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Opening of the Victoria Railway to Haliburton, 1878

February 19, 2024

The locomotive S.C. Wood crossing a trestle below Kinmount

Originally Published in the Canadian Post (Lindsay), November 29, 1878

In nineteenth century Ontario, many railways were given a very ambitious name or proposed route as a way of attracting investment. The Victoria Railway, was boosted as a route that would reach the Mattawa or Ottawa River. It was completed to Haliburton in 1878, however, as this accomplishment was celebrated, public discourse in south central Ontario focused on lobbying for the provincial government to pay for the route to be completed—because no one else would finance the scheme. In settled districts, municipalities were asked to provide bonuses. However, for the section through what is today Algonquin Park, there were not municipalities that could help finance it. At the time, Lindsay was a railway hub, and there were many businesses in that town that would profit from the extension of the railway—hence the strong lobby for the Province to finance its completion. Their fervour was not tempered by a financial crisis in 1873 that had triggered a depression, known as either the long depression or the great depression (a name which would be subsequently given to the 1930s). The province did not pay for the construction of a lengthy railway through the challenging topography of the Canadian Shield, and the Victoria Railway was not extended beyond Haliburton. At the time the railway opened to Haliburton, many people in Victoria-Haliburton were not willing to admit that the railway was now complete, as they continued to lobby for its extension.

The completion of another important section of the Victoria Colonization Railway will be a sense of no little gratification to the promoters of the enterprise and to the interested municipalities, chief among which stands the town of Lindsay. The natural difficulties in the way of the project have never been serious; but they have been enormously enhanced by the world-wide financial depression, which increased ten-fold the work of its chief and never-despairing promoter. If Mr. Laidlaw had not been a man of undaunted courage and perseverance as well as of unflagging hopefulness, the project would probably have flattened out for a period, until the anxiously looked for ‘good times’ had put in an appearance. Those who by word and deed furthered the fortunes of the project are entitled with Mr. Laidlaw to the full measure of credit for their public spirit and enterprise.

An important objective point has been reached, and the question now concerns the future. The next step is a most important one as it involves construction of a railway through unsettled territory where there are no municipalities to give bonuses, and the adoption of a bolder and more liberal railway policy by the Ontario Government than that so far carried out. The principle of granting $8,000 a mile to special colonization railways has been practically adopted, but a somewhat larger sum is conserved necessary in the opinion of of experienced engineers. The large amount of municipal aid extended to the Victoria was granted on the well-understood condition that the road was to be pushed on to the Mattawan with reasonable expedition. This scheme has received the cordial support of a very wide section of the province and there will be great disappointment if there is any stoppage in the forward march of construction. The railway is the great agency of colonization and development, and this railway will open the very heart and backbone of the province to a series of fine hardwood townships in conjunction with pine districts. The back country has for years yielded a principal part of the provincial revenue, and it is now entitled to some return. The older sections have their share in various ways, and now the newer sections should receive specially liberal treatment. But although a very strong case can be presented on these grounds alone, stronger still is the argument from admitted duty as well as practical statesmanship to facilitate in every possible and proper way the opening up and settlement of the province; and we are pleased to see this acknowledged by the members of the Ontario Government present at the opening ceremony. We trust the Government will adopt a vigorous and liberal policy in due course, and this done we are confident we shall soon see a steady stream of colonization going on along the Victoria. Another decade will witness a wonderful change in the section between Haliburton and Ottawa.

The Victoria Railway, Opening of the Second Section

Grand Demonstration: “On to the Ottawa”

Address to the Ontario Government – Banquet in the Town Hall – Important and Interesting Speeches

The progress of the Victoria Railway has been watched with no little interest in many parts of Ontario, and the project is no longer regarded as a local one, but as a provincial enterprise worthy of general support. The opening of a second section, from Kinmount to Haliburton, formed a favourable and pleasant occasion for a gathering of the leading railway men and capitalists concerned in railway projects, as well as leading citizens of the portions of the Province more immediately interested in the road. According to the programme for the day, a special trail left Toronto Tuesday morning at seven o’clock, taking up guests at Whitby, Port Perry, Lindsay, Fenelon Falls and Kinmount, until their four passenger coaches was filled, not including a “box” car—a popular place of resort which was occupied by an ably administered commissariat department. The trip was made in remarkably good time, especially over the Whitby Railway. From Lindsay, the engine “S.C. Wood,” tastefully decorated with flags, drew the train, and provided a capital “leader.” Among those present were Mr. C.J. Campbell, Vice-President of the Victoria Railway; Hon. A.S. Hardy, Hon. S.C. Wood….

The train left Lindsay at 10:30 and after a short stoppage proceeded northward, arriving at its destination a few minutes ahead of time, one o’clock. The several stations were tastefully decorated, and at Kinmount and Minden (Little Ireland) Stations the train passed under handsome arches. The people along the line, manifested great interest in the affair, and up north the formal opening of the long looked-for railway was an occasion of great rejoicing. The various features of this section of the line have already been described in the Post and we need say no more than the road has been constructed in the most thorough manner, and the general praise awarded Mr. Jas. Ross, the General Manager and Chief Engineer, was deserved in every way. The warm commendation of the practical railway men and engineers, as expressed in the speeches during the afternoon is a flattering but just evidence of the opinion they have formed of his ability, while the confidence reposed in him by the directors must be highly gratifying. On arrival at Haliburton, the excursionists received a hearty and enthusiastic welcome. The decorations were of the most tasteful character, and reflected the highest credit into the spirit of the affair with commendable zeal and ability. Three handsome arches spanned the streets at appropriate places, bearing the devices, “Welcome to Haliburton,” “Success to the Victoria Railway,” and “Victoria Conronat Opus.” The picturesque site of the village rendered the display most effective and the numerous flags from stores and dwellings, and the other decorations made a pretty sight. The station is near the lake shore, and the track was between the lake and the city a miniature and more picturesque Toronto. Mr. Niven, the Warden of Haliburton, with a large number of reeves and leading men of the district, was in waiting on the platform, and after the train had discharged its living freight, read the subjoined address.

The Traffic of the Road

A very gratifying feature in connection with the road—and one that was to some extent overlooked by the several speakers is the character and extent of the traffic over the section that has been in operation for now about a year and a half. We have not any official figures before us, and speak only from general observations and from the opinions expressed by our leading business men. The passenger traffic has, we believe, been much larger than expected and steady improvement may be looked for in the fact, there will undoubtedly be a marked increase now that so important a point as Haliburton has been reached. The same may be said to a greater degree of the general freight business. The facilities furnished by the road have developed business that was never expected. Lindsay has reaped benefits in many ways, and in ways that do not appear on the surface and would escape observation. And it is only the beginning. With better times and flourishing lumber trade, the results will be as surprising as they will be gratifying, and a few years hence no one will regret the large bonus granted to the project. The good reason to be proud of the thorough manner in which the road has been built; but they are also to be congratulated upon the manner in which the line has been worked and the freight and passenger business developed. Much of the credit of its prompt and economical operating is due to the popular and efficient Assistant-Manger, Mr. E.H. Brennan, who has carried out the details of this department in a manner that has created a very favourable impression among business men. Mr. Brennan has had long experiences in railway management and has proved himself as capable as he is courteous and thorough going. …

[A transcript of the speeches follows]

This closes the speck making and the proceedings in the hall terminated with cheers for the Queen and the Governor General, and some enthusiastic old Tory called for and obtained cheers for Sir John Macdonald. The train started about six o’clock and reached Lindsay about half past eight, and Toronto a little after midnight, the guests of the Company having passed a most enjoyable day.

The Ball

The festivities of the day were fittingly brought to a close by a ball in the Town Hall, Haliburton, which was attended by about one hundred people. An exceedingly pleasant evening was spent. … [List of Attendees] Music was furnished by the 45th Batt. Band orchestra of Lindsay. Mr. Geo. Sterling, of Lindsay, was the caterer, and the excellence of the menu did him credit. Dancing was kept up without cessation until four in the morning, when “Sir Roger de Coverly” [A British Country Dance] brought to a close the most enjoyable evening ever spent in the northern townships.

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