Ottawa Valley Days

Ottawa Valley Days - Saturday, December 7, 1935 - Received from Eileen Bashak - [email protected]

Great Excitement When District - Participates in Hectic Rail Boom

Bytown and Prescott Railway Necessary for Realization of Dream of Nation Capital But Ottawa Was Nearly Left “Holding the Bag”Brockville and Ottawa and Canada Central Push on to Pembroke.

Written for The Journal by - Harry J. Walker

T HERE is no more glowing epic in the rugged story of this dis-trict than the struggle of the rival railways to tap the wilderness of the Upper Ottawa.  Engineering triumphs, technical skill, rough but effective organization, clamoring municipalities and frenzied finan-cingall were component elements in the drama of competing lines to bring civilized communication and transportation to the hinterland.

WHEN the wide-funnelled, wood-consuming “iron stallions” puffed into successive hamlet terminals Arnprior, Sand Point, Renfrew and finally Pembrokethey heralded the advent of the age of steam power.  It was the beginning of the end for the stage lines and stopping places that paralleled the river highway.

MODERN science has developed at such an incredible speed that a period of about 75 years spans the gap between stages and stream-lined trains and airplanes. And there are men now living who have witnessed this amazing transformation in transportation

THE earliest developments in rail-roading in this district had their genesis in the Bytown of 1850.  At that time, the future Capital was almost isolated in Winter from all other sections of the province, being united only with Prescott by a stage line, making one trip a day.

(Plans had been made for planking this old stage route but the cost was prohibitive).

Meeting in Old Town Hall.

BYTOWN’S isolation was soon to be terminated.  The late Hon. Richard W. Scott, M.L.A., in his “Recollections of Bytown.” tells of how the idea was born and matured.  It seems that in the winter of 1850 “while walking over the hill then separating upper and lower town” Richard Scott met his friend, Edward McGillivray, and they discussed the necessity for a rail outlet to connect Bytown (with its population of 7,000) with the contemplated trunk line (proposed by Sir Francis Hincks) to unite Toronto and Montreal.  (For the next sixty years this “trunk line” was known as the Grand Trunk Railway.)  The result of the talk between Scott and McGillvray was that the latter had persuaded the former to take steps to obtain a charter.

A PETITION was circulated asking for an act incorporating a company to construct the railway.  Thirty-one substantial citizens of Bytown signed the petition, while in Prescott seven staunch townsmen attached their signatures.  In August, 1850, the charter was obtained, and in the old town hall above the lower town market the promoters elected John McKinnon as president, Robert Bell as secretary and Walter Shanly as engineer.  In September of that year, work was commenced at the Prescott end and a month later the first sod was turned at Bytown.  Thus the Bytown and Prescott Railway got its start.

Desperate Financing

THEN came the tough business of financing it.  Bytown citizens had subscribed for 15, 000 pounds of the stock.  Prescott and Kemptville had each put into the venture their quota.  But still the financial objective was far short of the amount required to construct even a short stretch of the 54 miles of railway.

TO BRING in further support, an effort was made to enlist the aid of Carleton County.  At an open air meeting of farmers, held at Bell’s Corners, an offer was made (as an inducement) to deflect the line to a more westerly route, but the cautious agrarians merely stroked their whiskers and said nix.  The county council also refused to grant assistance.

MATTERS were approaching a critical stage, and in the background loomed the certainty of losing any hope of Bytown becoming the national Capital unless it possessed railway facilities.  But how to finish building a railway shen even its passenger locomotives were being seized for security, and its rolling stock!

Out of the Morass

BYTOWN promoters were desperate.  A measure of financial relief was obtained when the city borrowed $200,000 from the Municipal Loan Fund and loaned it to the company on second mortgage security (the first mortgage having been given for the rails).  This was sufficient to enable the completion of the line.

BUT the earning capacity of the railway would not permit it to meet the heavy financial obligations.  The railway passed into receivership, and then, in 1865, an act was passed authorizing its sale under the first mortgage bonds.  The net result was that Ottawa was left “holding the bag” to the amount of $200,000 borrowed from the Municipal Loan Fund.  Other municipalities were in a similar “hole.”  Eventually a generous Ontario legislature arranged a fair and reasonable settlement whereby a large part of the debt was cancelled.  And the Bytown and Ottawa Railway (later to be known as the Ottawa and Prescott and still later as the St. Lawrence and Ottawa) functioned finally into the orbit of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Rivalry to Reach Pembroke

NOTWITHSTANDING all the difficulties and financial hazards involved, this district became “railway-minded” in the middle fifties, and every municipality decided “to be on a railway” or “bust.” Well, they got their railway and they did not “bust.” By somewhat of a coincidence the Hon. Richard Scott also helped the Brockville and Ottawa Railway and the Central Canada Railway “over the hump.”  The story of these last two enterprises is admirably summarized by A.H. D. Ross in his “Ottawa Past and present.”  Mr. Ross records that in 1853 the Brockville and Ottawa Railway Company was granted a charter to build a line “from Brockville to some point on the Ottawa river.”  With a branch line from Smiths falls to Perth, and the Bytown and Pembroke Railway Company was authorized to build along the south shore of the Ottawa river, one clause of its charter being: “The portion from Arnprior to Pembroke is to be subject to (?) Year’s suspension in favor of the Brockville and Ottawa Railway and, should that fail to build that portion in five years from the date of incorporation, then it becomes a part of the Bytown and Pembroke Railway. Power (is?) Also given to build a branch (?) from Arnprior to Georgian Bay and thence to Sault Ste. Marie.”

Engine Took Ditch Water.

THUS Pembroke became the objective and focal point of rival railway companies.  The (B?) & O.”, also struck “hard going” in a series of financial reverses, but it eventually reached the Ottawa river at Sand Point.  Mr. Ross tells the story of its travail and achievement in the following paragraph:

“On the 25th of January, 1859, the first locomotive and two miniature passenger coaches covered the miles between Brockville and Smiths Falls in two hours, but the icy condition of the road from Perth, and the breaking of a coupling, and the engine running out of water meant an additional seven and three-quarter hours before the last 12 miles were covered.  As (no) emergency equipment was carried a rope was used to pull in the rear(?) Coach, and the ditches along the way had to be searched until water was found for the engine.  In August, 1859 the line reached Carleton Place, and in 1860 Almonte.  In September, 1864, the Ottawa river was reached at Sa(nd) Point, where connection was ma(de) with the Union Forwarding Company’s steamers to Portage du F(ort) and Pembroke.

Linking Up With Carleton Place

“ON the 18th of May, 1861. (The) Canada Central Railway Company got a charter to build (A) line from Quebec to Lake Hur(on) As the counties of Lanark a(nd) Renfrew had borrowed a good d(eal) of money to lend to the Brockv(ille) and Ottawa, and that road was (in) financial difficulty, the Honora(ble) R.W. Scott induced Bockow a(nd) Vaughan (English iron mercha(nts) who supplied rails for the Brockville and Ottawa) to take over (the) charter of the Canada Central from Ottawa to Carleton Place.  This (?) Mile stretch was located by George F. Austin and built by Harry Abbott.  On the 15th of September 1870, it was formally opened a(nd) gave Ottawa another rail outlet (to) the St. Lawrence, as well as dir(ect) rail connection with Sand Poi(nt) with the expectation that the ro(ute?) would soon be extended eastwa(rd) to Montreal and westward to Pembroke.

“THE B. and O. and the Cana(da) Central were in reality the same company with an interlocking directorate and the powerful fi(?) Of Bockow and Vaughan behind it and it is of interest to note th(at) the names of some of the fi(rst) locomotives were the “W.F. Bocklow,” “John G. Richardson” and “H. Abbott.”  In 1875 the Brockville and Ottawa reached Pembroke.  In 1877 the Canada Central carried 132,000 passengers and 12(?),000 tons of freight, and in 1881bo(th) roads were acquired by the Canadian pacific Railway Company which by 1883 had extended (the) main line as far west as Lake Nip(p)ising.”

(This page was poorly copied on the microfilm.  The right hand edge of the page disappears.  Where letters are missing, I have enclosed my suggestion in brackets.

Posted: 24 February, 2006.