SHARING MEMORIES, WEEK SEVEN

THE LAST TRAIN

It’s just a matter of time before the last train whistle blows in Carleton Place.  The end of an era is at hand, and the following is an historical retrospective of how the railway affected the economic and cultural development of Carleton Place.

One hundred and fifty-nine years ago, James C. Poole, editor of the Carleton Place Herald, announced the coming of the railroad in the July 21st, 1853 edition of his newspaper:

“We rejoice to be able to announce that the By-law of the County Council, loaning the credit of the County to the Brockville and Ottawa Railway Company, has been heartily supported by the people in the different municipalities. 

The inhabitants of this ‘city’, elated at the success which had attended the railroad scheme thus far, turned out en masse and had a regular rejoicing.

The windows were illuminated.  The old cannon was placed on the bridge and several shots fired by ways of introduction.  The party formed a procession, led by the music of two drums and the Highland Bagpipes, with several flags floating in the breeze, and marched round the town.  It stopped occasionally to let off some pent up gas in the shape of hearty cheers for Jackson & Company, the Brockville & Ottawa Railway Company, the Directors, the County Council, the Press, and several private individuals whose efforts were not wanting in bringing about the final results.  About 9 o’clock the demonstration was wound up by several tremendous shots from the cannon, accompanied by a number of smaller guns, after which all went quietly to their homes.”

With the advent of the railway, and the establishment of industries like Findlay Foundry, Carleton Place saw major expansion in the 1860’s. Some ads in the Carleton Place Herald of 1859 reveal the sudden realization by local merchants and men of industry of the commercial advantages of using rail service to both obtain and deliver their goods:

“First Arrival by Railway Direct to Carleton Place!  Teas, Teas, part of the Cargo of the Ship ‘Gauntlet’, from China, 112 Boxes and 48 Catties – Also a large stock of Harvest Tools – Also by the same conveyance a further supply of fancy and staple Dry Goods and a very full assortment of Shelf Hardware, Crockery, etc. – A. McArthur, June 30, 1859.”

Beginning in 1859 with a railway link established between Brockville and Carleton Place, and again in 1870 with a link from Ottawa, the town and surrounding area was becoming an attractive and cheap recreational destination:

“Cheap Excursion to Brockville on Thursday August 25th.  Fare from Almonte, Carleton Place, Franktown, and back, only One Dollar! Leave Almonte 7:30 a.m., Carleton Place 8:00 a.m., Smiths Falls 9:15 a.m., arriving at Brockville 11 a.m. Returning will leave Brockville at 4:45 p.m., reaching Almonte at 8 p.m. – Robert Watson, Managing Director, Brockville & Ottawa Railway, Brockville, August 16, 1859.”

Several years later, in response to the possibility of war between the British and American governments, the Carleton Place Rifle Company was formed.  On June 3rd, 1866, the Company was called upon to help defend the riverfront and railway communications at Brockville from Fenian raiders.  According to Captain James Poole’s newspaper report: 

“After having been on the alert for about twenty-four hours awaiting an order to proceed to the frontier, a hurried dispatch was received about midnight on Sunday that the volunteer companies of Carleton Place and Almonte should be ready in about an hour to repair to Brockville by a special train……It was a solemn and moving sight, the moonlight giving a dim view of the outline of the ranks and the friends and relatives moving to and fro as they took leave of those near and dear to them, discharging their duty to defend our hearths and homes against the invasion of a lawless band of marauders.  As the train left the station three hearty cheers from the citizens rang the air, lustily reechoed by the true men whom we hope to welcome soon again.”

More wars followed, with the train station once again becoming the arena of emotional departures and farewells:

“The August 1914 civic farewell to the town’s first dozen war volunteers under Captain W. H. Hooper was attended at the railway station by hundreds of citizens and the town officials and two bands, with choruses of Auld Lang Syne joining the noise of the departing train of Lanark and Renfrew county volunteers.”

Founded Upon A Rock by Howard Morton Brown.

It’s easy to understand how the train became integral to the uniting & defending of the country, as well as contributing to the monetary and cultural prosperity of every community it travelled through.  Carleton Place was no exception, and benefited greatly from it stopping here, for about 130 years.

As well, as evidenced in most of Mr. Poole’s newspaper stories about the railway, there has always been an emotional impact associated with the railway, or more specifically, with the coming and going of loved ones on the train.  After all, many people used the train to leave Carleton Place permanently, some as part of the great economic migration of the 1870’s, others due to the ultimate sacrifice of war.   

The love affair with trains in this community continued unabated until the late 1980’s, when it was no longer economically feasible to retain the line running between Ottawa and Carleton Place, at which time the tracks were torn out, making the disconnection final. Only the north-south CPR tracks remain, and even though no trains on that line stop here either, the familiar whistle blowing and clickity-clack of trains on track have allowed us to pretend that the railway is still important to Carleton Place.

And now, for the great departure.  No more trains.  No more train whistles.  No more illusions.  All aboard!  It’s the end of the line for Carleton Place.

If you have any memories about the trains that run through Carleton Place, now would be a good time to write them down so that future generations will know what the time of trains was like for people in this community.

CPR Tracks – September 2012

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