Who knew this was likely Port Hope’s first railway station! The historic “Little Railway Station” currently sits at the north end of Port Hope’s harbour at 10 Hayward Street. A recent Northumberland News article regarding it really caught my attention. How many times has the Ranger driven by it and never gave it a second thought? It is only known that is was a railway structure built in the mid 1850’s but its original purpose, no one knows! One theory suggests ‘the little station’ may have been an early ‘whistle or flag stop’ station somewhere along the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway. A railway station by definition is where trains regularly stop to load or unload passengers or freight. It generally consists of at least one track-side platform and a station building providing such services as ticket sales and a waiting room. It usually has a passing loop to facilitate through traffic movement.
The smallest stations are most often referred to as ‘flag stops.’ Passengers wanting to board the train had to flag the train down in order for it to stop. Their most common use was for farmers to flag down the train to load produce or livestock for shipment to markets. In my research, the only ‘flag stop’ stations I could find near Port Hope were located in Perrytown (no photo found) and at Quay’s Crossing, of which I have located a very rare photo (below). Unlike the ‘Little Station’ with its one storey frame construction with a low gable roof and a three foot overhang with elaborate brackets and drop at each gable end, most ‘flag stop’ stations were basic frame utility structures. The flag stop stations were usually little more than un-maned shacks with benches along the walls and a railroad schedule tacked to the door. Some might be equipped with a pot-bellied stove to keep the passengers from freezing during the winter.
This seems to omit the elaborate “Little Station” as a ‘flag stop’ station anywhere. Continuing north on the Midland Rail Road, at Campbell’s (Campbellcroft) there was a small station. The Summit, the highest elevation on the road between Port Hope and Millbrook likely had a short stretch of double track at the top of the hill to facilitate storage of half of a train split at Campbell’s because it was too heavy to haul up the steep grade as a unit. The locomotive was then backed down to Campbell’s to pick up the remainder of the cars, re-connect at the Summit and head down into Millbrook. Was there a building of any kind here? Millbrook had an elaborate two storey structure with ginger board trim and a turret that added design and visual appeal while providing a point of reference to the locomotive engineer. Other ‘flag stops” may have been located in Brunswick, Franklin and Kelly’s (Reaboro) on the way to Beaverton.
The other theory for this stations origin, some believe it was the first station for the Grand Trunk Railway in Port Hope and was used for early passenger service. As passenger service increased and it became too small, it is believed it was moved from its original site. When the Grand Trunk station was built in 1856 “The Little Station” was moved to the east of the new station where it was relegated to a baggage shed. After outgrowing its use again, it was donated to a railroad employee and moved to his private property. When slated for demolition some time later, it was acquired by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and the Port Hope branch moved it to its current site at the harbour.
This little station was fortunate to survive for us to enjoy today. Around 1978 both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific were getting out of the passenger rail business and neither could justify continuing to pay upkeep and maintenance costs on buildings they no longer needed. In 1982 the CPR despite opposition from both city politicians and very vocal local citizens, made a very bold move and early one morning demolished the suburban West Toronto Junction Station. In the morning, shocked residents awoke “to find their beloved landmark reduced to rubble”! The CPR’s stealth-like actions likened to a commando raid made national headlines from coast to coast.
In 1990, following CPR’s unauthorized demolition of the West Toronto Junction Station, the Federal government brought in the Heritage Rail Road Stations Protection Act. All railway stations are now protected and any changes that include transfers of ownership, must be referred to the Minister of the Environment for approval. Changes of use are allowed but any repairs and renovations must reflect the heritage character of the original train station.
Some examples of stations saved from the wrecker’s ball: The Bancroft Railway Station, now serves as a Chamber of Commerce office and home to the Bancroft Gem & Mineral Club/Museum. The Port Hope Canadian Northern (CNR) station is currently used as a Ministry of Transportation office. The Port Hope Grand Trunk (CNR) is now in use as a Via Rail waiting room. The Lakefield Midland Railway (CNR) station is now used as a rare book store and the start of a ‘rail trail’ to Peterborough. Brighton’s Grand Trunk (CNR) station is now the Brighton Memory Junction Museum, at this time it is for sale. The Haliburton Victoria Railway Station (CNR) is home to the Rail’s End Gallery and Arts Centre. Kinmount’s Victoria Railway Station (CNR) is now a railroad museum and located on the Victoria Rail Trail. Smith Fall’s Canadian Northern Railway Station (CNR) is now an elaborate railroad museum.
According to the Northumberland News article, the local art group Critical Mass, would like to use the building as “a new community art space to be used as workshops, exhibitions and other engaging art experiences.” The art group is investigating the possibility of relocating the heritage ‘Little Station’ building. The Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) is scheduled this summer (2018) to take over the area to remediate the property it now sits on at the harbour and now would be an appropriate time to find a permanent home for the building. The art group’s suggestion of Lent’s Lane would seem to be very appropriate as this was the original location of the Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railroad’s (Midland) waiting room for passengers from the downtown hotels to board the train. This location was used until 1951 when railway passenger service from Port Hope northward ceased forever.
After pondering the above information, the Ranger feels very confident that the mystery has been solved. “The Little Station” was much too elaborate to have ever been located on the Midland Railroad which was always under financial strain. On the other hand, the Grand Trunk Railroad seemed to have the financial ability to construct the great Albert Viaduct in Port Hope and a railroad across Canada could have easily constructed this beautiful building as Port Hope’s first railroad station.