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 Fruit Shipping on the HG&B

Fruit Shipping on the HG&B

One of the major reasons for building the Hamilton, Grimsby, & Beamsville Electric Railway (HG&B) was for the shipping of large amounts of produce, mostly soft fruits like peaches, plums and cherries, from the orchards of the western part of the Niagara Peninsula, an area known as 'The Garden of Canada.'

Small scale shipments of fruit using the HG&B's freight motors began in 1894 (The HG&B had intended to begin operations earlier, but construction delays resulted in missing out on the majority of the 1894 produce season), and when the HG&B's Hamilton station was opened in 1895, a market opened in a leased space within the building a few weeks later. Business was very good in the following years, so much so that in 1896 the HG&B proposed to make a direction connection with the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo (TH&B), to allow the direct interchange of refrigerated cars and box cars of produce between the two railroads. An agreement was made between the HG&B and the TH&B's parent railroads, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the Michigan Central Railways. A connecting track would be built at the TH&B's Kinnear Yard at Gage & Lawrence in Hamilton. The CPR would construct several hundred new box and express cars in Perth that summer, many of which would be used on the HG&B.

These plans hit a snag in June 1897, when the township of Saltfleet refused to grant the HG&B permission to replace the existing girder rails in the village of Stoney Creek with T-rails unless a number of demands were first met. T-rails allow for higher speeds with larger cars than girder rails, but are less comfortable to cross by horse-drawn carriage. Residents did not want the HG&B to run trains at higher speed through Stoney Creek, and there was some bad blood between Saltfleet residents and HG&B management. Negotiations between the township and the HG&B went nowhere, as Saltfleet township made large demands on the HG&B on behalf of its citizens. In early July the HG&B pulled out of negotiations, and went ahead with the construction of the connecting track, saying they planned to run freight motors to Kinnear where they would transship the produce from the motors into the refrigerated cars. The connection was finished on August 7 1897, and transshipping of fruit began. But on the same day a Dominion Express car was taken on the HG&B eastwards to Helderleigh farm near Winona, but could not cross the Red Hill Creek because the car's width was greater than HG&B equipment and so the trackside poles were too close for the car to proceed. The poles were moved further back, and the first 'foreign' car reached Helderleigh on August 10. Large-scale transshipping of fruit ended shortly after.

The HG&B's actual plans became apparent on August 12. HG&B management had discovered that the Saltfleet council had already granted permission to the HG&B, buried in the minutes of the June 9 1896 council meeting. The only condition being that a connection to the TH&B had to be built first. (Council appeared to have forgotten that this permission had been revoked on March 2, 1897) Having done so, and made the necessary fixes so that larger cars could make the trip eastwards, the HG&B began tearing up the old tracks on August 23 1897. Stoney Creek residents responded by forming a mob, stealing the local fire engine, and turning the fire hose on HG&B executives who were on site inspecting the work. Cooler heads soon prevailed, and the trackwork was completed by the end of the week. The connection between the HG&B and the TH&B would allow over 100 car loads of fruit to be shipped out in 1897.

Soft fruit from the Niagara peninsula was shipped as far east as the Maritimes and as far west as the Prairies, as well as into the United States. Easy shipment made it possible for Niagara fruit to even be shipped to the UK via Montreal. By the time of the First World War, the HG&B was running two trains daily during the harvest season, solely dedicated to shipping fruit.

  • Train X10 (pulled by HG&B #174) would depart Beamsville at 2:50 PM, making all pickups until Grimsby, and then running express to E.D. Smith and to Stoney Creek for pickups before running express to the TH&B at 6:00 PM.
  • Train X12 (pulled by HG&B #172) Would depart Grimsby at 3:40 PM, making all pickups except for E.D Smith and Stoney Creek, arriving at the TH&B at 6:35 PM.

At the peak of the season, these trains could be several cars long. Fruit shipping was such an important source of revenue for the HG&B that when the Hamilton Freight Station caught fire on July 6, 1913 and most of the freight motors were destroyed, the HG&B was so desparate for replacements that it ordered two from the Tillsonburg (Ontario) Electric Car Company, a company so new the factory wasn't finished yet.

1920 was the heaviest year for fruit shipments, with 549 cars of fruit loaded and shipped. As passenger traffic declined in the 1920s with the paving of roads and the increase in automobile use, it was this fruit that kept the HG&B in business as late as it did, until the line was shut down on June 30 1931. All fruit was now trucked to railroad freight terminals or driven directly to the cities.

Canadian Pacific Railway 'Blower' cars

Fruit from the HG&B was so profitable that the CPR built special fruit cars for this traffic. Built at the Hochelaga shops in Montreal, the 26 cars were built in three batches: CPR #56700-56718 in 1899 and #56720-56730 in 1901 (even numbers only). The cars were renumbered in 1902 to CPR #2800-2815, and a third batch was built in 1903, CPR #2816-2825. In 1910 the cars were renumbered CPR #4600-4625. Labelled for Dominion Express, the cars came to be known as 'blower' cars, named for the strange vent pipes on the roof that swiveled into the wind, blowing air down into the car over blocks of ice and keeping the contents cold. After the HG&B closed down in 1931 the cars remained in CPR service, and by 1940 the 17 cars still surviving were converted to company service cars in the 40158x, 40159x, 41143x, 41146x and 41147x series, with the last being retired by 1960

An HG&B train loads fruit at Clough's siding at King & Mountain in Stoney Creek, no date.

An HG&B train loads fruit at Clough's siding at King & Mountain in Stoney Creek. On the left is one of the flat cars owned by the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway, #393-398. In the centre is one of the CPR 'blower' cars. On the right edge of the photo looks like a standard express car of the era. No date, but the HRER flatcar means this is after the HG&B was bought by the Cataract Company in 1905.

An HG&B train of CPR 'blower' cars runs through Grimsby circa 1922.

An HG&B train of CPR 'blower' cars runs through Grimsby circa 1922. (Photo courtesy of the Grimsby Museum)

Helderleigh/E. D. Smith

At E. D. Smith's shipping premises the business has been reduced to a science. There they have a big shipping building, where the fruit as it comes in is sorted by an army of women. The riper fruit is shipped to near points, and that not so far advanced to far distant stations. The greatest care is taken with every basket sent out, and Mr. Smith's watchful eye superintends everything. On a siding alongside the shipping building stand the C. P. R. refrigerator cars, loaded daily for Manitoba points with select fruit of all kinds-Hamilton Spectator, September 11 1897, pg 8.

One of the largest and best photographed customers of the HG&B was the E. D. Smith company, on Hwy 8 west of Winona between McNeilly Rd and Glover Rd. From the very earliest days of the HG&B, E.D. Smith shipped produce, jams and jellies from Winona via the HG&B to the major steam railroads, and then on to the rest of Canada. Originally named Helderleigh Fruit Farms and Nurseries, it was renamed E. D. Smith around 1908 after the owner, Ernest D'Israeli Smith.

Helderleigh Fruit Packing House under construction in the spring of 1897.

The Helderleigh Fruit Packing House under construction in the spring of 1897. Notice that the leaves aren't on the trees and the roof is being shingled. Several fruit trees have been boxed and are being shipped on the HG&B by one of the freight motors. (Photo courtesy of the Grimsby Museum)

Helderleigh Fruit Packing House, summer 1897.

Again the Helderleigh Fruit Packing House, but this time with Canadian Pacific Express car #1931, sub-lettered for the Dominion Express company. This photo was taken after the HG&B and the TH&B built their connecting switch, and in fact might even be the very first Express car to arrive at Helderleigh, on August 11 1897. (Photo courtesy of the Grimsby Museum)

Helderleigh Fruit Packing House in the summer of 1898.

The Helderleigh Fruit Packing House in the summer of 1898. On the left behind the carts is one of the HG&B's freight motors. (Photo from "Through the Garden of Canada" an HG&B brochure published in the Fall of 1898, available online from

Helderleigh envelope, postmarked February 1 1905.

The previous photo on a Helderleigh envelope, postmarked August 15 1903.

Helderleigh Fruit Packing House in the summer months between 1899 and 1902.

Business has clearly been good, as the Helderleigh Fruit Packing House has expanded. An addition has been added to the rear with a new cupola, and the loading dock has been enclosed. Canadian Pacific Express car #56718 (sub-lettered for the Dominion Express company) is one of the CPR's 'blower' cars. This car had this number from 1899 to 1902, helping to date the photo. This photo appeared in the August 1904 issue of The Canadian Horticulturist. (Photo courtesy of the Grimsby Museum)

Helderleigh envelope, postmarked February 1 1905.

The previous photo on a Helderleigh envelope, postmarked February 1 1905.

E.D. Smith Jam factory, ca 1905.

This factory was built to the east of the Fruit Packing House in 1904-1905 for the making of jams. The photo dates from around the time of the factory's completion. In 1908 the corporate name was changed from 'Helderleigh Fruit Farms and Nurseries' to 'E. D. Smith' (Photo courtesy of the Grimsby Museum)

A postcard</A> of the Helderleigh Jam Factory and Fruit House

A postcard of the Helderleigh Jam Factory and Fruit House. The earliest postmark found on this card is December 6, 1908.

E.D. Smith factory, around 1910.

E.D. Smith factory around 1910. The extension behind the original jam factory was built in 1908-1909. (Photo courtesy of the Grimsby Museum)

The E. D. Smith plant west of Winona, March 1911

The E. D. Smith plant in March 1911. This view of the east side of the factory shows several boxcars being loaded, including a rare shot of HRER #123 on the left. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

E.D. Smith factory circa 1911.

E.D. Smith factory circa 1911. Another storey has been added to the factory on the left. (Photo courtesy of the Grimsby Museum)

The E. D. Smith plant on March 24 1951

The E. D. Smith plant on March 24 1951. Shortly after the photo was taken E. D. Smith underwent a large-scale rebuilding of its facility, eliminating all buildings that had existed in the radial era. Photo by Bruce Murdoch. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)


Bailey, William and Parker, Douglas. Streetcar Builders of Canada, Volume One. Montreal: The Canadian Railroad Historical Association, 2002

Blaine, William E. Ride Through the Garden of Canada; A Short History of the Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville Electric Railway 1894-1931. Grimsby, Ontario: Grimsby Historical Society, 1967

Hamilton Spectator

"Will Haul C.P.R. Cars-Connection To Be Made Between the H., G. & B. and the T., H. & B." Feb 19, 1897, pg 1
After the H., G, & B.-Stoney Creek Council Resents a Discrimination in Passenger Rates" Mar 2, 1897, pg 5
"For the Fruit Trade-C.P.R. People Are Ready to Connect With the H., G. and B. Road" May 6, 1897, p 8
"Saltfleet and the H., G. and B.-The Railway May Change Its Rails in Stoney Creek on Certain Conditions" Jun 1, 1897, pg 8
"New Refrigerator Cars" Jun 4, 1897, pg 8
"Neighborhood News-Stoney Creek" Jun 12, 1897, pg 3
"Stoney Creek News-The Council Fails to Settle the Rail Difficulty-Other Items" Jun 29, 1897, pg 1
"H.G.& B. Change Of Front-Doesn't Want to Run Cars on Its Line" Jul 6, 1897, pg 8
"Rejected the Proposal-The H. G. & B. Directors Do Not Give Saltfleet Council the Glad Hand" Jul 7, 1897, pg 1
"An Answer in Two Days-The M.C.R. Superintendent Favors Putting Down The H. G. & B. Switch" Jul 8, 1897, pg 8
"Brief Local Items" Aug 2, 1897, pg 1
"Over The Switch-A Dominion Express Car Travels on the H., G. and B. Line to the Red Hill" Aug 7, 1897, pg 1
"Brief Local Items" Aug 7, 1897, pg 1
"Made A Discovery-A Resolution Found Allowing the H., G. and B. To Replace the Girder Rail" Aug 12, 1897, pg 8
"Stoney Creek Indignant-The H., G. and B. Attempts to Tear Up the Old Rail" Aug 23, 1897, pg 1
"Turned the Hose on Them-But the H., G. and B. Officials Carried Their Point" Aug 24, 1897, pg 8
"Our Big Fruit Trade-Shipments Increasing With Improved Handling Facilities" Sep 2, 1897, pg 8
"'Tis Nothin But Fruit-To-Day's Monster Market Shows But Little Else" Sep 11, 1897, pg 8
"Land of Golden Fruit-Immense Shipments of Peaches, Plums and Pears Are Being Made Daily" Sep 17, 1897, pg 8
"Has Been Shipped-Fine New Car For the H., G. and B. Now on the Way From Ottawa" Dec 17, 1897, pg 8

"The Helderleigh Nurseries" The Canadian Horticulturist Vol 27, No 8 (August 1904) pg 326, 333-335

McFarlane, Jim "Peninsual Perishables; The Story of the HG&B/TH&B Interchange" The Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway Company FOCUS Vol 7, No 1 (November 2003), pg 15-22

McQuade, Richard. From Wood to Steel: Classic Canadian railway passenger cars from 1860 to 1920. Toronto: Martin Grove Press, 2003

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