Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bedell Ontario Part I: The Ottawa Connection

Just south of Kemptville, Ont., you will find milepost 103.4 on Canadian Pacific's Winchester Subdivision. The area is better known as Bedell, a rural spot with a few homes along CP's mainline between Smiths Falls and Montreal. The area was once a busy spot along the CP main line, with an interlocking tower, station and other facilities. I visited this area recently to shoot some mainline railway action. I am going to make this a regular stop in my travels, since my collection of CP images is sadly lacking. The first trip yielded far more than expected, including a reminder of Ottawa's railway past.

When I arrived, I quickly found a gravel parking lot, which appeared to be the site of former railway structures. There were an array of rolling stock debris, tie plates and other railway material in the weeds. I found the railway's marker in some overgrowth, including a surprising number of wildflowers, including these black eyed susans above.

I sat trackside on a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon, enjoying the gentle sounds of the summer, including the buzzing and clicking of insects and the chirping of birds. It is a very peaceful spot to shoot, tucked away from Kemptville along a sparsely used rural road.

When I arrived, I made sure to take shots of the mainline, which is double tracked, although as you can see from this shot looking east, there are remnants of old tracks on either side of the main line. These lines were once part of a larger rail yard. One line appears to be in the process of being dismantled (left) while the other line ends in a pile of gravel, but appears to be in some sort of operating condition.

As I walked around the site, I came across this separated turnout, which I knew from research was the old CP Prescott Sub, the line that once linked Ottawa to the CP main line here. This line ran north along the same path as Highway 416. Of course, most of the Prescott Sub is long gone. The remnants of the south end of the sub have been reduced to about two miles of trackage that still extends into Kemptville. You can see below the sign that reads "circuit end." This stretch of track was renamed the North Prescott Spur and served industry in Kemptville until the line was formally abandoned in July of 2012. The other remnant of the Prescott Subdivision, known as the South Prescott Spur, is still operational since CP serves industry a few kilometres south of Bedell in the town of Oxford Station.
The North Prescott Spur turnout was a familiar scene to me, since it reminded me of the out-of-service Beachburg Sub north of Nepean Junction in Ottawa.
Doing a little research on this sub, I discovered that its roots date back to the 1850s, when the Bytown & Prescott Railway was created to shuttle logs from the Ottawa River down to Prescott on the St. Lawrence River. This line was the first to reach Ottawa in 1854 and, after undergoing name changes and a bankruptcy, was purchased by the Canadian Pacific in the 1880s. At that point, it became the Prescott Sub. In the image below, you can see the plows up sign and a crossing sign to the left, where the old spur crosses Bedell Road.
After shooting some mainline action at Bedell (stay tuned for this in the coming weeks), I followed the remnants of the North Prescott Spur into Kemptville, where I found much of the line still in place, although covered in weeds (shot below). The spur in this image leads to what was likely the last industry served by CP in the town. I saw a grain elevator (left) and a building for sale at the end of the turnout. I wasn't able to get close enough for a good photo, but have made a mental note to return here for more photos. You can also see the whistle sign to the left, since this industrial spur is very close to a level crossing.
I'm not sure why CP has left the rails in place in Kemptville, since the line has been abandoned for two years. I'm guessing the rail isn't terribly valuable, otherwise it would have been snapped up quickly, like CN did when it started dismantling the Beachburg Sub in Renfrew County.
I read that CP stopped assigning its Ottawa trains via Bedell in 1967, right around the time when the National Capital Commission began tearing up most rails in central Ottawa. CP monitored and assigned much of its traffic to and from Ottawa through Smiths Falls. The Prescott Sub continued to operate via the St. Lawrence and Hudson railway, until 1997. At that point, the last customers in Ottawa dried up, which forced CP's subsidiary to pull up stakes in the capital. The rail between Kemptville and Ottawa was pulled up in 1999. 
It should be noted that the northernmost stretch of the Prescott Sub is still in place in Ottawa, as part of it is still used for the O-Train service. A stretch south of the O-Train Greenboro Station terminus is still occasionally used by CN to send cars to the National Research Council facilities on Lester Road, near the Ottawa airport. There is another stretch of the old Prescott Sub that is not in use, which ends at Leitrim Road, on the periphery of the airport lands, right next to a golf course.
This stretch of the old sub is now being seriously considered as the route of a possible southern extension of the O-Train into Ottawa's growing southern subdivisions including Riverside South and Barrhaven. The route beyond Leitrim Road is still in place and is used as a 20-kilometre recreational trail extending to Osgoode.



Eric said...

Interesting railway archaeology, Michael, especially near that grain elevator.

Check out this issue of BRS Branchline (bonus reason - includes CN contract for Sarnia tunnel):


Michael Shufelt spent some time there photographing the action.

(Thanks for posting this - the sneak peek early launch was pretty tempting for the last couple of days in my sidebar :)

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments and the link, Eric. That BRS Branchline article was fascinating. The post was accidentally made public before it was ready for prime time. I blame my new computer and its feather-touch buttons!

Anonymous said...

I think the last business in the town of Kemptville that used the rails was "Highland Lumber" which was NE of where you were standing. The "grain elevator" was used for in more recent years for fertilizer by Harvex, who also had materials delivered by rail. Harvex moved from Kemptville to Oxford station on the line that ran from Bedell to Prescott. The rails are now pulled out south of Oxford Station to Prescott. I'm uncertain whether they still get

Shortly after you took these photos the rails were pulled out (summer 2014) which now leaves a gravel bed that has a multi-use pathway and snowmobile trail.


Michael said...

Tony- Thanks for that info. I will file it away for a future post. I was in Kemptville recently and noticed the rails were gone. Bedell itself has been cleaned up quite a bit, which was nice to see.