Heritage Rails of Ontario

The Cobourg Railroad Company was granted the second earliest railroad charter in Canada in 1834 with the power to construct a road from Cobourg, northward to Rice Lake. Unfortunately, the promoters were unable to raise sufficient capital. The project was shelved until 1846 and was resurrected as the Cobourg & Rice Lake Plank Road & Ferry Company. This eleven mile plank road was built by Samuel Gore (Gore’s Landing). Alas, the plank road barely survived the first two winter’s frost. With a new charter for a railroad in 1852, The Cobourg & Peterborough Railroad was soon up and running to Harwood, and via Tick Island across the widest part of Rice Lake to Hiawatha and north to Peterborough.

Before the rails reached Rice Lake, a cholera outbreak took a heavy toll on the mostly German immigrant construction workers hired at a dollar a day wages. (A memorial now stands in their memory just south of Harwood on the west side of the Harwood Road). The Rice Lake Bridge, largely completed by the end of 1853 was severely damaged by the shifting ice that first winter. The pile trestle bridge from Harwood to Tic Island was 3,754 feet long. North of Tic Island, 2,760 feet of 10 by 20 foot wooden cribs on 80 foot centers were filled with rocks. These cribs supported 17 Burr Truss Bridge spans. A pile structure with a one-hundred and twenty foot long swing navigation bridge finished final 6,728 feet to Hiawatha.  At almost three miles in length, it was very likely the longest (and most ill-fated) bridge in North America at the time.

Soon after trains began to run over the completed line to Peterborough. In January, 1855, severe ice jams on the lake pushed the north pile bridge towards the Peterborough shore. The truss span was moved towards Tick Island and the southern trestle towards the Harwood shore, leaving a seven foot gap near the island. For several winters this bridge was damaged and even after filling in the southern portion of the line with rocks, operating costs were staggering.

Although the C&P RR contributed a lot to Peterborough’s flourishing export trade, that town never invested a single dollar to its upkeep and never intended to. Peterborough by now possessed a perfectly reliable connection to Lake Ontario via The Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton RR. After spending over a million dollars on their troubled thirty mile long road the Prince of Wales was not even allowed to cross the infamous bridge in 1860.

The following winter fate struck a fatal blow, the bridge disintegrated and floated down the lake! Some claimed that extra help must have been supplied by agents of the Port Hope Railway. The bridge was never rebuilt. By 1867, the company had merged with the Marmora Iron Works and Mining Co. A spur line from the Trent River to the Marmora iron mines at Blairton was constructed. Ore shipments from the mines were transferred to barges at Trent River and transported by water to Harwood and then by rail to Cobourg’s harbor. In the late 1870’s with no new deposits traffic on the Blairton Line ceased, effectively ending Cobourg’s rail road dreams.

The Grand Junction Railway

Leading citizens of Peterborough, Belleville and Cobourg promoted the Grand Junction RR back in 1852. They planned a loop line from Belleville (at the Bay of Quinte) to Peterborough and from there back to Lake Ontario at Toronto. When they found out the Grand Trunk also had this route in mind, they abandoned the loop line idea. The Grand Junction was built from Belleville to Peterborough via Stirling, Campbellford, Hastings and Keene. The first Grand Junction train reached the outskirts of Peterborough in January 1880. During the same year, the Grand Junction acquired a twenty-two mile narrow gauge road built by Belleville & North Hastings RR from Madoc Junction to Eldorado, site of the first gold mine in Ontario.

The Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Railway

A railway line from Whitby to Port Perry opened in 1871 under the charter of the Port Whitby and Port Perry RR. This line was less than twenty miles in length and it never seemed to be overloaded with traffic. Supporters still hoping for better days changed the name to Whitby & Port Perry Extension Railway. It eventually made it into Lindsay…just twenty-six miles from Port Perry. Again another name change was made. It was now called The Whitby, Port Perry and Lindsay Railway Company. This line was built for the grain and lumber interests and eventually reached Port Perry on Lake Scugog in 1872. This train was often called the ‘Nip N’ Tuck’ because it could hardly make it over the ridges outside Port Perry. At one point people could actually get out and walk along the side of the train!

The Toronto & Ottawa Railway

This line was chartered in 1877 with the power to build from Toronto to Ottawa via Peterborough but was never constructed. Its charter was instead used by the Midland Railroad Group merely to build three ‘missing links’ in their system, totaling approximately thirty miles. One from Bridgewater Junction to Bridgewater Village, another from Blackwater Junction to Manilla Junction and finally, one line from Peterborough to Omemee Junction.

The Bay of Quinte Railway

In the 1880’s this short line was established by the Rathbun Lumbering Company of Deseronto in Hastings County to bring lumber from the northern reaches of the county to its extensive lumber mills. With the eventual decline of the lumber trade and the collapse of the Rathbun enterprises early in the century, the Bay of Quinte Railway fell into disuse until it was purchased by the Canadian Northern Railway which in 1911 completed its line from Deseronto to Toronto.

The Central Ontario Railway

In the 1920’s this line operated north from Trenton to Marmora and Bancroft. The COR had begun as an extension of the Prince Edward Railway Company which in 1879 had linked Picton and Trenton Junctions. By 1884 the COR had reached Coe Hill and in 1907 the citizens of Bancroft welcomed this link to the south. The Central Ontario was planned to carry the lumber and minerals of North Hastings to Lake Ontario. The Bessemer Spur was intended to tie in with the iron mines there, but little traffic resulted.

The Victoria Railway

The Lindsay, Fenelon Falls & Ottawa River Railway was chartered in 1872. It was to be a narrow gauge line, running north through the back townships of Victoria and Peterborough counties and possibly joining the prospected Canadian Pacific RR near Mattawa.   The name was soon changed to the Victoria RR and the gauge to the America standard. Strenuous opposition to this road was raised by the town of Peterborough, the southern townships of Peterborough County and the Township of Fenelon. Lindsay, the Village of Fenelon Falls and the northern townships of Peterborough County were in full support of the line.

The first sod of the railway was turned at Lindsay on August 5, 1874. The section from Lindsay to Kinmount was undertaken first. Many formidable challenges faced the builders such as grubbing out huge pine stumps. A 200 foot bridge over the Old Distillery Creek, a 500 foot bridge and a 3,000 foot fill at Mclaren’s Creek, a bridge over the Fenelon River and a 133 foot single Howe-truss bridge over the Burnt River. Rock cuttings were heavy near Fenelon Falls and for the last four miles into Kinmount. A colony of Icelanders were brought to Kinmount in 1874 to help in construction work. Dysentery and other problems soon demoralized the 300 men, women and children and they all migrated to Manitoba less than a year later. Steel finally reached Kinmount in late 1876. The chief obstacles encountered in the remaining 22 miles were the heavy rock cuttings and a morass or ‘sink-holes’ four miles north of Kinmount which swallowed up thousands of car loads of ties, trees and earth before it was bridged. The 56 miles of railroad from Lindsay to Haliburton Village were opened to traffic in November, 1878. Numerous attempts were made to carry the Victoria Railroad beyond Haliburton, but none succeeded.

Note: Many of these historical railway lines are now used a recreational trails.

Regards, Ranger.


  1. avalon peat farms · · Reply

    hi guy’s . i hope you might be able to help me or direct me to someone that might i own a property north of fenelon falls. lot 20 con 1 somerville township victoria county. in 1862 a crown patent was given to robert edwards , 1874 the rail was started and 1878 was in use. in 1923ish C N took over. my deeded access was there cause the rail severed the property. back in the 50s and 60s the owner of the farm made a corduroy path to the river . built a cabin by the river, later sold lots. in 2000 we voted not to become the city of kawartha lakes. they did it anyway. in around 2007 they named this path superior propane road. this was not my deeded access. i have a survey 1993 that shows my access with superior propane leaving a access to my property. they installed a spur and C N moved my access a few feet not to interfere with the switch. i rember the train back in the 80s in fact they loaded clay from my property onto the train from my access. imperial oil drilled for oil in 22 along with the use of the loggers with horses to unclog jams. when the rail was removed it went to ontario then ckl then a snowmobile club that put in a parking lot that the property owners want gone. i have a peat land harvesting operation that was approved in 2004. now the city has cement blocks on my access . this killed me now with lawyer, title searches etc. even charles coopers help still can’t find documentation of my deeded access. the city said historically the path is the access. note the only go back 21 years at best. my older neighbors remember it. i have tried to talk to some one at C N but to no avail . got to supervisor with the propane only to find he is part of the snowmobile club and told me they throw out deeds. right! this is the city of nepotism that i have fought with ever since they started. i am 72 now not walking much. love your stuff. any help would be great. i have contacted the law society but the guy paul leatherdale wont be in the office for a week? many thanks rod melson


    1. If any of our readers can help Rod, please leave a comment and we’ll pass it on to him.


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