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 The Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway (H&D)

The Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway (H&D)

The Beginning

In the mid 19th century the Town of Dundas faced two problems: It had been bypassed by the railroads in favour of the City of Hamilton and as a result it was lagging behind economically; and travel to Hamilton was difficult, as Dundas was boxed in on 3 sides by the Niagara Escarpment, and the terrain between the two centers was marshy and crossed by several river valleys.

On March 17, 1873, a group of prominent local businessmen held a meeting at the Half-way House, a tavern situated between Hamilton and Dundas, (near where McMaster University is today) and decided to solve these problems by creating a railway connecting the two communities.

The H&D was incorporated in 1875 to run as a steam railway between its two namesake cities. Starting in Dundas, the H&D ran along Hatt and Dundas streets, and then along Spencer Creek and through a long cut before stopping at the Half-way House. The owner, Samuel Bramberger, made a condition on the sale of his property to the H&D that all trains would stop at his tavern for five minutes. The H&D agreed, and named the stop Bramberger's. The H&D then continued on through Ainslie’s woods to Hamilton. To cross the Chedoke ravine (where Hwy 403 is now), the H&D turned south, and descended the side of the ravine, then turned eastwards, crossed the Chedoke river, and climbed up out of the ravine. The H&D entered Hamilton on Aberdeen Ave, and then followed Queen, Charlton (then called Hanna), MacNab, and Main St, terminating beside the Hamilton & Northwestern station on Ferguson Ave. The first run was in 1879, although regular service didn’t start until May 1880.

Motive Power

Because of it’s on-street operations, the H&D originally used three Baldwin-built steam dummies, small locomotives disguised as streetcars so as not to spook horses. These locomotives usually pulled trains of two cars, although trains of up to six cars could be hauled. The line was not very profitable to the owners, and so was leased out to various operators. Track maintenance does not appear to have been a high priority, based on the H&D's record of derailments that would occur on average a couple of times a month. Fortunately these were minor affairs, due to the H&D's slow operating speed and the light weight of the locomotives.

Taking advantage of the H&D's easy transportation, several parkgrounds opened along the route of the H&D between Hamilton and Dundas. These included Cline Park, and the most famous of all Ainslie Park (the present site of Hwy 403 just north of the CPR's Aberdeen Rail yard) that was the site of numerous large corporate and society picnics.

New Power, New Track, New Owner

In 1893 the H&D's railway franchise was renewed by all towns and townships along its route. Included in that renewal was a provision allowing for future electrification of the route, subject to the towns' approval. The H&D first looked at electrification in the Summer of 1894, and while preliminary agreements were made with Dundas and Hamilton councils, the H&D could not find acceptable terms with its current leasees. Therefore in September 1894 the H&D decided to postpone electrification until the current lease expired in July 1896. The H&D planned to rebuild its tracks and bridges at the same time.

In October 1894 the H&D and the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway began talks for the building of a junction between the H&D and the TH&B in West Hamilton, south of the Half-way house, to allow for the H&D to deliver freight cars to the TH&B from Dundas, and vice versa. These talks would eventually lead to the TH&B having trackage rights over the H&D into Dundas, and shipping freight cars in and out of Dundas itself in exchange for an annual payment to the H&D and funding of half of all maintenance costs. Before the trackage rights were settled, the H&D would purchase a new steam dummy larger than the original ones in order to deal with the Dundas freight traffic, and as a replacement due to the age of the original dummies.

Serious flooding near Dundas starting on March 29, 1896 resulted in several washouts, suspending service for several days. The resulting expenses resulted in the H&D's plans being delayed several months, with track replacement not begining until October 15, 1896. Track crews were limited to the section of roadbed in Ancaster twp between Dundas and Hamilton, due to proposed changes within the town and city limits that would require the approval of the councils. Starting from the Dundas end, by November 30 the track crews had reached the TH&B bridge over Aberdeen Ave in western Hamilton, where work was halted for the season.

Bridge work over Red and Spencer creeks began on March 12 1897, and was completed by July 7. Track work resumed in May 1897, and by May 26 it had reached Aberdeen and Queen, where it was halted until the Hamilton bylaw allowing the H&D to electrify was passed on June 11. A new section of track was built in West Hamilton, bypassing the Half-way house on the west side and heading down to just north of the TH&B main line, before swinging northeast and connecting with the original H&D line at the top of the grade into the Chedoke Valley. This section entered service on July 7, and the bypassed portion of the H&D was abandoned (Although the H&D continued to call the stop in West Hamilton 'Bramberger’s'). Construction of the rail junction was completed on September 24, with the first TH&B train entering Dundas on October 12.

All track and electrical work was completed in Dundas by mid-August. In Hamilton the H&D wanted to change its route through the southwestern part of the city, in order to eliminate a level crossing with the TH&B at MacNab and Hunter. It's first attempt to reroute down Queen (passing over the TH&B as it ran through the Hunter St tunnel) and east on Main was disallowed by Hamilton city council. The bylaw passed on June 11 allowed the H&D to use the tracks of the HSR along Queen, Herkimer, & James if an agreement could be reached between the two companies. Two months of negotiations between the H&D and the HSR failed, and so starting on August 25 the H&D began rebuilding the tracks and installing poles along its original route. Track reconstruction to Main & Ferguson was complete by October 2. The overhead wires on Main east of James were attached to the existing poles of the Hamilton, Grimsby, & Beamsville Railway (HG&B), which had been running over the tracks of the H&D since 1895. The HG&B and the H&D would continue to use the same track, but with different overhead wires.

A full test of the electric system occurred on October 19. All the equipment functioned properly, but there was a problem. The Hamilton Electric Light & Power Company, which was responsible for the electricity used by the H&D, found that the power requirements were higher than expected, and additional equipment would be needed before the H&D could switch to regular electric operations. Additional feeder wires were installed, and a new electric dynamo was installed on December 22.

Electric operation started on January 1, 1898, after which the railway’s fortunes improved to the point of being a source of interest to the Cataract Company, which brought the railway under its control effective September 17, 1899. On December 1, the H&D route was changed so that the cars ran on HSR tracks along Queen, Herkimer, & James to the The Hamilton Radial Electric Railway (HRER) station at James and Gore, which became the new downtown Hamilton station for the H&D. The rails on Charlton and McNab were torn up, and the tracks on Main between James and Ferguson were bought by the HG&B. In 1900 the line was extended west in Dundas along Hatt and Bond St to Fisher’s Mills at King & Bond. The terminus of the H&D changed in 1907 to the new Hamilton Terminal Station on King St at Catherine St. This was now the final route of the H&D, a route that remained unchanged for just over 15 years.

The Last Days

After the First World War, improvements to Main St resulted in the formation of a bus route between Dundas and Hamilton. The H&D tried to compete with the bus route by increasing service to West Hamilton using leased HSR streetcars every half hour starting on September 17, 1919. This was unsuccessful, and mounting losses resulted in the H&D being closed down on September 5, 1923. The tracks along Aberdeen as far as Longwood were taken over by the HSR for streetcar service, and the TH&B purchased the line west of Emerson and into Dundas in 1930. The rails between Longwood and Emerson were torn up in 1944. Streetcar service on Aberdeen was abandoned in the summer of 1941, but was restarted in October 1942 due to the war. The streetcars were abandoned for good in June 1947. The TH&B abandoned the line into Dundas in 1987.

H&D Preferred Stock Certificate, issued to John Riddell on July 17 1880

H&D Preferred Stock Certificate, issued to John Riddell on July 17 1880. John Riddell was also the secretary of the H&D, as shown by his signature in the lower left corner.

Ticket used on H&D.

Ticket used on H&D. The signature is of manager C. K. Green, which dates the ticket to between 1903 and 1906.

HRER #303 at the H&D Dundas station

HRER #303 at the H&D Dundas station, from a postcard postmarked August 18, 1910. (Photo courtesy of Vintage Postcards of Hamilton, used with permission)

H&D #3 at the H&D's Dundas passenger station, date unknown

H&D #3 at the H&D's Dundas passenger station. On the left is car #51, originally a horsecar from New York City. Behind the steam dummy is one of the H&D's boxcars and either car #16 or #18. Date unknown, but before the H&D electrified in 1898.

A closeup of H&D #51

A closeup of H&D #51.

H&D #20 with steam dummy #4 at the H&D Dundas passenger station, March 17, 1897.

H&D #20 with steam dummy #4 at the H&D Dundas passenger station. Built by the Toronto Railway Company in 1896, the unpowered trailer would later be converted to a self-propelled combine. When the H&D was taken over by the Cataract company in 1899, #20 was renumbered to #120. It was then renumbered to #220 in 1901 after the takeover of the HRER, and was given its final number as #181 as part of the Cataract company‘s system-wide renumbering in 1910. It was scrapped in 1933.

Most sources date this photo as March 17, 1897. That may have been the intention when the H&D arranged for this photo to be taken, but several problems occurred during the delivery of H&D #20. It was delivered to the Grand Trunk Railway's Hamilton King St station on the evening of March 15, where it was transferred to the tracks of the H&D using a little used switch between the two lines. On March 16 H&D #20 was towed towards Dundas, but it was found that the car was two inches too tall to pass underneath the TH&B bridge over Aberdeen Ave. Work crews lowered the track profile of the H&D line so that the car could pass underneath the bridge, but the construction and a severe rain storm on March 19 that washed out the H&D line between the two cities meant that it took until March 24 for H&D #20 to finally reach Dundas for the first time.(Photographer unknown)

H&D #2 on Hatt St, date unknown

H&D #2 is at the head of an excursion train on Hatt St in Dundas. The photo is undated, but the American and British flags at the front of the train suggest that this is either a charter for a conference with representatives from Canada & the USA, or an excursion on July 4. (Photo courtesy of Brian Henley

An H&D train pulls out of Dundas station, 1891.

An H&D train pulls out of Dundas station circa 1891. The steam dummy is H&D #2. It's pulling an H&D boxcar, a closed passenger car, and one of the former New York City horse cars (H&D 51-55) that the H&D purchased and rebuilt into passenger trailers. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)

Photo postcard of an HTC 1913 Preston-built radial car at West Hamilton station on the H&D at Christmas 1918.

Photo postcard of an HTC 1913 Preston-built radial car at West Hamilton station on the H&D at Christmas 1918. West Hamilton station was on Emerson St, now the site of Aitchison Lumber. This photo postcard was actually used, but strangely enough it was mailed in 1949-more than 30 years after the photo was taken.

A H&D train passes under the brand new Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo bridge over Aberdeen Ave late March of 1895

A H&D train passes under the brand new Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo bridge over Aberdeen Ave in late March of 1895. On top of the bridge is a construction train laying the tracks of the new TH&B railway line between Brantford and Hamilton. TH&B #20, a 4-6-0, was built in 1894 by Schenectady. Behind the steam locomotive is a combination car lettered for the Brantford, Waterloo & Lake Erie Railway. This is the only picture which has yet come to light showing this TH&B predecessor.

What you're looking at is a photo of an engineering screw up. The TH&B bridge over the H&D only had about an inch of clearance for the H&D locomotives when it should have had over a foot. Likely someone misread the drawings. The bridge was so low that the H&D locomotives had to remove their whistles to fit under. After almost two months of arguing, the TH&B paid for Aberdeen Ave and the H&D to be dropped down to improve the clearance.

The H&D’s fleet of steam dummies are described here, and the fleet of H&D cars are described here.

Map of the H&D

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


Hamilton Spectator
"A Hitch with the Lessees - The H & D. Won't be a Trolley Line for the Present" September 1, 1894, pg 8
"A New Railway Scheme - The H. & D. To Be Converted Into a Combined Electric and Freight Road" October 24, 1894, pg 1
"Tracks Off of Main Street - The Request of the H. & D. Railway Refused" July 24, 1895, pg 5
"A Very Fresh Freshet - The Wild Antics of the Waters Played Havoc" March 30, 1896, pg 8
"The New Dummy Line - Permission Granted to Use the Trolley System" August 13, 1896, pg 5
"Wants a Bonus of $18,000 - Mr. Osler's Terms for Building a Spur to Dundas" August 13, 1896, pg 5
"Must Remove Its Track - The Radial Railway Ordered to Make a Change" December 9, 1896, pg 8
"Some Possible Trouble - Between the H. & D. Railway and the Late Lessees" January 7, 1897, pg 1
"Wants It Changed Quick - B. B. Osler Has All Arrangements Made Between the C.P.R., M.C.R. and H. & D." March 25, 1897, pg 8
"Mr Osler's Proposition - The H. & D. Railway Question Will Likely be Settled To-morrow" April 2, 1897, pg 8
"Changes on the H. & D. - On the New Line the Halfway House Will Be Missing" July 7, 1897, pg 1
"Little Hope of a Deal - The H. and D. Railway and Street Railway Are Far Apart" August 25, 1897, pg 8
"Dundas Freight Service - The Connection Between the T. H. & B. and H. & D. Railway" October 13, 1897, pg 1

Brief Local Items
April 15, 1896
October 16, 1896
November 30, 1896
March 13, 1897
May 26, 1897
August 10, 1897
September 24, 1897
October 2, 1897
October 5, 1897
October 19, 1897
November 17, 1897
December 22, 1897

"Increases in Electric Railway, freight and Passenger Rates-Dominion Power and Transmission Co" Canadian Railway and Marine World October 1919: pg 552

Mills, John M. Cataract Traction; The Railways of Hamilton. Toronto: Upper Canada Railway Society/Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association, 1971