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 The Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway (B&H)

The Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway (B&H)

Prologue

The origin of the Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway (B&H) is a decade long story that involves the entanglement of two seperate companies, some name changes, and several rounds of incorporation, chartering, by-laws and takeovers.

The story begins in January 1896 as a much smaller project named the Chedoke Park Hotel & Railway company. The CPH&R would have run a short distance between the head of Garth St (now Dundurn) and the corner of Herkimer & Queen, where it would connect to the Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway. As the name suggests this was to feed a large hotel and amusement complex built on the Chedoke estate.

This idea soon expanded into a much larger railway, and by May 1896 had been renamed the Hamilton, Chedoke & Ancaster Electric Street Railway (HC&A), with the intention that the line would connect the three communities and terminate west of Ancaster at Duff's Corners. On November 5 1896 the HC&A was incorporated by the same group that owned Beckett Drive, and who wanted to build a line up from Herkimer and Hess up Hess, and then cross over to Queen and then up the mountain along Beckett Drive towards Ancaster. An attempt was made to sell Beckett Drive and surrounding lands to the City of Hamilton and use the funds towards construction expenses, but it was ultimately rejected by Hamilton City Council on March 8, 1897 as the company and city could not agree on a price or on the use of Hess St.

The HC&A responded to this setback by seeking additional funding sources, and announcing soon after that the line would be extended further west to Mohawk Park in Brantford. In April 1897 Beckett Drive was selected as the preferred route of the HC&A, with the eastern terminus being at Herkimer & Queen, with running rights over the H&D on Queen between Aberdeen and Herkimer.

However the HC&A was unable to secure additional sufficient funding during 1897. Company stock had been made available for purchase in May 1897, but the attempt failed to raise sufficient funds, and in April 1898 the HC&A attempted for a second time to sell Beckett's Drive and adjoining lands to the City of Hamilton. This time the HC&A was successful, and the City agreed to the purchase on April 13. However the conditions placed on the sale by the City resulted in the the project failing to go forward until the terms were renegotiated and a new agreement was reached on November 1.

In March of 1899 the Hamilton, Chedoke & Ancaster was renamed the Hamilton, Ancaster & Brantford Railway (HA&B), to better match the railway's plans. A new charter was granted giving the line permission to build as far as Brantford, as well as permission to build a branch line to Sulphur Springs, and an increase in the permitted stock up to $300,000. However this failed to generate interest, and other than a group of investors from New York, interest in the HA&B had for the most part dried up by the end of the summer of 1899, although there was still enough interest that in February 1902 a bill was passed granting an extension on the deadlines of the charter and amending the provisions of the company's charter.

During this lull in the HA&B's fortunes the Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway (B&H) was announced on Feb 5, 1904 by a group of Brantford based investors who were already tied to the Brantford Street Railway and the Grand Valley Railway. The B&H was incorporated by a federal charter on July 18, 1904. The HA&B had opposed this on the grounds that they still had an active charter that covered a very similar route, but was unsuccessful.

The HA&B lay dormant until it roared back into life with it's acquisition by the Haines company of New York in late 1904. The Haines Company planned to not only build the HA&B's proposed Hamilton-Brantford line, but to build a branch from Ancaster to Galt, and then on to Guelph. Unlike the previous plan, this line would run from James & Main via Main, Hess and Aberdeen to the city limits. This new route was approved on Feb 9, 1905 by Hamilton City council, with the authorizing by-law passing on March 10.

So it was unfortunate that on March 18 Arthur Kennedy, the primary financial backer of the Haines Company, ordered that all work be halted on the HA&B based on terms within the by-law that he found to be unacceptable, namely the deadline for construction to Guelph. Shortly after, the HA&B's preliminary arrangement to use the tracks of the Brantford Street Railway fell apart. With this pause in the HA&B, the B&H applied to the city of Hamilton for an entrance to the city, while the HA&B applied to the town of Brantford for an entrance to the town. As the HA&B was Hamilton based and the B&H was Brantford based, there were claims of favouritism from both companies. The HA&B received their entrance to Brantford on June 6.

Now there were two proposed lines running along basically the same route, and the estimated traffic levels only allowed for a single route that would be profitable. And so inevitably consolidation happened, and on September 6 1905 the HA&B bought the charter of the B&H, merging the two railroads under the B&H name, which was chosen because of its federal charter over the HA&B's provincial charter. (Somewhat confusingly, newspapers continued to refer to the company as the HA&B until the start of construction)

Construction

The B&H was built to very high standards, with relatively heavy rail and very few curves. From the Hamilton Terminal Station the B&H travelled through Hamilton along Main and Hess to Aberdeen, then cutting cross country to the southwest reaching the base of the escarpment near Garth St (modern day Dundurn St South). It then turned west and began ascending the escarpment at a 2-½ % grade, reaching the top of the escarpment near Horning Rd (today's Scenic Drive). The B&H curved to the southwest towards Ancaster, crossing Wilson St near Halson Rd. It then paralleled what is today Wilson St and Colborne St through Alberton, Langford, and Cainsville before reaching Brantford. The line entered Brantford running on Glenwood Drive, then paralleling the Mohawk Canal. The Brantford station at the west end of the line changed a few times, at first being at Alfred St, and then moving westwards to Market St in Nov 1908.

Construction began on August 9, 1906, with the sod turning taking place on the farm of Edgerton Shaver, just west of today's Shaver Rd in Ancaster. Two weeks later nearly 300 men were working at 8 seperate construction sites across Ancaster township grading the line. However closer to Hamilton construction had immediately ran into a problem as on August 18 the Canadian government filed an injunction to halt work due to the close proximity of the proposed line to the rifle ranges used by Canadian army regiments south of what is now Main St West. On August 24 the B&H proposed to the government that they would construct a wall and embankment in order to protect riders from stray bullets. This was acceptible to the Canadian government, and the injunction was soon lifted on that part of the line.

August 20 saw the start of several months of blasting in western Hamilton in order to create the long grade up the escarpment. At the time the use of dynamite was not regulated as heavily as today, and local residents began complaining that children were finding and playing with dynamite sticks left on the work site.

In late August Hamilton city council attempted to convince the B&H to alter their proposed route to instead run track down Garth St to Aberdeen, where they would meet the rails of the Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway (H&D) to reach downtown Hamilton. The B&H refused when it was determined that the grade on Garth St was steep enough that it would create operating problems under wet or icy conditions.

By the 26th of September the B&H had graded 11 km of its route and by the 26th of October had graded 18 km, but was encountering difficulties. A number of farmers in Ancaster township and near Cainsville were either refusing to sell or even lease land for the route to the B&H, or were asking for prices far in excess of market value. While the B&H did have expropriation rights, this required time consuming legal proceedings. The B&H would not obtain all of the land between Hamilton and Brantford for their route until May 16, 1907. In January of that year the Cataract company took control of the B&H.

As well there were a series of rockslides along the escarpment where blasting was going on, one of which damaged the target house on the rifle range. Also some additional rock cuts and fills were required east of Cainsville. A strike for more money on April 24, 1907 turned into a brawl between Italian and Austrian navvies. As well delays by the Brantford City council meant that the B&H's final route into Brantford was not confirmed until August 23, 1907, and further fighting with the Brantford Street Railway meant that final permission to build the route into Brantford wasn't obtained until December 3rd.

Construction photos

All photos (except the last one) are from the June 7 1907 edition of The Canadian Engineer (pg 209-210), and were taken by the Hamilton Spectator in late April or early May of 1907.

B&H  construction at Upper Horning Dr in April 1907

A construction crew cutting through the escarpment at the top of the grade near today's Scenic Dr.

mixing concrete

Mixing concrete near Chedoke Ravine.

Removing blasted rock

A construction crew removing blasted rock

Laid track at the top of the escarpment

Laid track at the top of the escarpment, photo taken from the old Upper Horning Rd bridge.

Removing blasted rock

An electric steamshovel used by a contractor to remove rock during construction. (Photo from the Jan 2, 1909 edition of the Electric Railway Journal, pg 11)

Needless to say, the B&H's construction schedule was badly disrupted. Track laying that had originally planned to start in November 1906 did not begin until May 1907. Work on the escarpment grade continued around the clock all through the night in an attempt to make up for lost time. Work on Hess street began at Aberdeen on May 2, with track laying starting on May 13. The first of the B&H cars arrived in June, with the first test run happening on June 16.

In order to get some service operating it was decided that rather than start operations on the entire line, service would first run between Hamilton & Ancaster. The first passengers hauled by the B&H were soldiers of the 13th and 91st Regiments, transported to Ancaster from Hamilton on October 31st as part of a large war game, where they would be defending Hamilton from an invading force coming from Brantford. At this point the line to Ancaster was operational with the exception of a section that had been hit by a landslide, requiring the soldiers to exit and walk while the cars travelled empty over the damaged section, and then reboard.

On December 13th a railway comission inspector went over the B&H between Hamilton & Ancaster, and approved the line for operation. Service began on December 20, 1907, with B&H #305 making the first run to Ancaster from the recently opened Hamilton Terminal Station. There was no opening ceremony. Service between Hamilton and Brantford opened on May 23, 1908.

Foreign Connections

The B&H was the only Cataract Radial to connect with a non-Cataract radial, this being the Lake Erie & Northern at Brantford. When the LE&N was finished in 1916, it and the B&H moved into a new station. The B&H extended its tracks 450 metres to the Lorne Bridge, where the new station was built and officially opened on March 12, 1917. Interlining tickets were sold, making it possible to travel by radial from Hamilton to Brantford, and then north to Galt or south to Port Dover on one ticket. (A traveller would have to change trains in Brantford, as B&H cars could not run on the LE&N becuase the B&H used 600V power, while the LE&N used 1500V).

Also in 1917, the federal government’s Board of Railway Commissioners ordered the construction of an interchange between the LE&N and the Grand Trunk Railway's (GTR) Tillsonburg line in Brantford. As there was no suitable place on the LE&N to build this interchange, it was built on the B&H to the east of the new station. A small yard was built to the south of Wharfe St for freight cars, and a storage track was built so that B&H cars could be safely stored while the overhead wires were charged with the LE&N's higher voltage. A break in the overhead wire controlled by a switch allowed the LE&N to travel the B&H without damaging any nearby B&H cars.

During the mid 1920’s, B&H service was integrated with the HRER, making it possible to travel from Burlington to Brantford (and then further on the LE&N) on a single ticket. This lasted until 1929, when service on the HRER ended.

The Last Days

The B&H was abandoned on June 30, 1931 as dictated by the sale of the Cataract Company. The LE&N bought a section of the B&H route in Brantford, from the joint station at the Lorne bridge to a point just west of Lynwood Dr in order to service several industries in the area and to keep the connection with the GTR (now part of Canadian National). These former B&H tracks remained in service with the LE&N until 1972, and were removed by the summer of 1974 as part of the redevelopment of downtown Brantford.

The rest of the tracks between Brantford and Hamilton were removed in 1932, although perhaps a little too quickly. It was discovered that freight motor HTC 677 had been left behind in Trinity after the rails were removed! The freight motor was trucked back to Hamilton for scraping.

A Final Note

Due to its high quality construction and traffic free access to Hamilton and Brantford, the B&H could probably have been operated profitably during the Great Depression. Had the line survived, the construction of a branch from Ancaster to the airbase at Mount Hope would have been of great use during the Second World War.

Brantford B&H/LE&N station, August 23 1958

View of the Brantford B&H/LE&N station taken on August 23 1958 by Bruce Murdoch. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)

Brantford B&H/LE&N station

The Brantford B&H/LE&N station and the new Lorne bridge. From an unused postcard.

Aerial photo of Downtown Brantford showing B&H/LE&N station

This is an aerial photo of Downtown Brantford taken in 1919. The Grand River is at the bottom of the photo, with the Lorne bridge crossing the river. The Lake Erie & Northern runs along the side of the river from left to right, and the B&H/LE&N station is the large building over the tracks next to the bridge. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

Aerial photo of Downtown Brantford showing B&H

This is a second aerial photo of Downtown Brantford taken in 1919. The B&H/LE&N station is the large building on the left edge of the photo by the edge of the river, complete with a B&H radial car parked on the tracks. The tracks of the B&H leave the station and head towards the right side of the photo, closely paralleling Water St and then passing under the old Market St bridge. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

B&H/LE&N station looking southwest

This unused postcard shows part of the B&H/LE&N station looking southwest

Market St bridge in Brantford

One of the B&H cars presumably at the second Brantford station, date unknown.

Market St bridge in Brantford

This postcard shows the Market St bridge in Brantford. The staircase on the left side leads down to the second B&H Brantford station. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 30, 1912.

B&H tracks at Alfred St, Brantford

This postcard shows the tracks of the B&H passing the new Alfred St Bridge in Brantford. The small tan coloured building on the left is the first B&H Brantford station, which was built due to difficulty in crossing the Tillsonburg line of the Grand Trunk Railway in Brantford. This temporary station was only used for six months in 1908, when the second Brantford station was opened at Market St. The earliest postmark found for this card is November 16, 1910.

B&H along Mohawk Canal, Brantford 1911

This postcard shows a B&H car heading for Hamilton along the Mohawk Canal, just east of the Alfred St bridge in Brantford. The earliest postmark found for this card is September 2, 1908.

B&H along Mohawk Canal, Brantford 1911

A B&H car crosses over the TH&B just north of Cainsville in the Summer of 1908. This photo appeared in an article in the Jan 2, 1909 issue of the Electric Railway Journal. (From the Sirman collection, used with permission)

B&H bridge over Fairchild's Creek, 1908

This postcard shows the B&H's bridge over Fairchild's Creek, just east of Cainsville. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 28, 1908.

1952 Ancaster aerial photo

This aerial photo of the then new suburbs of Ancaster taken in 1952 shows the path of the B&H, from the bottom of the photo to the center-left. Wilson St is the road running from the lower-right corner of the photo to the centre-left, with Fiddler's Green Rd running horizontally through the middle of the photo and Golf Links Rd running off into the distance at the top of the photo. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)

B&H Ancaster stop, circa 1910

This photo postcard is looking south on Halson St from just south of Wilson, and shows a B&H car waiting at the Ancaster stop. The postmark on this card is March 23, 1908, making this the earliest known photo of the B&H in operation. It's possible that this photo was taken on the B&H's first day of service on December 20, 1907.

B&H Ancaster stop, circa 1910

The B&H Ancaster stop, on Halson St south of Wilson, taken from a postcard circa 1910. (Photo courtesy of the Toronto Public Library, Digital Collections)

B&H ROW in Ancaster, November 5 1960

View of the former B&H right of way next to St. John's Anglican Church in Ancaster, looking west towards Halson St. Taken on November 5 1960 by Bruce Murdoch. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)

B&H right of way, likely somewhere in today's Iroquoia Heights Conservation Area

This postcard shows the B&H right of way, likely somewhere in today's Iroquoia Heights Conservation Area between Hwy 403 and Scenic Drive. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 27, 1908.

B&H ROW near Scenic Dr, November 5 1960

View of the former B&H right of way near Scenic Dr, looking east. Taken on November 5 1960 by Bruce Murdoch. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)

Upper Horning Rd Bridge over B&H, May 9 1911

This postcard shows the Upper Horning Rd bridge crossing the B&H. The earliest postmark found for this card is October 16, 1909.

B&H at top of escarpment overlooking Dundas Valley, 1910

This postcard shows the B&H at the top of the grade along the escarpment, overlooking the Dundas Valley. The road on the right is Lower Horning Rd, and the road with the farm buildings in the centre-right is Main St West. On the left of the postcard is the bridge carrying Upper Horning Rd across the tracks. The earliest postmark found for this card is November 11, 1908.

Path up to the Hamilton Sanatorium, June 8, 1909

This postcard along the B&H route may be the path up to the Hamilton Sanatorium. The earliest postmark found for this card is June 8, 1909.

Route of the B&H up the escarpment

The right of way of the B&H as it climbs the escarpment. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)

HSR #411 at Queen and Aberdeen in Spring 1941.

HSR #411 at Queen and Aberdeen in Spring 1941. On the left is the former right of way of the B&H (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

Tracks of the B&H on Hess St at Bold, date unknown.

Tracks of the B&H on Hess St at Bold, date unknown.

B&H 210 & 220 at the B&H/LE&N Brantford Station in 1920.

B&H #210 & #220 at the B&H/LE&N Brantford Station in 1920. One of the interesting things about this station was the fact that the B&H used 600V power while the LE&N used 1500V, meaning that B&H crews had to be very careful that they selected the correct wire! In order to prevent this from happening, B&H cars usually remained outside the station.

B&H #210 & #220 were both built by the Kuhlman Company in 1907, and were originally numbered #310 & #320, respectively. B&H #220 was scrapped in 1933. (Photographer unknown)

B&H 210 at Sanford yard, date unknown.

B&H #210 at Sanford yard, date unknown. B&H #210 was destroyed on March 17, 1923 when a sagging power line under the CNR overpass in Cainsville brushed the heater’s exhaust pipe, creating a short circuit and setting the car on fire. However, the trucks were salvaged, and were later used in the construction of B&H #240. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

The remains of B&H 210 after the fire at Cainsville.

The remains of B&H #210 after the fire at Cainsville. HG&B #171 has towed the remains back to the Sanford Yard, where the intact trucks will be salvaged for the construction of B&H #240. (From the Richard Vincent collection, used with permission)

B&H 230 at Hamilton Terminal Station, summer 1928.

B&H #230 at Hamilton Terminal Station, summer 1928. The Kuhlman Company built this car in 1907. It was originally numbered #330, and was scrapped in 1933. (Photographer unknown)

B&H 235 with HTC 605 at Hamilton Terminal Station, summer 1928.

B&H 235 with HTC 605 at Hamilton Terminal Station, summer 1928. The Kuhlman Company built this car in 1907. It was originally numbered #335, and was scrapped in 1933. #605 was built by the Preston car & Coach Company in 1913, and was scrapped in 1933. (Photographer unknown)

B&H 240 at Hamilton Terminal Station, summer 1928.

B&H 240 at Hamilton Terminal Station, summer 1928. The Cataract Company built #240 in 1923 out of the leftover pieces of several other cars. The roof is from HRER #307, and the trucks are from #210. This car was scrapped in 1933 (Photographer unknown)

HRER 305 at the Ancaster stop in 1908.

HRER #305 at the Ancaster stop in 1908. (From the Ross Gray collection, used with permission)

B&H #315 on Main near Park, circa 1909.

B&H #315 on Main near Park, circa 1909. Built by the Kuhlman Company in 1907, it was renumbered #215 around 1910, and was scrapped in 1933. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

B&H 315 at the Ancaster stop, circa 1909

B&H #315 at the Ancaster stop, circa 1909. (From the Ross Gray collection, used with permission)

B&H 315 at the HRER's Oakville station, date unknown.

B&H #315 at the HRER's Oakville station, date unknown. (Photo courtesy of the Toronto Public Library, Digital Collections)

Radial car crossing gravel quarry, just east of present day Scenic drive, date unknown.

B&H #335 crossing the gravel quarry just east of present day Scenic drive, circa 1909. Built by the Kuhlman Company in 1907, it was renumbered #235 around 1910, and was scrapped in 1933. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, used with permission)

More info on the B&H's fleet is here

Maps of the BH

A large portion of the B&H is still easily visible as hiking & biking trails, as shown here

Additional remains of the B&H are here and here.


Sources

Hamilton Spectator
"Is Out After Railway" August 18, 1906, pg 1
"He Was Satisfied - Major Maunsell is Prepared to Recommend B. and H. Railway Plans" August 28, 1906, pg 10
"Rushing the Work - Seven Miles of Grading on H., A. & B. Railway Has Been Finished" September 26, 1906, pg 1
"Has Kept Faith - Brantford Electric Road Company Does More Than Asked" November 22, 1906, pg 1
"One Small Piece - Horning Property in Ancaster Wanted by the B. & H. Company" April 4, 1907, pg 14
"The B. & H. Grading" April 6, 1907, pg 28
"He Has It All - F. H. Dickenson Takes Over the Mountains Section of the Job" April 8, 1907, pg 1
"Foreigners Mix Up in Big Free For All Fight - Italians on Hamilton & Brantford Strike for More Money" April 24, 1907, pg 1
"May Cancel Gas Lamp Contract" May 2, 1907, pg 14
"The Making of an Electric Railway - How the Ancaster-Brantford Line Is Being Cut Through Solid Rock Up the Mountain Side" May 11, 1907, pg 16
"Judge Advises Them to Come Together on This - Hamilton & Brantford Railway in a Legal Squabble Ove One Lone Piece of Railway Right-of-way" May 14, 1907, pg 1
"Get the Order - Now the Railway May Go on the Horning Land" May 16, 1907, pg 14
"B & H Railway - More Information Supplementing Last Saturday's Article" May 17, 1907, pg 7
"Big Land Slide - Part of Mountain Washed Into the H & D [sic] Railway Cut" May 28, 1907, pg 1
"All Ready Now - Will Hamilton Be Taken or Saved Tomorrow?" October 30, 1907, pg 1
"Ran Alright - New Ancaster-Hamilton Service Inauggerated Successfully" December 20, 1907, pg 1
Brief Local Items December 4, 1906 March 12, 1907 April 10, 1907

Mills, John M. Cataract Traction: The Railways of Hamilton Canadian Traction Series Vol 2, Toronto, 1971

The Building of the Hamilton-Brantford Electric Railway The Canadian Engineer, June 7 1907, pg 209-210

The Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway Electric Railway Journal, January 2 1909, pg 8-11