Saturday, January 14, 2017

Looking for some railway history

Chances are, you can take just about any town in Canada without rails and find some sort of railway influence in its past. Even now, in communities where railways still pass through, you will likely find a much more extensive railway past.

This year, I hope to dig up some more rail history as part of my meanderings here on the blog. In the coming months, I am hoping to share some photos and thoughts about some historic railway towns here in the Ottawa Valley. I am hoping that some of my blog's readers who live in the Ottawa area can make some suggestions for some piece of local rail history they would like to see me approach.

As an example, I am putting together a post about Almonte, which is a beautiful town west of Ottawa that was once served by the Canadian Pacific's Chalk River Sub. I am proud to say I have witnessed action along this old rail line in Almonte.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share some interesting photos that will kick off Beachburg Sub's Year of Rail History. Since this year marks Canada's 150th birthday, I think it's only fitting that we take a couple looks back and celebrate our history.

This photo above is a shot of Mooretown's old Pere Marquette railway station, which was saved for the museum after it was moved from its spot on the St. Clair Parkway where it was used as a private home. The station itself was sold off for use as a home when it was deemed redundant to the railway at some point. In 1988, the family living in the old station moved to a larger home so the station was moved to the Moore Museum grounds, just down the road from the tracks.

Of course, Mooretown's train station is a success story. Some locals obviously felt the old station should have been saved, so they loaded it onto a large trailer and brought it from its spot on the river and to the museum. The image above is from the Moore Museum. It was sent to me by a reader, but I don't know much about the circumstances of the move. This is only one of two stations to survive along this old rail line, the other being the Dresden station.

Of course, many other buildings on the Sarnia Subdivision were not so lucky. For a time, CSX kept a trackside shed in Port Lambton, which bore the town name. That trackside structure was sold to a local resident and used in the family's back yard as a shed.

The other day, I saw a larger shot of this timetable on one of my Facebook railway groups, which began to get me thinking about history.

As you can see, there were once eight passenger trains plying the Sarnia Subdivision. This is not surprising, since railways were the main mode of transportation between towns before cars became the dominant mode of personal transportation.

But what I found interesting is how many stops these passenger trains made. For example, in my hometown, Corunna, you had four trains a day, two northbound and two southbound. I am determined to find out more about passenger service on this line, particularly when it ended. I am guessing it was discontinued shortly after the Second World War, but it may have been sooner.

My hometown is a place with almost no visual history remaining. There are possibly two or three Confederation era homes left in the town and one church, built in 1862, but that's it. The rest of the town appears as if it was thrown together after the 1960s. I would love to find out more information about my hometown's train station. This timetable is the first document I have seen that proves there was some sort of passenger station (or possibly shack) in Corunna.

Closer to my current home, I recently uncovered two references to two railway stations in Bells Corners. I am pretty sure the old CN station was located behind the fence in this picture, where Northside Road meets Cassidy Road (Cassidy Road used to be part of Cedarview Road).Sadly, it was not saved. In fact, Ottawa had many more stations scattered around the city but none were saved, except the old Union Station downtown.

I also read a reference to the other Bells Corners railway station, which was located along the old Canadian Pacific Carleton Place Sub (now a recreational trail) along what is now known as Fitzgerald Road. I wasn't able to find anything more specific as to where the station was. What makes this task so tough is that there is very little online about the history of Bells Corners (same problem with Corunna).

This is a shot of the old Carleton Place Sub. The station would have been located somewhere on the right side of the trail. My goal this year is to try and find out where the old station was located.

So, that is my mission for this year. I welcome any suggestions from anyone out there as to what they might want me to research. Hopefully, we can shine a light on some long forgotten railway relics this year.


Unknown said...

The bells corners CP station is on this county map.

The Geoottawa 1958 Aerial map shows the CN Station.

Michael said...

Thanks for confirming that. I have been on the Ottawa historic maps site many times, but have focused mainly on the 1960s onward. This task just got a lot easier! I will use that tip to try and get a post together soon.

Eric said...

Beachburg Sub's Year of Rail History? Now that has a real ring to it! Great theme and also like the header photo!

Keep up the good work, Michael!

AJ said...

Checking at it now, on the 1958 map for geoottawa, I would say that the CP sub station is probably back from the bridge/Robertson Rd. a little wasy. i figured it was probably behind the old Beaver Lumber building or maybe as far back as the Nissan dealership. The '65 map overlay looks to show a short siding into a row of grain containers which are gone by '76. I wonder if you would be able to find anything remaining from that?

As for other areas in the valley, I would suggest traveling the line as close as possible from CP to Pembroke for starters. Eganville also has had a colourful railway past and still has the former station present. Wilno's section of the line is pretty neat, plus the town hasn't changed a lot - some nights you can almost feel what it was like to have the train run through town. Barry's Bay has it's station too as well as the water town and an engine. My family owned some of the railway land in town until about 10 years ago, but since it was sold off, there isn't much left of the line in town that is untouched.
A favourite of mine would be Madawaska and the old rail bridge there. I am working on researching some of the spurs and sidings out around Madawaska for a side project I am doing, so I can probably share that with you in the summer when I am back at it if you like.

Unknown said...

I would have to agree the OA&PS would be my suggestion as well, as it was at one point one of the busiest lines in ontario and is now completely abandoned. Also another suggestion would be the two canal tramways for moving earth, I think one was by hogs back and the other by brewer park

Craig said...

Well, if you're soliciting suggestions...

My first would be Smiths Falls, if only because of the sheer scale of rail influence on the town. At one time, an astounding proportion of the population derived their living in connection with the railway industry. There's probably enough rail history in Smiths Falls to warrant a published work on it.

Something more manageable for a blog post would be a place like Mountain, where the proximity of the settlement to the CPR makes for some still-visible evidence of the role that rail played in shaping human geographic patterns in rural eastern Ontario. And the same can be said for the towns and villages from there eastward--Winchester, Chesterville, Finch, Avonmore, and Monkland.

As an added bonus, Mountain even has a pizza joint--Station Pizza--right across the road from the line. I don't know if the building is, in fact, the former station; looks like it may have once been a hotel. But it's one small sign that rail history hasn't been completely forgotten.

AJ said...


Caught something this morning that might be of interest for you. Turns out that the Eganville station I mentioned about earlier here is currently up for sale. No interior shots on the listing but gives you some good exterior shots. Plus you can easily see where the old line ran through. Figured it could help.

Keith Boardman said...

I may be a little late replying to this topic, but it may be interesting to get more info on Ottawa's Train Yards!

I remember the site of the current mall before it was re-developed, but never had the foresight to take any pics. There were lots of concrete forms (my guess would have be to walk at window height with passenger equipment, but unlikely). I also remember the crossing on Industrial that had a spur behind where the Loeb? facility is/was, but it's long gone now.

For added interest, the Canadian Northern line from Ottawa to Montreal via Orleans/Cumberland/Rockland may be worth researching as well. It would have been a great line to run commuter service on today if it were still in place.

Unknown said...

The location of the CP Rail station in Bells Corners is quite clearly identified on the old Nepean Township map