Victoria Railway

As early as 1841 there were predictions that a railway would surpass canals as the best local means of transportation, and with the collapse of the Trent Canal scheme soon afterwards there was every indication that this might be true. Even in the 1850s the northern townships were being considered for possible railroad expansions, and when the railway reached Lindsay after 1857 the areas beyond were opened up to the lumbering industry.

Water, however, and the network of area lakes and rivers, remained a cheaper method of transporting logs, and railway fever did not really begin in Fenelon Falls until the early 1870’s. Nonetheless, numerous financial schemes were afloat to build a railroad connecting the “front” with Haliburton and the lumbering country in the north.

Out of a scheme proposed by George Laidlaw to introduce railways at the same time as settlers in Haliburton, the idea of the Fenelon Falls Railway Co. was born. Although incorporated on Feb 15th, 1871, this initial proposal for a 14 mile line to Fenelon Falls failed to raise sufficient capital. “Instead of dropping the project Laidlaw expanded it, and he incorporated the Lindsay, Fenelon Falls and Ottawa Valley Railway Company on 22 March 1872 [Stevens; 447-449]. This line was to run for 163 miles to the mouth of the Mattawa River, east of Lake Nipissing. This time substantial grants from the province, the counties and townships were forthcoming [Stevens; 449]. A year later, in March 1873, the company changed its name to the Victoria Railway to improve its prospects by honouring the Queen, and to more closely identify the project with the county where it hoped to raise the most funds.

The major debate in the area grew out of the differences between the village and the township; Fenelon Falls supported the railway, the Township of Fenelon did not. Meetings to organize support and plebiscites to pass railway bonuses became the order of the day. A bonus vote (on whether to offer financial assistance to the Railway scheme) was held in the village on July 21st 1873; another meeting to present a petition to the Fenelon Township council in support of the railway was held on 7 Oct 1873; and the resulting township Council meeting of October 13th, at which the petition was presented and rejected [Dickson Papers] were among the many events that were to dominate local politics and eventually lead to a change in government. The resulting frustration resulted in two sets of meetings; the first in support of the railway, and the second to separate the village from the township through incorporation. On Thursday January 8th, 1874 a large public meeting unanimously agreed to take immediate steps towards the incorporation of the village. “The step has been taken mainly in consequence of the persistent refusal of the township to give a bonus to the railway [CP 16 Jan 1874; 3]. On 5 June 1874 the county council passed a By-law (No. 161) to incorporate the village, effective on 1 Jan 1875. On April 22, 1874 in Scully’s Hall, a resolution was passed without opposition, in favour of granting the $16,000.00 bonus asked for from the village.

As early as June 1872, James Dickson had received instructions to begin a preparatory land survey, nonetheless, the official survey party did not reach Fenelon Falls until Tuesday May 12th, 1875, just as the bonus debate had been settled [CP 22 May 1874; 1]. The survey continued north throughout the summer, but finally on August 5th, 1874, the first sod was turned at Lindsay to mark the official beginning of construction [Stevens; 4491].

By September 1874 work along the line had begun, and Fenelon Falls was benefiting from the activity [CP 4 Sept 1874; 3]. The village was “alive” with workmen by November (many got drunk), and construction on the railway bridge was underway [CP 20 Nov 1874; 3]. Work gradually closed down for the winter, but by March 1875 the greater part of the grading, masonry and bridging between Lindsay and Kinmount was complete. The ties were also being distributed and made ready for the rails [CP 12 March 1875; 1 : 14 May 1875; 2]. Financial problems were soon afterwards causing delays and construction shut down for much of the summer and early fall. Laidlaw was not able to leave for England to purchase rails until October [CP 8 Oct 1875; 2] and there were desperate petitions to the Provincial government to assist the project. Aid finally came in February when $1000 per mile was granted by “Parliament” [CP 11 Feb 1876; 2].

By the spring railway ties were purchased and addition “gangs” of men were leaving Lindsay for Kinmount [CP 3 March 1876; 3 : 24 March 1876; 3]; men were working in Fenelon Falls in April [CP 28 April 1876; 3]. By May the section between Lindsay and the village was ready for the rails, but a shortage of fish-bolt plates meant the work was only half finished by mid-July [CP 14 July 1876; 2]. Nevertheless, on August 1st, the “iron horse” could be seen “by a resident while standing inside” the Village boundaries [CP 4 Aug 1876; 3], and on the 4th James Dickson reported that the track was laid as far as the station grounds. The next day the engine crossed the bridge, which had been completed the month before [Dickson Papers], and by September 1st the work gangs were four miles north of town [CP 1 Sept 1876; 2]

The rails reached Kinmount by the end of October, and the line was formally opened on November 9th [CP 10 Nov 1876; 2]. Construction stopped at this point, and Fenelon Falls waited in “breathless anticipation”. The results were disappointing; a depression in trade severely affected the start-up. There was no rolling stock1 to speak of until April and freight would only be picked up if a full load could be guaranteed. A temporary schedule was announced on April 20th, and regular trains were running by the end of the month [CP 27 April 1877; 3]. Business along the line was good, although there were complaints about the winter schedule being inconvenient for those wishing to do business in Lindsay [CP 14 Dec 1877; 3]. Construction beyond Kinmount did not begin again until August 1877 [CP 31 Aug 1877; 2], and the rails did not reach Haliburton until November 1878.

The economic benefits of the railway were problematic for the region, and fell far short of expectations. Although the railway brought some new businesses to the area, and speeded up the delivery and shipment of goods of all sorts, it also resulted in reduced costs. This was good for customers but reduced profits for merchants. The train also made it possible to do business in Lindsay, and many took their money into town rather than spending locally. In Haliburton, it was said the train, instead of bringing new settlers in, unexpectedly provided already established settlers with the opportunity to leave for the west [Dobrzensky; 251]. The promised mineral wealth of Haliburton did not exist, and the general financial depression, along with the declining profitability of lumbering and agriculture, meant that the Victoria Railway seldom made money for its shareholders. Nonetheless, the railway brought an end to the isolated pioneer economy, and ensured some measure of stability for the rest of the century. Fenelon Falls, however, was not able to pay off its railway debt until 1893.

The Victoria became part of Midland Railway of Canada in 1882, which was in turn taken over by the Grand Trunk Railway in 18931. The GTR was taken over by the CNR in 1923.

782 Langton. Gentlewoman… [185] (27 May 1841)

783 [Smith, James]. Exhibit of the Conditions and Prospects of the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway. (Toronto : Maclear & Co., 1856) : 5, 9, 11

784 A few of these schemes included the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway Company (18 Dec 1854); Toronto and Nipissing Railway (charter granted 4 March 1868); Peterborough and Haliburton Railway (incorporated 23 Jan 1869); Cobourg, Peterborough and Marmora Railway (1871); Fenelon Falls Railway Company (incorporated 15 Feb 1871); Lindsay, Fenelon Falls and Ottawa River Valley Railway (incorporated 22 March 1872); Omemee, Bobcaygeon and North Peterborough Railway Company (1872).

785 Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon were frequently in competition to attract railway development. The account of the railway meetings in Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls on Friday November 24th 1871 can be found in BI 25 Nov 1871; 2. Other Railway meetings in Fenelon Falls were held on 19 April 1872 and 9 May 1872 [Dickson Papers]

786 See also CP 7 Aug 1874; 2

787 Drunkenness became an ongoing problem. See CP 27 Nov 1874; 3 and 23 June 1876; 3. By September the paymaster would not pay the men until after the taverns at Fenelon Falls had closed [CP 22 Sept 1876; 3].

788 There is some confusion as to when the stock was purchased. In January, the region was assured that engines, fifty box and flat cars, and four or five passenger & combination coaches were purchased [CP 19 Jan 1877; 2], although these were announced again in April [CP 6 April 1877; 3].

789 “Its best traffic year was 1880, when [the railway] carried 74,660 tons of freight and 68,39p passengers, earning $83,580 against operating expenses of $55,210. [Stevens; 449].

790 The line sputtered out in the late 1970s, and the rails were torn up in the summer of 1983.

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