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Remembering the North Bay Trestle

January 2, 2022

A Composite combining an old photograph of a train crossing the trestle, with a modern shot from the same vantage

The Toronto & Nipissing Railway (like many railways, it was ambitiously named, and only went as far as Coboconk) was the first railway to serve the Upper Kawarthas. To avoid having to bend around the northwest tip of Balsam Lake, its engineer decided to cross the bay, near the end of Caister Lane today. It passed through Sunderland, Cannington, Woodville, Argyle, Eldon Station, Portage Road, Kirkfield and Victoria Road on the way to Coboconk.

Without the heavy earth-moving machinery we now take for granted, building a bridge across a lake was quite the engineering feat (and was not always successful). The initial analysis found that the lake bed was too soft to support wooden piles, but not soft enough to allow wooden cribs to sink. The Chief Engineer, Edmund Wragge decided to wait until winter, then drive piles down to the bedrock (which thankfully was not that far down), then allow the ice to support them. He specified elm cribs, filled with stone, to surround the piles, hold them and protect them from ice damage. This supported 15 Howe trusses, most of them 16 feet long, but three spanned 100 feet each.

The plan worked, with ongoing maintenance and countless trains safely crossed from the opening of the rail line in 1872 until it was abandoned. The last mixed train left Coboconk in 1955, and the rails were taken up ten years later, following the closure of the Kirkfield quarry in 1961.

On a calm day, the remains of the North Bay Trestle can still be seen from above. The piles dot the lake bed, showing its former layout.

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