The Great I.B. & O.
November 1, 2022
Mixed Train at Three Brothers, Howland Junction from Charles Cooper's Railway Pages
By Guy Scott
Kinmount was once home to two railway lines. Everyone is familiar with the Victoria Railway and its landmark station in downtown Kinmount. But many may be less familiar with the Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa line that terminated at Howland Junction. The main stations of the IB&O were Irondale, Gooderham, Tory Hill, Wilberforce, Highland Grove and Baptiste: Not exactly great industrial centres. Given the enormous cost of railway construction, it makes one wonder “Why did the IB&O even exist?” And thereon hangs a tale.
The Great IB&O began in 1879 as a plank in the platform of the Snowdon Iron Mines. To get ore from Furnace Falls to the world, a railway was clearly needed. W.S. Myles, the iron magnate at the time, planned to build a ‘tramway’ from Kendrick’s Station, the nearest stop on the Victoria Line to Furnace Falls, the site of his iron mines.
Myles was the dreamer without cash and soon sold his operations to Charles J. Pusey, who actually had the cash to fulfill the project. Pusey finished the line to Furnace Falls in 1880 and chartered the line as the Toronto-Nipissing Eastern Extension Railway. In 1884, Pusey changed the tongue twisting (and confusing) TNE&E to the more romantic Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa! The name also revealed that Pusey was not finished with the railway line yet!
The IB&O gradually crept its way through the hills of Eastern Haliburton at a ‘leisurely’ pace. The following centres were linked by rail:
Irondale – 1887
Wilberforce – 1893
Baptiste – 1897
Mud Creek – 1898
York River Station – 1910
Mud Creek to York River Station (on the Central Ontario Railway near Bancroft) was only 3 miles, but it took 12 years to complete this last section. As usual, money was the problem. In fact, the poor IB&O was always strapped for funds and unkindly nicknamed the IO&U. However, after 1910 you could ride the train all the way from Howland Junction near Kinmount to York River near Bancroft in one, continuous day trip. Unfortunately, the train only went one way each day, so you had to stay overnight before returning! The IB&O was not an express.
The IB&O quickly gained a foothold in local lore. Stories of its quirkiness, train wrecks and casual operation were legendary. It was said the train operated by the ‘calendar’ instead of time schedule. The line itself was built as cheaply as possible and train wrecks were common. The rolling stock was mostly discarded pieces, often abandoned by other railways. But it was all the little pioneer communities of Eastern Haliburton County had, and they were darn proud of ‘their’ railway.
Without the IB&O most of them would not exist in the first place. It was their lifeblood in the age before motor cars and paved roads. The Kinmount doctors made emergency runs along its route. Mail, tourists, visitors and all sorts of goods rode its rails. It was even possible to board the train in Bancroft in the morning and be in Toronto by dark. In the age before motor cars, that was some service!
The Great IB&O was never a money-making venture. Pusey loved railways, and was willing to fund shortfalls from his own pocket. It was soon clear the iron mining, the original reason for the line, was not a viable industry. In the late 1800s, the neighbouring Victoria Railway was profitable thanks to lumbering and passenger traffic. Pusey had hoped this prosperity could be repeated on the IB&O line, but it was not to be. The area serviced was poorer, less populated and just didn’t develop the needed economic base. But hope springs eternal and the ‘Little Railway That Shouldn’t Be’ struggled along until 1960.
Charles Pusey’s death in 1899 meant the IB&O was for sale. The creditors couldn’t believe their luck when Mackenzie & Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) purchased the line in 1909. Yes, this was Sir William Mackenzie of Kirkfield, builder of the Kinmount Station. Maybe Sir William had a soft spot for the area, because the purchase did not make financial sense! The CNoR was forced into bankruptcy in 1916 and emerged under government control as Canadian National (CN). Well, once the government was involved, the IB&O never suffered for money again: well almost never.
By the 1950s, the motor car was replacing the railway as the transport of choice and the IB&O was doomed. On March 31, 1960 the IB&O witnessed its symbolic ‘last train’ and the line was officially closed. My grandfather, Wally Scott, had the foresight to take me on that ‘last train.’ It was the sad end of an era for the little hamlets that drew their history from the IB&O. The words of Theo Peacock, our backwoods poet, summed up the sentiment well in his tribute “The End of the Line.”
“I Stood by the track in the rain today
As the last train came rolling past;
At a quarter to four I sighed and looked
On a train that was The Last.
A hundred folk stood in the rain
To see that familiar sight;
And so an era ended
As the Last Train blew tonight.”
Timetables, Effective November 1, 1893
Gooderham 4:30 PM
Furnace Falls 6:20
GTR Junction 6:45
Gooderham 9 AM
Furnace Falls 8:05
GTR Junction 7:40
Gooderham 6 AM
Furnace Falls 7:00
GTR Junction 7:20
Gooderham 7:20 PM
Furnace Falls 6:25
GTR Junction 6:00