The Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville Electric Railway (HG&B)
The HG&B was formed in December 1891, as one of the first electric railways in Canada. Originally, the HG&B was to run from the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) Station at Stuart St, down Caroline to Main, along Main to King, and then follow King through Stoney Creek to Queenston Rd. It then would follow Queenston Rd/Hwy 8 to Grimsby, making a short detour onto Kerman and Livingstone Ave before returning to Hwy 8/Main St E. and proceeding to Beamsville.
This proposed route would be altered due to problems from two sources. The Hamilton Street Railway had at that time a franchise to run streetcars in the City of Hamilton, and opposed the HG&B's plans for fear that they would run a competing local service along Main and Caroline that would take away business from the HSR's service on James and King. On March 10 1892 an agreement between the two companies was reached. The HSR dropped their opposition to the HG&B as long as no local service was provided, and the HG&B did not venture beyond downtown Hamilton. This resulted in the Caroline St portion never being built, and the HG&B's Hamilton station being located at Main St E and Catherine St.
The other source of difficulty was from the owners of Main St E in Hamilton. At the time Main St E, east of Sherman Ave, was a privately run toll road owned by the Barton and Stoney Creek Toll Road Company, owned in turn by Albert E. Carpenter. The company demanded a very high fee from the HG&B to use their road, and months of negotiation failed to reach a compromise. In the end the HG&B found it cheaper to cut their own route. The route of the HG&B was altered by turning south at Sherman and Main onto Sherman, and then running on Maple (now Maplewood) and Gage. At the base of the escarpment, the HG&B would cut a new right of way along an unopened concession road allowance as far as King St E at the Red Hill Creek. These negotiations, along with the passage of necessary by-laws from all municipalities and awarding of construction bonuses delayed the HG&B construction until early November 1893.
Construction started on November 7, 1893 at what is now the intersection of Maplewood and Gage St in Hamilton (At the time, Gage St was an unnamed Concession Rd, and Maplewood [named Maple] halted a block west of it). By November 9 clearing and grading crews had begun to open the road allowance. The HG&B decided to open the entire allowance of 66 ft wide, and it was laid out to include sidewalks and space for wagons. By November 13 the graded road was open as far as Bartonville, and large numbers of residents began using the road to bypass the unpopular toll road. Realizing the threat to his business, Carpenter attempted to strike a deal with the HG&B for free use of Main St E in exchange for closing down the opened road allowance. The HG&B refused this offer, resulting in legal action by Carpenter. The HG&B was successful in court, and eventually the Barton and Stoney Creek Tollroad Company was forced into bankruptcy. Local residents saw the development potential due to this new route, and convinced the city of Hamilton and the townships of Barton and Saltfleet to pay the HG&B to macadamize the road and officially open it to the public. Known at first as Aberdeen Ave (a continuation of the Aberdeen Ave in the west end), by the 1920s the road was renamed Lawrence Rd.
A second construction crew began work at the east end of Stoney Creek on November 12 and by November 30 had cleared and graded as far as the outskirts of Grimsby. On December 12 it was announced that the powerhouse would be located in Stoney Creek. All clearing and grading crews were laid off for the winter season on December 15, and all construction ended on December 21.
A contract for 25 000 railway ties was given to John McGann of Toronto, with an additional 10 000 ties purchased from suppliers near Dundas and Waterdown. Ties began arriving in Hamilton shortly before Christmas. Rails were ordered from Loomer & Rose in Montreal, and were delivered during January and February of 1894. The HG&B was built using light 65 lb rail on the streets and very light 50 lb rail everywhere else. These light rails were never replaced with heavier rails, even after the HG&B began using heavy express reefer cars from the Canadian Pacific Railway to ship produce.
Only one large bridge was needed on the HG&B, at Red Hill Creek. Long embankments were needed, with the bridge itself being built of iron. The contract for it was let in July 1894, with construction beginning by the end of that month. The bridge was completed on August 21, and tested using three fully loaded cars. Eleven HG&B cars (freight, passenger and open trailers) were built for the HG&B by the Ottawa Car Company. The cars were completed on July 11, and were delivered to Hamilton and stored near the Stuart St station on the GTR on August 23. The Hamilton Spectator described the cars as "exceedingly handsome. They are double-truck, eight-wheeled, coach-fitted, with glass shields for the motormen."
The Hamilton bylaw granting permission for the HG&B to build within the city of Hamilton contained a clause prohibiting the HG&B from starting construction in Hamilton until rails had been laid from the city limits to Winona. In mid-July 1894 the HG&B reported to city council that they had fulfilled the bylaw clause, and asked permission to begin construction within the Hamilton city limits. On July 20 Hamilton city council rejected this request, on the grounds that since Winona was not an incorporated village there was legally no place called Winona, and so the HG&B could not honestly say that they had reached it. The only location that could officially be called Winona was the GTR's Winona station, and the HG&B quickly built a mile long spur line to the station to satisfy the council's demands. Permission to build within the Hamilton city limits was granted on August 20. The HG&B would make lemonade out of this particular lemon by making Winona the major interchange point between the HG&B and the GTR.
Under the terms of its 1873 authorizing bylaw, the HSR had the initial rights to build on any major street in Hamilton, but if they declined then that street was open to any other railroad. The HG&B took advantage of this to build on Main St East, west of Sherman, but had to negotiate with the HSR to build tracks on Sherman connecting Main with Maple. Originally the two railroads had reached a deal that the HSR would build and own the tracks on Sherman, and the HG&B would pay an annual fee for their use. However, the HSR dragged its heels in signing the agreement. Without a signed agreement, the HG&B resorted to plan b, and purchased a 13 ft wide strip of land from John Hoodless, the owner of the property on the east side of Sherman Ave and member of the HG&B's Board of Directors. Tracks were laid along this strip starting on August 25 and finishing on August 27. Construction on Main St began on August 28 heading west, and by September 13 the tracks had reached Emerald St, the temporary western terminus of the HG&B. On September 14 the HG&B began finishing Main St by macadamizing the road surface. Track and overhead wiring were completed to Patton St in Grimsby by the end of September. The final piece of the first stage of the HG&B, the curve from Main St to the tracks next to Sherman Ave, was finished on October 10.
The first trial run of the HG&B was on October 11, made by members of the board and senior employees. The trip from Hamilton to Grimsby was a slow, detailed inspection lasting more than 2 hours, while the return was less than half that. On October 12 another run was made, moving three express cars to the carhouse in Grimsby. This was another trip by the board of directors, but included numerous motormen for training purposes, and a number of directors' wives.
The HG&B officially opened on October 17, 1894, with four trains (Closed passenger car pulling trailers) carrying approximately 400 invited guests from Emerald & Main in Hamilton to Grimsby, where the opening ceremonies were held. The HG&B opened to the general public on October 18 with service from Hamilton to Grimsby every hour and fifteen minutes. In addition, an agreement with the The Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway (H&D) had been reached, allowing travel from Dundas to Grimsby on a single ticket with a transfer between the two lines in Hamilton, although for the time being there was a walk of several blocks along Main St between the HG&B at Emerald Ave and the H&D at Ferguson.
The HG&B's first weeks of operation were troubled, as heavier than expected demand resulted in problems with operations due to overheating and blown fuses. The HG&B was forced to cancel planned excursions until October 26, when the HG&B revamped its schedule to improve service.
Additional rails arrived from Germany via Montreal on November 13, allowing the HG&B to continue construction westwards. Starting from Emerald Ave the track construction reached Wellington St on November 17 and Ferguson Ave on November 24. Service from Ferguson & Main to Grimsby began on November 26. On November 23 a connecting stagecoach service was set up by the HG&B. Passengers were met at the end of the line in Grimsby and carried on to Beamsville.
As the GTR's tracks ran north-south along Ferguson at grade, the HG&B negotiated with the GTR for a level crossing. By mid-December, initial attempts to come to an agreement had failed due to the high number of conditions placed on the crossing by the GTR. The issue was brought before the railway committee of the privy council of Canada, and a ruling in the HG&B's favour was made on February 19, 1895. As part of the ruling, the HG&B was responsible for all safety equipment and for the installation of derailers to prevent the radial cars from crossing the GTR tracks accidentally. Construction on the crossing began on April 29, but came to a halt on May 2 when it was found that the central piece of the diamond crossing was improperly shaped. A new piece was manufactured, and construction resumed on May 7, with the crossing being completed a few days later. West of the GTR tracks at Ferguson, the HG&B used the tracks of the H&D, first having to install electric overhead wires as the H&D was still steam powered. Originally it had been intended as part of the agreement that the HG&B replace the rails of the H&D with girder rails, but this provision was cancelled when it was discovered that the wheel flanges on the cars and locomotives of the H&D were too large to permit the use of girder rails.
Reconstruction of the old Royal Rink at Main & Catherine into the HG&B's Hamilton Station began on May 16. On May 21 crews were installing poles for the overhead wires on Main St between Ferguson and James Streets, and the overhead wire itself was installed on May 30. On July 17 the HG&B began running excursion trains from James & Main on a temporary basis. Service from the HG&B's final western terminus at Main & Catherine began on July 20, 1895.
Construction to the east of Grimsby towards Beamsville was originally intended to occur during the summer of 1895. However HG&B management decided not to proceed, as they felt that several municipalities along the route were making excessive financial demands on the HG&B for authorization to build the line. These municipalities felt that the HG&B had no choice in the matter, expecting that the railroad would try to complete line in 1895 to earn a completion bonus from the city of Hamilton. Instead, the HG&B decided to forgo the bonus and begin construction next year, a decision that was met with opposition from the community and within the company itself.
Instead, the management of the HG&B spent much of the fall of 1895 in negotiations with the TH&B and the city of Hamilton over a three-way deal that would see the HG&B build new tracks along Main St east of Sherman. The existing HG&B tracks would be sold to the TH&B to become part of their proposed route east out of Hamilton, giving them a route further to the north, away from the city's east end reservoir and not blocking the newly opened road, which was a source of concern for city councilors. These negotiations ultimately broke down, and when combined with the HG&B's management's decision to not build east of Grimsby in 1895 and to not issue a dividend, prompted a shareholder revolt.
On January 27, 1896 president C. J. Myles and the HG&B board of directors were removed as part of the annual meeting. Vice-present T. W. Lester who had lead the shareholder revolt was appointed president. The new board moved quickly, and by February 6 had obtained permission from Lincoln County to extend their line to Beamsville. Construction was delayed by members of the town of Grimsby, who did not want the line extended further eastwards through the centre of town, and by former President Myles, who mounted a counter-revolt amongst the shareholders and tied up the board of directors via various legal actions during most of May and June of 1896.
On May 27 1896, tired of the actions of the town of Grimsby, the councils of Clinton township and the town of Beamsville asked that the HG&B construct a line between Grimsby Park and Beamsville, and offered free use of the existing road between the two. This second line would also connect with the GTR, allowing for interchange of cars between the two railroads. The HG&B agreed to this offer, and tenders for the construction were signed on August 8. Construction began at Beamsville on August 14th, using 65 pound T-rail. With construction finally underway and the town at the risk of losing traffic coming from the east, the town of Grimsby relented and at the beginning of September agreed to let the HG&B build through Grimsby. The Beamsville- Grimsby park project was expanded to connect to the existing HG&B tracks in Grimsby.
The Beamsville extension opened on October 21, 1896 without fanfare. The first passenger service on the line was a special service to the Grimsby racetrack on October 24. Regular service between Hamilton and Beamsville began on October 31, again with no celebrations or speeches.
The HG&B was unusual among the Hamilton Radials, in that it carried large quantities of freight, such as mail, milk, gravel, coal, wood and produce. Produce such as apples and peaches were hauled by the HG&B to either the TH&B’s yard at Kinnear or to the GTR in Winona, and from either of to these locations to spots all over the country. It was this large amount of freight traffic that would ultimately allow the HG&B to survive as long as it did.
New Owner, New Track, New Owner
In 1902 the GTR aquired a controlling interest in the HG&B. This was most likely done in order to prevent the GTR's rival the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) from aquiring the HG&B, as the CNoR had recently taken over the Niagara, St Catherines & Toronto (NStC&T).
On April 28, 1904, a 7.26 km extension was opened from Beamsville to Vineland. The intention was that this extension would eventually lead to a connection with the NStC&T. However, an expected bridge over the Welland canal was not built, and as a result the line very quickly became useless. (The bridge across the Welland canal would not be built until 1917)
In 1905, the GTR sold its shares of the HG&B to the Cataract Company. This brought the last of the independently built Hamilton radials under the control of a single company. (The Brantford & Hamilton was built after it was bought by the Cataract Company.) One of the first acts of the new owners was to abandon the Vineland extension in the summer of 1905. This was one of the first abandonments of radial track anywhere in Canada.
With the opening of the Hamilton Terminal Station in 1907, the old HG&B station in Hamilton became the Hamilton freight station for all of the Cataract Company's Radials. The freight station burned down on July 6, 1913, with the loss of about a half-dozen cars. The freight station was rebuilt on the same site. Another fire, on December 29, 1919 damaged the Beamsville car barn, with the loss of three cars; HG&B 151, HRER 300, & HTC 603. The Beamsville barn was rebuilt on the same site.
The Last Days
1920 was a record setting year for freight on the HG&B, with over 500 carloads of produce shipped out. This bumper crop resulted in the HG&B as well as its parent company pressing into service every piece of motive power it could spare to move the fully-loaded express reefers.
Unfortunately this was to be the last great year for the HG&B. In December of 1921 a competing bus service started, which quickly began to draw away the passengers that provided the bulk of the HG&B's revenue. The freight revenue kept the HG&B alive until 1927, when the Cataract Company bought out the bus service and expanded it. At that point a co-ordinated bus and rail schedule was set up, but the HG&B never returned to its earlier profitability. With the sale of the Cataract Company to Ontario Hydro in April 1930, the HG&B was doomed. The bus line was sold off, and the radial service ended on June 30, 1931, with the rails torn up the following year.
This is the former HG&B Vineland station on the northwest corner of Victoria Ave & King St in 1945. Built in 1904 for the Vineland extension of the HG&B from Beamsville, the line was only in use for a little more than a year. The station was sold in 1907 and eventually converted into a garage. (Photo by Kenneth Moyer, courtesy of the Lincoln Public Library, used with permission)
The intersection of Victoria Ave & King St, looking north. The former HG&B Vineland station is on the left. The station was demolished during the week of July 13, 1953. Photo taken on 14 April 1951 by Bruce Murdoch. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)
The original Beamsville car barn on the HG&B, circa 1900.
HG&B tracks in Beamsville, looking east along King St from just west of Central Ave. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 5, 1909.
This unused postcard shows the HG&B tracks in Beamsville, looking west along King St from just east of Central Ave.
This unused postcard shows the tracks of the HG&B in Beamsville along King St East, with a radial car in the distance.
HG&B tracks just west of Beamsville, on King St just west of Stadelbauer/West. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 29, 1918. The style of license plate on the car is from 1912 to 1916.
HG&B tracks in Grimsby, looking west along Main St from Elm. No date, but the style of car license plates puts this somewhere between 1927 and 1930.
HG&B tracks in Grimsby, looking east along Main St, east of Mountain. The earliest postmark found for this card is September 2, 1909.
HG&B tracks in Grimsby, along Main St W between Mountain and Ontario. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 10, 1911.
HG&B tracks in Grimsby, along Main St W between Mountain and Ontario. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 14, 1924.
The E. D. Smith plant west of Winona, March 1911. E.D Smith was the largest shipper on the HG&B, shipping produce, jams & jellies across Canada. This view of the east side of the factory shows several boxcars being loaded, including a rare shot of HRER 123 on the left. In the HG&B's early days shipments from E. D. Smith were handled in either the radial's freight motors, or in small boxcars like HRER 123. In later years long trains of CPR 'blower' cars were used to transport produce to Hamilton. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)
This postcard shows the HG&B tracks in front of Ridge's Campground near Stoney Creek. This card was actually used by a member of the Ridge family, who describes the scene: "To the left is our vineyard, & at the back of the house & store is our orchard of Plums, Pears & Cherries, & in the rear of this our 3 acre Camping & Picnic ground. We have about 800 ft frontage & 7 acres in all. Quite a busy place in the summer." No date, but the cars put it sometime in the 1920s.
The HG&B Powerhouse in Stoney Creek in the Summer of 1898. It's still standing today. (Photo from "Through the Garden of Canada" an HG&B brochure published in the Fall of 1898, available online from Archive.org
The HG&B's bridge over the Red Hill Creek, circa 1899. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
The HG&B's Hamilton Station at Main & Catherine in the summer of 1895, with trailer #10. Originally the Royal Rink, it was rebuilt into the HG&B's Hamilton Station and opened on July 20, 1895. It was destroyed by fire on July 6, 1913. (Photo published in October 1895 as part of the Souvenir Edition of the Street Railway Journal, printed for the American Street Railway Association's annual meeting in Montreal, available online from Archive.org)
HTC #601 has derailed on the HG&B at Maplewood and Prospect in Hamilton during the 1920s. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
One of the HG&B's original freight motors running on Main St in Grimsby. The earliest postmark found for this card is Aug 23, 1910
HG&B #10 in the Summer of 1898, location unknown. Built in 1894 by the Ottawa Car Company as an unpowered trailer, it was motorized in the spring of 1897. After the Cataract Company’s takeover of the HG&B it was numbered 167. It was destroyed by fire sometime before 1920. (Photo from "Through the Garden of Canada" an HG&B brochure published in the Fall of 1898, available online from Archive.org)
HG&B #15 passing over Red Hill Creek in 1899. Built in 1894 by the Ottawa Car Company, after the Cataract Company’s takeover of the HG&B it was numbered 159. It was retired around 1908. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
HG&B #16 in the summer of 1895, location unknown. Built in 1894 by the Ottawa Car Company, after the Cataract Company’s takeover of the HG&B it was numbered 156. It was scrapped in 1932. (Photo published in October 1895 as part of the Souvenir Edition of the Street Railway Journal, printed for the American Street Railway Association's annual meeting in Montreal, available online from Archive.org)
HG&B #151 derailed near Beamsville, during the First World War. Built in 1904 by the Ottawa Car Company as the ‘Vineland’, it was numbered 375 when the HG&B was taken over by the Cataract company, and then renumbered 151 a few months later. 151 was destroyed on December 29, 1919 during the Beamsville Car Barn fire (From the Richard Vincent collection, used with permission)
HG&B #153 at the Hamilton Terminal Station in July 1920. Built in 1898 by the Ottawa Car Company as the ‘Clinton’, it was also numbered 100. It was numbered 385 when the HG&B was taken over by the Cataract company, and then renumbered 153 around 1910. It was scrapped in 1933. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)
This is an advertisement for the HG&B's 1901 season. The photo in the ad shows HG&B car 'Winona' in front of the HG&B's Hamilton station. Built in 1895, the HG&B Hamilton station remained in service until the opening of the Hamilton Terminal Station in 1907. The HG&B station was then converted into the Hamilton Freight Station. The freight station burned down on July 6, 1913, with the loss of about a half-dozen cars. The station was rebuilt on the same site. (Photo courtesy of the Reference Department, Niagara Falls Public Library, used with permission)
HG&B 'Winona' at HG&B's Hamilton station in the Summer of 1898. Built in 1897 by the Ottawa Car Company, it was numbered 380 when the HG&B was taken over by the Cataract company, and then renumbered 154 around 1910. It was scrapped in 1933. (Photo from "Through the Garden of Canada" an HG&B brochure published in the Fall of 1898, available online from Archive.org)
HG&B #154 at the Hamilton Terminal Station, date unknown.
This appears to be one of the HG&B cars in the 151-155 series. The location of the derailment is unknown, and a check of newspapers for the date has so far turned up nothing. It is possible that the date is in error. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)
HG&B #156 along with HSR 407 and HSR 423 at Sanford yard, date unknown. Built in 1894 by the Ottawa Car Company as HG&B #16, it was renumbered after the HG&B was taken over by the Cataract company. It was rebuilt in 1913, and scrapped in 1932. (From the Richard Vincent collection, used with permission)
HG&B #168 at Sanford Yard in 1925. Built in 1894 by the Ottawa Car Company as HG&B 11, it was numbered 168 when the HG&B was taken over by the Cataract company. Scrapped in 1927 (From the Al Paterson collection, used with permission)
HG&B #172 at Sanford Yard in January 1920. The early history of 172 is uncertain. It was probably built by the Ottawa Car company around 1894, but it's unclear what its original HG&B number was. It was renumbered 172 either when the HG&B was bought by the Cataract Company in 1905, or during the system-wide renumbering around 1910. 172 was damaged during the 1913 Hamilton Freight Shed Fire, and was rebuilt into a trailer. It was retired and scrapped in 1924. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)
HG&B #173:2 at Sanford Yard in the early 1920s. 173:2 was built in 1913 by the Tillsonburg Electric Car Company as a replacement for HG&B 173, which was destroyed in the Hamilton Freight Station fire. It was retired in 1930. (From the Richard Vincent collection, used with permission).
HG&B #173:2 in use as a storage shed at the HSR Sanford shops. The date is unknown, but the streetcar tracks in the foreground place it between the early 1930s and the early 1950s. (From the Richard Vincent collection, used with permission)
One of the HG&Bs fruit haulage cars in Grimsby circa 1900. This is an old interurban car that was rebuilt. To the left is one of the HG&B's freight motors. (Photo from "Grimsby, Ontario, Canada and district: including Beamsville, Winona and Stoney Creek, illustrated and descriptive souvenir" published in June 1901, available online from Archive.org)
This is an advertising flyer for the Gotfredson corporation. The photo in the ad shows a HG&B 50-B-29, built by Gotfredson in 1927. (Photographer unknown)
More info on the HG&B's fleet is here
The cars lost in the 1913 Freight Station Fire are described here
The remains of the HG&B can be viewed here