Southampton, with a branch to Owen Sound”. The contract for the first section from Guelph to Fergus was with Donald Robertson of Queenston; and beyond Fergus, with William Hendrie of Hamilton. The first sod was turned at Fergus on June 28, 1867 and work began on the 5ft 6in Provincial Gauge. By the end of 1870, the railway had passed Fergus and Elora, and reached Alma.

Its charter was amended in the same year to provide for a change to the 4ft 8½in Standard Gauge, an extension to Kincardine (despite opposition from the Toronto, Grey & Bruce), and lease to the Great Western Railway.

Operation between Guelph and Elora had begun in 1870. By October 1871 steel was at Harriston, the line reached Paisley in June of 1872, and the final 16 miles to Southampton were opened on December 7, 1872.

Before completion of the Southampton line, the branch to Kincardine was put in hand with the necessary solicitation of bonuses. A “subscribers’ route” was decided upon, running southwest from Palmerston to serve Wallace and Elma townships and the village of Listowel, then angling to the northwest and heading for Kincardine. The contract was given to D. D. Hay & Co. and the first sod was turned on December 17, 1871. The Palmerston-Listowel section was opened on December 19, 1872, but delays ensued and the line to Kincardine was not completed until December 29, 1874.

Plans for an extension from Kincardine to Owen Sound and a branch from Clifford to Durham were quietly abandoned as the WG&B struggled to meet its operating expenses in the mid-1870s. A traffic agreement was signed with the Great Western in 1873; and in 1876 and 1882 the GWR acquired the bonds of the company. The Wellington, Grey & Bruce was taken into the Grand Trunk system when the Great Western and the Grand Trunk amalgamated in 1882.

The WG&B was formally amalgamated into the Grand Trunk in 1893, which in turn was amalgamated into Canadian National Railways as of January 30, 1923.

The Credit Valley Railway (CVR)

See also Dufferin County

By 1865, George Laidlaw had become a grain merchant in his own right, and his passion for transportation issues (the benefits of the narrow gauge system in particular) and his involvement with railway projects had come to dominate his career. After inception of the TG&B and the T&N, Laidlaw also became a moving force in the Credit Valley and the Victoria Railways. While the disadvantages of the narrow gauge system had not yet become apparent, in the meantime, the 5’6” “Provincial Gauge” was falling economically and politically out of favour. During the 1870s, in order for any railway to obtain the important contribution of the now Government of Ontario grants, it had to be built to the 4’8½” Standard Gauge, making Laidlaw’s hitherto favourite denunciation of railway construction profligacy moot.

In 1870, the Credit Valley Railway was incorporated to build from Toronto to Orangeville, via the Credit River Valley and Streetsville; with branches to Galt, Berlin, Waterloo, etc.; and then had its charter amended in 1873 with power to extend to Woodstock and St. Thomas; entered into amalgamation with the Ontario & Quebec Railway (O&Q) in 1884, and then as the O&Q in 1887 had its charter extended to the Detroit River. By 1881, the newly-engineered Credit Valley was in financial difficulty (as were many other fledgling railways at that time, including the TG&B and the T&N). Laidlaw was commercially and politically very well-connected and in particular was on good terms with George Stephen, who was the driving force behind the CPR syndicate and its secondary ambition for Ontario (the primary one being of course the transcontinental railway). Going by its name, the primary focus of the Credit Valley may reasonably have been assumed to be a connection with Orangeville (although why remains a conundrum, in view of the fact that Laidlaw’s TG&B had already been there since 1871, but perhaps it was the prospective entry into Wellington County to Fergus and Elora), but the CPR’s focus was on the “branch” to Woodstock, as the line’s subsequent extension to St. Thomas and beyond made abundantly clear.

Surveys were in hand by 1873, and construction followed in 1874, a major engineering challenge being the numerous bridges including the iconic trestle across the Forks of Credit. Aside from the straight engineering challenges, the project was plagued by lawsuits over land, labour problems, financing difficulties, loss of supplies at sea, fence and snow-clearing issues, and the extra-ordinarily complex issue of trackage rights into Toronto itself. In the event, the railway was formally opened at Milton by His Excellency, the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada, on September 19, 1879. The line to Milton had been open since 1877; and was opened to Galt, Streetsville Jct., to Orangeville, and Cataract Jct. to Elora in 1879. St. Thomas was reached in 1881.

The Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway (TG&B)

See also Grey and Bruce Counties and Dufferin County

In 1849, the Province of Canada passed loan interest legislation that triggered Canada’s railway building boom. Unfortunately, in 1851 the Province of Canada enacted further, inter alia, to create a Board of Railway Commissioners, one of whose duties was to administer the 1849 loan interest guarantee. The Board required that to obtain the loan interest guarantee benefit, any railway had to build to the 5ft 6in gauge, which came to be known as the "Provincial" or "Broad" Gauge.

During this “broad gauge” era of railway development in Upper Canada from 1850 to 1870, one George Laidlaw rose to prominence as an advocate of the economies of the narrow gauge. An emigrant from Scotland, he obtained a position with the Toronto distillery firm of Gooderham & Worts, and persuaded his employers to invest in the narrow gauge concept in sponsoring feeder lines for their business. Accordingly on March 4, 1868, the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway (TG&B) was chartered “to build from Toronto to Orangeville, Mount Forest, Durham and Southampton; with branch to Kincardine and Owen Sound.”

The objects were (1) to provide a pipeline of grain to the distillery; (2) to break the firewood monopoly of Toronto’s existing development road, the Northern Railway of Canada; (3) to provide increased business from railway access to Grey and Bruce Counties; and (4) primarily, to establish a port for trade and transfer on Georgian Bay in competition with the Northern Railway of Canada, and secondarily, ports for trade on the Lake Huron coast.

The first sod was turned at Weston on October 5, 1869 with Prince Arthur presiding. Construction from Queen’s Wharf in Toronto began immediately, facilitated between there and Weston by a third rail on the GTR’s Stratford-Sarnia line. It then wound its way around the Humber River in Woodbridge, pushing out to Bolton and then addressed the Caledon hills with its innovative but later notorious Horseshoe Curve. It reached Orangeville in mid-1871, and Mount Forest in December of that same year.

The original plan was to build from Orangeville to Mount Forest, with a “Grey” branch from there to Owen Sound; and a “Bruce” branch on to Walkerton, with two lines from there to Kincardine and to Southampton. The politics of municipal bonuses, the premier revenue source, did however lead to a change in this plan. In a deft feint, the new plan for Owen Sound was to build direct northwards from Fraxa Junction, leaving speculators along the anticipated way holding an empty bag. The rails of the Owen Sound branch reached there in June 1873, just over a year later after the Northern reached Meaford with its belated North Grey Railway in April 1872.

As the TG&B had beaten out the plan of the Northern to reach Owen Sound, so however did the Wellington, Grey & Bruce (sponsored by the Great Western Railway) dash the TG&B’s plans for Kincardine and Southampton, so that instead of continuing on from Mount Forest to Walkerton, the TG&B settled for an extension to Teeswater (completed in 1874), that passed through Arthur, Mount Forest and Harriston.

Guelph CNR 1971. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson

Guelph CNR 1971. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson


Elora CNR ex WG&B. 1958. J Wm Hood photo

Elora CNR ex WG&B. 1958. J Wm Hood photo

 Fergus CNR ex GTR 1971. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson

Fergus CNR ex GTR 1971. Al Paterson Collection, CRHA Archives, Fonds Paterson