Thursday, December 5, 2013

Goderich's Railways: Then and Now

I love Goderich. It's a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Huron, which was once described as one of the country's "prettiest towns" by Queen Elizabeth. It has a rich history, much of which is preserved in the town's older quarter. Most importantly for our purposes, Goderich has long been a railway town. I recently visited family near Goderich for the Thanksgiving weekend and was able to get a few up-to-date photos of the town's wonderful train stations.

That's right! This town has actually preserved both of its stations.

Luckily, my parents visited Goderich a few times in the early 1990s and took some great photos of the railway operations then. The shot below is the Canadian National railway station in the early 90s. By this time, the railway operations had been sold off to the Goderich Exeter Railway, which would mean the photo is post 1992. You can see the old green and cream coloured GEXR GP9 locomotive on the right of the photo. These engines once sported Shakespeare inspired names, since the railway is based in Stratford. More on this in a later post.

As mentioned, Goderich has a long and proud railway history. The GEXR rails have an interesting lineage themselves. Before the short line operator took over (GEXR itself has been a RailTex, RailAmerica and Genesee & Wyoming concern), the line was CN. The CN operation was inherited from the Grand Trunk, which took over a railway by the name of Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway. That means parts of the rails in Goderich date back to 1859.

The Canadian Pacific also laid rails to Goderich in 1907, seeing as how the town was a key cargo port on the Great Lakes and had long prospered, thanks to the enormous salt deposits in the area. The CPR built this beautiful rail station (below) near the Goderich harbour. The passenger service was axed in the 1960s and the entire CPR line was pulled up sometime afterward, but the building was preserved by the town. For decades, it sat at the bottom of a bluff, existing as a town storage facility. I remember once looking into the station and seeing Christmas decorations and pieces of parade floats. In the shot below, you can see the old luggage cart still sitting on the old platform. A beautiful old trestle nearby over the Maitland River has also been preserved as a public trail.

In the last two years, the town has been busy rebuilding after a devastating F3 tornado ripped apart much of the town's octagonal town square and surrounding neighbourhood in August 2011. One of the initiatives included moving the old CPR station from its lonely spot near the bluffs to a spot facing the lake and the town's public beach. An entrepreneur is opening a restaurant in the old station and adding an adjacent convention facility, which will be physically attached to the old station. You can see the Goderich lighthouse at the top of the bluff to the right.

The station looks to be in decent shape, despite being jarred from its home and moved a few hundred metres to its new spot via a giant flatbed truck. As you can see below, a fair bit of work needs to be done to the exterior facade, which has not been given much attention in the past few decades. Still, it's good to see this beautiful old station being put to good use.


I managed to venture across the downtown to the old CN station to see what was happening there. My father-in-law told me that the town has also renovated this old station and used it as a performing arts venue. You can see some subtle changes between the top photo and this one, including the lattice in the front windows. Also, to the right of the photo, you will see a lonely hopper car and a few industrial buildings. Those structures are part of the GEXR's operations, which serve a nearby Sifto Salt processing facility, which was once part of a Volvo heavy machinery plant that was recently closed and moved south to the U.S.

As you can imagine, there was nothing happening on the rails over the Thanksgiving weekend, but I did get a quick snap of a few covered hoppers awaiting loads at a loading dock near the old CN train station. Those tracks beyond the crossbucks lead to the Sifto salt mine on the lake.

Taking a close look at both stations, you will notice some architectural flourishes, including the witch's hat turrets and archways, that were not all that common for small-town railway stations at the time. It is also worth noting that a third railway once attempted to reach Goderich, but ultimately failed. When you examine the town's rail history and take a close look at both of its stations, you can understand just how important railways once were to small-town Canada. 


Eric Gagnon said...

Those covered hoppers look like plastic pellets cars. The covered hoppers for salt were CN in the past, including Enviro cars I included in my recent post, now shorter leased cars. It's a neat nexus of rail and marine shipping, plus a heck of a grade down to the harbour!
Thanks for posting,

Michael said...

Yep, it is quite a drop in grade down to the harbour, Eric. Goderich is a fascinating town on what is known as "Ontario's West Coast."

Anonymous said...

I’m pretty sure “the town” had nothing to do with the restoration process of the train station up town at the end of east street. Was purchased by a local citizen and brought back to a useable condition, and resold to the people using it as a studio now.