The completion of a hundred years of railway transportation provides Lanark County with a notable centennial reached in 1959. The railway which brought this revolutionary change to the country’s way of life was the line from Brockville. It was one of Canada’s early railways, and the second in the Ottawa Valley.
Canada’s first great railway building decade came in the 1850’s. Its removal of dependence of trade and travel upon the limitations of the horse and the boat soon was gained by Lanark County’s population centres of Smiths Falls, Perth, Carleton Place and Almonte. After construction began in 1853, a railway was placed in operation a hundred years ago connecting these and intervening points with the recently built Grand Trunk Railway and the St. Lawrence River at Brockville.
Accomplishment of this stage of the second railway designed to tap the timber resources of the Ottawa Valley was achieved during an international business depression. Recurring and seemingly fatal financial obstacles delayed construction. Repeated commitments of capital assistance to the United Kingdom promoters and contractors by the united counties of Lanark and Renfrew were found necessary. Four years earlier the Valley had been approached by its first railway when a line began operating in April, 1855, between Prescott and Ottawa. It remained the only railway service of the nation’s political and lumber capital until the line between Ottawa and Carleton Place was put in use in 1870.
The struggling railway line from Brockville reached its second objective within a few years when, in 1864, it reached the Ottawa River by extension from Almonte to Arnprior and Sand Point. It operated under the name of the Brockville & Ottawa Railway Company. Associated with the Canada Central Railway Company, which obtained a charter in 1861 and nine years later completed the line from Carleton Place to Ottawa, its construction was continued north through Renfrew County in the 1870’s. On approaching its ultimate northern terminus near North Bay it was united in 1881 with the forthcoming transcontinental venture of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
Stuck in the Mud
Local canal proposals and plank road projects of the 1850’s soon were forgotten in the prospects of railway transportation, advanced by the cry of “Stuck in the Mud” – the question of how much longer there could be toleration of being almost completely locked in by bad roads for six months out of twelve. The Brockville and Ottawa Railway Company’s charter of 1853 authorized building of a line from Brockville “to some point on the Ottawa River”, and a branch line from Smiths Falls to Perth. By August the company was reported to have let a first contract to James Sykes and Company of Sheffield for building and equipping the line as far as Pembroke at a cost of 930,000 pounds, and to have received subscriptions for about a third of this amount, in shares of 5 pounds each. The County Council of Lanark and Renfrew in January, 1854, was notified that its bylaw to loan up to 200,000 pounds to the Brockville and Ottawa Railway Company had been approved by the provincial government.
Sub-contractors were at work in the spring of 1854 at points between Carleton Place, Smiths Falls, Perth and Brockville. Reverses which delayed the project culminated in the North American financial crash of 1857, when Messrs. Dale and Ellerman and Sir Charles Fox soon appeared before Lanark and Renfrew’s County Council seeking renewed municipal financial aid. Further contracts for continuing construction finally were arranged before the end of the year.
Open For Business
In a premature and unpromising official opening of the sourthern section of the line early in 1859, a wood-burning locomotive with two coaches filled with passengers had left Brockville on a bitterly cold midwinter day. At a safe speed of less than fifteen miles an hour Smiths Falls was reached in two hours. The troubles of the inaugural run came in continuing over the twelve icy miles of branch line between Smiths Falls and Perth. For a broken coupling between the two passenger coaches, repairs were made with a rope. Much time was spent in rural searches for water to replenish the supply for the engine. In this way the crew and passengers spent seven and three quarter hours in a sub-zero journey of twelve miles from Smiths Falls to the branch line’s terminus at Perth.
The Iron Horse
For Carleton Place the great day of 1859 arrived on June 21. In recording it James Poole, editor of the Carleton Place Herald, said :
“A passenger train left here on Tuesday last for Perth, taking a number of members of the County Council, who are now in session, and several of our citizens who were anxious to get a ‘ride on the rail’.
We have to congratulate the inhabitants of this village and the adjoining townships upon the arrival of the iron horse in our midst. It is somewhat refreshing to hear the old fellow whistle, as he passes and repasses several times a day with his heavy load of iron and gravel. The bridge on the Mississippi was passed over on Monday last for the first time, and was found to be perfectly secure. Although tried several times in succession with a train heavily loaded with iron, the centre of the long span was found, by a guage, to not settle down more than about half an inch. The contractors, Messrs. Scrimger and Farrell, deserve great credit for the substantial and workmanlike manner in which they have performed their contract…….The timber for the bridge had to be floated down from Caldwell’s mill at Lanark.
The depot is nearly finished and will be ready for the reception of freight in a few days. Mr. Thomas Hughes, the station master, has arrived and is about entering on his duties. We are sorry to hear that the funds are running short, and that the supply of material on hand will not be sufficient to push the road much beyond Almonte. Something should be done to carry it through to Arnprior as soon as possible and secure the trade of the Ottawa, without which the road can scarcely be expected to pay. The matter will be brought before the County Council at its present sitting.
So far as our own village is concerned we have the railway now. The lead mine is doing well and giving employment to a large number of hands. Some of the land holders there are laying out their property in village lots and offering them for sale. If the water power, now running to waste, was in the hands of some enterprising person who would erect factories and mills we might reasonably expect that the place would prosper.”
A week later he added with regret:
“We learn that nothing was done at the late meeting of the County Council to assist in extending our Railway to the Ottawa. There still remains, we believe, at the disposal of the Council a balance of the Municipal Loan Fund amounting to about $10,000, which would have gone very far towards completing the road to Pakenham or Arnprior, because it is graded nearly the whole distance, the ties are on hand and the iron on hand. To lay the track and finish the bridges at Almonte and Pakenham, both of which are pretty well advanced, would not have cost a very large sum.