Ontario's Defunct Railways of the Past

January 22, 2019 | Andrew

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Ontario has a rich history of railway companies. In its earliest days, railways transported people and materials to develop infrastructure, cities and more routes throughout the province and across Canada. Many companies were temporarily successful but then faced bankruptcy and were absorbed by larger railways such as the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway. Several railways are now defunct — but they still have historical significance.

You can discover archival items related to a number of Ontario's defunct railways on the library's website Digital Archive Ontario. This archive includes images from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive. Below are a few highlights, the last of which caught this author by surprise.


Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway Company 

Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway

From Archeion:

"The Algoma Central Railway Company, originally part of the industrial complex in Sault Ste. Marie developed by Francis H. Clergue, was incorporated by a Special Act of the Ontario Legislature in 1899. Its charter allowed the company to construct a railway between Sault Ste. Marie and the CPR with branches up to 12 miles in length; to operate telephone and telegraph lines; to operate steamships; to build and operate dock facilities and the right to secure grants and aid from government bodies.


In 1990 the Algoma Central Railway Company changed its name to the Algoma Central Corporation and the company was divided into three distinct operating groups, Algoma Central Marine, Algoma Central Railway & Algocen Mines and Algoma Central Properties. In 1994 the Algoma Central Corporation sold its facilities at Michipicoten Harbour. Then in 1995 a deal with Wisconsin Central Railway to purchase the rolling stock was reached with the road beds, rails, buildings, yards and land corridor being purchased by the province and leased to Wisconsin Central Railway. In 1997 the Algoma Central Corporation sold its considerable land holdings north of Sault Ste. Marie to the McDonald Investment Co. Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama and in 1998 moved its offices to St. Catharines to be in closer contact with its Great Lakes shipping fleet which is now the company's primary focus."


Brockville and Ottawa Railway Tunnel

Brockville and Ottawa Railway Tunnel 1954
Shown here is a train emerging from the southern end of the tunnel on the city's waterfront. Trains last used it in 1954. Photo from the Toronto Star Archives.

From the Brockville Railway Tunnel website:

"Canada’s First Railway Tunnel was completed in 1860 for the Brockville and Ottawa Railway and later owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway until being acquired by the City of Brockville in 1983. [The] historic Tunnel is a remarkable example of Canada’s pre-Confederation industrial heritage that [an] innovative restoration project has repurposed for recreation, tourism and economic development."

Read a full history of the tunnel.


Toronto's Union Station

Old Toronto Union Station 1927
Part of the Old Toronto Union Station, 1927. Photo from the Toronto Star Archives.

Above is the second Union Station (1873 to 1927). Construction on the third Union Station began in 1915 but was delayed by a wartime shortage of construction workers, financing and building materials as well as the impending insolvency of the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Railways. The new Union Station was completed in 1920. It did not open to the public for another several years while the railways and the city continued to argue over the approach tracks. Finally, on August 10, 1927, all trains were shifted to Toronto’s new Union Station and the dismantling of the old station began. The process was nearly a year long. The old building on Front Street — turned into an office building in 1895 — was demolished in 1931.


The Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway

Hamilton Incline Railway 1930
Hamilton Incline Railway, 1930. Photo from the Toronto Star Archives.

Through the 1800s, the Hamilton escarpment was a major obstacle for the city's growth. But that changed on June 11, 1892 when the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway opened. It was followed three years later by the Mount Hamilton Incline Railway which later became known as the Wentworth Street Incline Railway. They both closed in the 1930s, as people turned to automobiles on newly improved roads as the most efficient way to climb the mountain.


CN's School On Wheels

School Car
Pupils of School Car 50, 1982. Photo from the Toronto Star Archives.

From Schools on Wheel Railcar Museum (Clinton, Ontario):

"The CN 'School on Wheels' program travelled along CN track in remote northern Ontario for 39 years (there were seven such school cars in northern Ontario). Mr. Sloman had one of the longest tenures as a teacher in these rolling schools, riding the rails and teaching in this mobile classroom while, in the same rail car, he and his wife Cela lived, raised, and taught their own five children.

The CN trains travelling the 240 kilometres between Capreol and Foleyet would move the School Car from siding to siding, allowing Fred Sloman to teach and bring the outside world to the isolated children of the north, which included those of newly immigrated railway section workers living along the line, woodsmen, hunters, trappers, and [Indigenous peoples]."



Enjoy these photos and more on Digital Archive Ontario!