The Hamilton Radial Electric Railway (HRER)
The Hamilton Radial Electric Railway was first announced on September 20, 1892. The originally announced plan was to run electric lines from Hamilton to Mount Forest (via Waterdown, Guelph, Fergus and Arthur) Elmira (via Dundas, Galt, Preston, Waterloo and St. Jacobs), Brantford (via Ancaster), Dunville and/or Welland, and Oakville (via the Beach and Burlington)
Almost immediately the HRER faced an obstacle. In order to force the HRER to live up to its promise to go through Waterdown en route to Guelph, residents of Waterdown formed the Hamilton, Waterdown & Guelph (HW&G). The directors of the HW&G openly stated that they would hand over their charter to the HRER if the promise was fulfilled. If the HRER reneged on its promise, then the HW&G would go ahead and build their own line between Hamilton & Guelph, cutting into the HRER's traffic and revenues.
The HW&G's request for a charter was made to the provincial government in early 1893. The HRER appears to have had some influence with the provincial government, as the HW&G's provincial charter was delayed for over a month. It was finally granted on March 24, 1893. By comparison the HRER's charter was granted with a few weeks, even though some of the filing requirements were incomplete. The Hamilton Radial Electric Railway was formally chartered as the Hamilton Radial Electric Street Railway on May 27, 1893. As part of its charter the HRESR was granted permission to build a line between Hamilton & Guelph, but had changed its mind and now refused to go via Waterdown due to construction costs. With two nearly identical lines that would have run parallel to each other for large distances, neither would have been profitable. Discussions on merging the HRESR and the HW&G began in May 1893. While negotiations were underway each company also attempted to secure financing to build their line, but the Panic of 1893 made investors cautious, and both projects went nowhere.
At its request, the charter of the Hamilton Radial Electric Street Railway was modified on May 5, 1894 by the Ontario government. Among the alterations was an official renaming of the railroad to the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway.
In mid October of 1894 a group of New England based investors lead by W. F. Forsyth of Boston gained control of the HRER. The HRER's proposed railway system was subsequently changed. The mainlines would be steam powered instead of electric, running Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara Falls and Hamilton-Woodstock, with electric branches running to Port Dover via Brantford, to Fergus via Guelph and to Waterloo via Galt. A steamship line would connect Port Dover to Erie, Pennsylvania. Shortly after the HW&G fell under the control of the HRER.
Map of the proposed Hamilton Radial Electric Railway. Photo from the Archives of Ontario, L 23 Newspapers, N 184 reel 115, Hamilton Spectator, Dec 3rd 1894, pg 8
On October 27 1894 the HRER joined forces with the Niagara Central Railway, a steam powered railway line running between Niagara Falls and St Catharines. Surveys began immediately for the extension of the NCR to Hamilton, and by November 21 a preliminary route had been decided running though Hamilton from St. Catharines to Guelph. The line would enter Hamilton along Cannon St, with a downtown station at James & Cannon. West of James the line would run along Cannon to Bay, then head northwest roughly parallel to York St, entering the Dundurn Castle grounds at the north end of Inchbury. It would continue northwards along the bay side of Burlington Heights, crossing the Desjardin Canal and continuing towards Waterdown and Guelph. Maintenance facilities would be built to the east of Sherman Ave. These details were presented to city council, and a bonus of $400 000 was requested from the city for the construction.
Artist's view of the proposed HRER Hamilton station at James & Cannon. Photo from the Archives of Ontario, L 23 Newspapers, N 184 reel 115, Hamilton Spectator, Dec 21st 1894, pg 8
Within a few days, newspapers in Canada and the United States reported a rumour that the HRER was a front for the Canadian Pacific Railway. At the time, the CPR did not have any tracks or trackage rights south of their Toronto-Windsor mainline which ran through Milton and Galt. The CPR was looking for access to Hamilton, the Niagara peninsula, and connections to the United States at the Niagara River. No sources were ever named and all parties involved denied it, but speculation would remain in the press for the next several weeks.
The HRER ran into problems with residents along Cannon St. Many residents were present at the city council meeting to decide on whether or not to let the HRER use Cannon St, most to protest. Some stated that a petition that had been circulated weeks before by the HRER on Cannon St asking for the construction of the line had mislead residents as to the type of railway, and that residents would accept radial cars running along Cannon, but not steam trains. The opposition by Cannon Street residents would result in the proposed line being shifted southwards, running parallel to Cannon and partly along Evans Street. Waterdown residents had the opposite problem: the railroad surveyors had been unable to find a reasonably cheap route between Hamilton and Guelph that went through Waterdown, and so had skipped the town altogether and proposed a spur line connecting Waterdown to the Hamilton-Guelph line near Rock Chapel.
City council declined the HRER's request for a bonus, as they had already promised a bonus to the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway to build their line to the Niagara river. The HRER made a new request to council for $300 000, removing the main line from the requested bonus. This too was declined by City council.
Over the next several months the Hamilton newspapers reported on the comings and goings of W. F. Forsyth as the HRER struggled to arrange funding for construction. Rumours of construction contracts being signed were reported in the papers several times, but all were later disavowed. On May 17 1895 newspapers reported that the TH&B was to be bought out by several railroads, including the CPR and the New York Central. Almost immediately rumours circulated that the HRER would be shelved, which were disputed by W. F. Forsyth. At the same time a group of St Louis and Chicago based investors and contractors arrived in Hamilton and spent the next several days examining the NCR and the area surrounding the proposed railway routes, but which would lead to no deals being signed.
Throughout the summer of 1895, the HRER remained in limbo as it had for much of the preceding winter and spring. During June and July the HRER was referred to as the Niagara, Hamilton & Pacific (NH&P), but this renaming does not appear to have been officially carried out and later newspaper articles returned to the HRER name. In September it was rumoured that the large 300 km steam and electric railway project had been abandoned, and that the HRER would revert back to its original 1892 proposal. The first phase of this project would be similar to the previous steam route, a double tracked electric line running between Niagara and St. Catharines, (the existing NCR would be electrified) and would enter Hamilton along Cannon St. The Hamilton-Toronto line would run along Sherman Ave, accessing the industries along the Hamilton waterfront, then around the Harbour to the east, across the beach strip, and then on to Toronto.
Little else was heard about the HRER for the fall of 1895, although this may in part be due to the fact that W. F. Forsyth suffered a broken ankle in a railway accident near Chicago in early November, and spent several weeks recuperating. Apparently the HRER was actually in serious trouble at this point, because on December 27 the furniture in its office in the Bank of Commerce building was seized for unpaid rent and services. The goods were auctioned off on January 4, 1896, the same day that W. F. Forsyth was relieved of his duties.
The Niagara Central Railway would regain its independence, only to fall into receivership and become part of the Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway in 1899. Interestingly, several of the HRER's proposed routes would eventually be built. The CPR would build a steam railway line between the TH&B in Hamilton and its mainline via Waterdown in 1908, where it would also connect to another CPR line leading to Guelph. The electric lines between Hamilton & Brantford and between Brantford & Port Dover would be constructed by the Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway (B&H) and the Lake Erie & Northern, respectively.
Nothing was written about the HRER's rebirth during the first months of 1896, an indication that the company had sunk so low in its fortunes that none of the Hamilton area newspapers considered it worth following. At the start of March 1896 the HRER began making applications to townships and towns to build the first section of the previously discussed Toronto to Hamilton line. For reasons unknown, the original plan of using Cannon St as the entry into the city had fallen out of favour. Instead, the HRER planned to run from James & Gore via Gore, Wilson, and Sherman to the city limits, then eastwards along the baseline road allowance (today's Burlington St) and the Grand Trunk Railway's main line before curving northwards on a long low trestle across Windemere basin. Then travelling along the road along the beach, crossing the canal via the Federal Government's then still under construction canal swing bridge, and then on to Burlington.
Several small changes would be made to the road network in Hamilton as a result of the building of the HRER. At the time, Gore and Wilson St did not meet up, but were separated by a residential neighbourhood. The city of Hamilton stipulated that the HRER extend Wilson St one block westwards to Catharine St, and to open a new street connecting Gore & Wilson. Further to the east, Wilson St made a jog to the northwards between Steven St and Wentworth before resuming its original alignment. The HRER kept heading eastwards on a private right of way for these two blocks before rejoining Wilson St. After WWII, this section of right of way would be built over to connect the two pieces of Wilson St (The portion of 'old' Wilson St was renamed Century St)
Final surveying of the route began on March 27, 1896. Grading of the line began on April 28 near the Hamilton smelting works, near the present day intersection of Sherman & Burlington, and had reached the canal by May 13. Due to delays in shipping of rails and ties and last minute changes to the placement of rails on various roadways, tracklaying began on June 3 next to the Canal. By June 13 the tracks had reached the new completed trestle across Windemere basin, and the tracks had reached the city limits near Sherman & Burlington on June 18. Construction on Sherman avenue began on June 25, and trackwork had reached Wilson St by July 9. Running along Wilson the trackwork had reached Emerald St on July 17 and Mary St on July 25.
The HRER powerhouse was built at the northern end of the beach strip, half a mile from the Brant hotel. Measuring 103 x 53 ft, the brick building had a 120 ft smokestack, with two 250 hp engines. Construction of the building began in early May. Goldie & McCullough in Galt was in charge of the construction of the boilers and the steam engines, and the generators were built by General Electric in Peterborough. The boilers arrived on June 6, and the steam engines to run the generators arrived in mid June. The electrical equipment was functional by mid August, and testing was completed a week later.
On July 4, the HRER rented a storefront on the southeast corner of James & Gore to act as their Hamilton station. Two carhouses were built in late August, one at Gore & Mary and one beside the powerhouse. Four radial cars arrived on September 3 from Patterson & Corbin in St. Catharines.
Construction began on Gore St on August 4, but here the HRER ran into trouble. The Hamilton city engineer refused to permit the crews to work on Gore St until Wilson St was returned to its proper shape after the construction. The work crews went ahead anyway, and track work was completed to James on August 6. Crews then began to return Wilson St to its former shape. The new swing bridge over the canal was operational by August 18th. Track was laid across it immediately, and the trackwork reached the powerhouse on August 22. The final trackwork was the installation of track diamonds crossings at the HSR tracks at Barton & Sherman and at the GTR tracks on Sherman and on Ferguson, finishing on September 4.
The first trip over the HRER was made by the board of directors and their families on HRER #20 on the morning of September 7, 1896, running from the powerhouse to the Hamilton station. The return trip was marred by a piece of equipment that jammed the truck of the car, making it impossible to make the tight turn onto the wye behind the station, and forcing the car to run backwards back to the powerhouse. Quick repairs were made, and the car returned to Hamilton without incident. Full service between Hamilton and the powerhouse started the next day.
The HRER had a near disaster on its third day of operations, September 10, when a radial car full of YWCA delegates bound for the Hamilton Yacht club on the beach strip collided head on with a Hamilton bound car near present day Ottawa St. Driver error was to blame, the Hamilton bound motorman did not wait at the proper siding. Fortunately for all involved the collision was at low speed, and injuries were few and minor.
Construction continued through the fall, and by November 9 service had been extended northwards from the powerhouse to the Hotel Brant, but further extension northward was halted pending the passage of a bylaw by the village of Burlington, as well as opposition from the Grand Trunk Railway for a level crossing with the GTR's line along the beach. Negotiations with both groups required several months to come to an agreement.
The GTR agreed to let the HRER build a level crossing on the beach, but only if it abandoned the two existing level crossings on Sherman Ave and instead crossed underneath the GTR, with the GTR doing the construction of the bridges. The HRER agreed to this proposal, as in addition to removing potentially dangerous level crossings, it would end a long standing dispute between the HRER, the city of Hamilton, and residents of Sherman Ave over the location of the HRER tracks on Sherman Ave. The HRER proposed to use Sanford Ave for the new route north from Wilson St and underneath the two lines of the GTR, but opposition from the HSR resulted in the use of Birch Ave.
New Management and Expansion
Construction of the HRER into Burlington began in the fall of 1897 along Maple, Elgin, John and James, and service to Burlington began in early January 1898. The GTR began construction of the new bridges that the HRER would pass under on April 4, 1898. Grading work on Birch Ave by the HRER began on June 11 and was finished by June 24. Track laying began shortly after, and service over the new tracks began on July 29. The tracks on Sherman and on Wilson East of Birch were removed in the next few weeks, the shortest lived part of any radial line in Canada, less than 23 months.
HRER #10 was destroyed on March 13 1899 when the carhouse next to the powerhouse burned down. The HRER came under the control of the Cataract Company on May 26, 1899. The Cataract Company also purchased the Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway (H&D), which began using the HRER station at James & Gore as their downtown Hamilton terminus on December 1 1899.
In 1903 the HRER proposed to build east to Oakville, where it was hoped it would meet the Toronto & York, building west out of Port Credit. While the T&Y never built westwards, the HRER did construct their Oakville line. Running parallel to New St as far as Bronte, it then paralleled Rebecca to the terminal station at Randall & Thomas in Oakville. As part of the line, two large bridges were built over Twelve Mile and Sixteen Mile Creek. Restricted service began on March 3, 1906, with full service starting on May 5.
To provide service to new plants and factories along the Hamilton waterfront, the HSR struck a deal with the HRER in 1904. The HSR built a track parallel to the HRER's route along Birch Ave and Burlington, in effect double-tracking the route and allowing the HRER to increase its service and the HSR streetcars to reach the waterfront industries.
Around the same time, the village of Bartonville asked for the extension of streetcar service from Hamilton. As this route would have extended beyond the city of Hamilton’s boundaries at the time, it was decided that the construction would be done under the HRER charter. In 1907, a single track was laid along Main St from Sherman to King, and then along King to the Barton-Saltfleet township line (now Cochrane Rd) in Bartonville, thus creating the Bartonville branch. The HRER operated it using a streetcar that was leased from the HSR. The rails were salvaged from the recently abandoned Vineland extension of the HG&B. The Bartonville branch tracks on Main were removed and the line cut back to King & Main in 1913, with the opening of the Belt Line.
With the opening of the Hamilton Terminal Station in 1907, HRER cars travelled south from Wilson on newly built track along Sanford Ave to King, and then along King to the Terminal Station at Catharine St. The tracks along Wilson and Gore were transferred to the HSR, who used them for out of service streetcar moves. The station at James and Gore was sold.
The Good Times
Minor construction, straightening, and double tracking took place over the next decade. In 1913 the HSR tracks on Burlington were connected to the HRER near the Deering Works, and streetcars began using the line as far as Kenilworth. The years during the First World War were the busiest for the HRER, as Hamiltonians used the radial to get to Hamilton Beach in the summer. During the winter of 1921-1922 the swing bridge over the Burlington Ship Canal was replaced with a large bascule bridge. This construction split the HRER into two pieces for several weeks. In May of 1924 the radial tracks on Birch Ave were removed and a new private right of way was built along the west side of Birch Ave.
The Last Days
On August 3, 1925, the HRER was abandoned between Oakville and Port Nelson (today’s Guelph Line). In October of that year service was integrated with the B&H, making it possible to travel from Burlington to Brantford on a single ticket. However, this could not save the HRER. In 1927 the main line was abandoned from Burlington to Port Nelson, and the Bartonville branch was transfered to the HSR, who ran it as the Bartonville streetcar. The rest of the HRER stopped running on January 5, 1929. All tracks west of Kenilworth passed to the HSR, while the remaining tracks were torn up over the next 15 years. When the last of the tracks were removed off of the Burlington Canal Bridge in 1946, the decrease in weight resulted in it becoming unbalanced, so that when the bridge was next raised, it refused to come down! It was finally lowered by hand, and the weights were changed to rebalance the bridge.
Postcard of the HRER's Gore St office & station in Hamilton after the 1906 Riot. Located at the SE corner of James St N & Gore St and opened in 1896, this was the HRER's first station in downtown Hamilton. It was also used by the recently electrified H&D as its Hamilton station starting in 1899. The station was closed down in 1907 when the Hamilton Terminal Station opened, and both the H&D and the HRER were rerouted. The postcard photo caption reads "Radial Office showing damage done by mob during the Strike". The postcard is postmarked December 2 1906, so the photo was taken very soon after the riot, probably as soon as the morning after.
Looking northwards along the eastern shore of Sherman (also known as Coal Oil) Inlet from underneath a GTR bridge, circa 1900. On the right is the HRER line. Today this is the railway bridge over Birch Ave, just south of Burlington St. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
In this postcard, a Stephenson DEDT crosses over the Burlington Canal on the first canal bridge, looking south. The earliest postmark found for this card is March 13, 1907.
The HRER's first bridge over the canal, next to the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. The earliest postmark found for this card is December 17, 1907.
This postcard shows a radial car that has just crossed the Canal bridge heading for Hamilton. The earliest postmark found for this card is June 25, 1912.
The first bridge over the Burlington Canal, looking south. From an old postcard circa 1905.
It's 1921, and this big mess on the tracks of the HRER is part of the construction of the new bascule bridge. The HRER has been split in two, with service from Hamilton to the south side of the canal, and from Oakville to the north side of the canal. The large building is the Lakeside hotel, south of the canal. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
This unused postcard shows the new Bascule bridge over the Burlington ship canal as seen from the south, with the tracks of the HRER on the right. This bridge was built in 1922 to replace the original swing bridge, and like its predecessor it carried both radials and cars.
An unknown radial car crossing the Burlington ship canal on the bascule bridge built in 1922. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
This is a view looking southwards from the smokestack of the HRER powerhouse at Burlington Beach. In the foreground is the HRER line under construction on the right, dating this photo to around August 22, 1896. The railway line on the left is the Grand Trunk Railway's (later CN's) Beach Subdivision, connecting Burlington with Stoney Creek. A spur has been built from the GTR line so that materials for the construction of the HRER can be unloaded, and coal can be delivered to the powerhouse. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
This is a view looking northwards from the smokestack of the HRER powerhouse at Burlington Beach, taken by the same photographer as the previous photo. In the foreground some clearing and grading work has been done for the HRER. The railway line on the right is the Grand Trunk Railway's (later CN's) Beach Subdivision, connecting Burlington with Stoney Creek. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
This postcard shows the HRER tracks running past the Hotel Brant in Burlington, located roughly south of the Lakeshore Rd/QEW interchange, under the QEW. The earliest postmark found for this card is March 5, 1906.
Another postcard shows the HRER tracks running past the Hotel Brant in Burlington. The earliest postmark found for this card is June 13, 1907.
The HRER's Burlington Carhouse. Built just north of the HRER line between Pearl and Martha Sts, it was built around 1900, after the March 13 1899 fire that destroyed the HRER's first carhouse on Burlington Beach. From left to right are one of the HRER's Patterson & Corbin-built cars, one of the B&H's Brill-built cars, and HRER #300. Since the B&H cars entered service in the winter of 1907 the photo can't be any earlier than the summer of 1908, and the Patterson & Corbin-built car must be HRER #307, the only one that was still in service as a passenger car at that time.
This is the HRER's bridge over Twelve Mile Creek in Bronte, around 1914. Built as part of the HRER's eastward expansion in 1905, it opened for service on March 3, 1906. It was closed in August 1925. (From the Milton Historical Society, used with permission)
This postcard shows a radial car crossing the HRER's bridge over Twelve Mile Creek in Bronte. The earliest postmark found for this card is October 25, 1907.
This unused postcard shows a radial car crossing the HRER's bridge over Twelve Mile Creek in Bronte.
The construction of the HRER's bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek in Downtown Oakville, looking west. The crane is a self-propelled steam crane owned by the bridge manufacturer. Opened on March 3, 1906, the bridge was used by the HRER until August 3, 1925 when the line was closed east of Guelph Line. The earliest postmark found for this card is 1910.
This postcard shows the HRER's bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek in Downtown Oakville, looking west. The earliest postmark found for this card is November 22, 1910.
This postcard shows a radial car crossing the HRER's bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 18, 1909.
This is the HRER's bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek in Downtown Oakville on March 15, 1954. After the end of radial service, the bridge was converted into a pedestrian footbridge and used until 1960, when it was demolished. (Photo by Bob Sandusky, used with permission. Photo courtesy of the Oakville Public Library)
This unused postcard shows HTC 603 at the HRER's Oakville station, circa WWI.
HRER #15 on the Birch Ave ROW near Wilson & Stinton in 1951. Built by Patterson & Corbin in 1896 as a passenger car, it was rebuilt in 1904 into a freight car, and then rebuilt again in 1915 as a line car. It was kept after the end of the HRER and transferred to the HSR, where it remained in service until it was scrapped after the end of streetcar service. (From Dave’s Electric Railroads, used with permission)
HRER #123 at the E. D. Smith plant west of Winona, March 1911. Built by the HRER around 1896, HRER #123 was one of three 36 ft boxcars used by the HRER to haul goods. Note the unusual doors at the end of each car. Details about these boxcars are few, but one of these boxcars was converted into the Brantford Freight shed in 1921. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)
HRER #125 at the Queen's Hotel in Burlington, circa 1905. Built by the Patterson & Corbin company in 1896, it was originally numbered HRER #25. It was renumbered #125 after the Cataract company took over the HRER, and was later renumbered #307 around 1910. It was scrapped in 1921. The Queen's Hotel still stands today, at the corner of Elgin & Brant St. (Photo courtesy of the Burlington Historical Society, used with permission)
HRER #300 stuck in a snow bank on the H&D near Main St W and Leland in Hamilton, February 13, 1911. Built by the Ottawa Car Company in 1906, this car would be lost in the Beamsville Car barn fire of December 29, 1919 (Photographer unknown)
Some sources claim that this photo is of the snow clearing crew seen in the previous photo, having a break inside HRER #300. The shape of the car windows does suggest it's possible. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, used with permission)
HRER #302 at West Hamilton station on the H&D in 1920. Built in 1897 by the Crossen Company as a combine, it was originally numbered HRER #30. It was renumbered #130 after the Cataract company took over the HRER, and was later renumbered #302 around 1910. From left to right, either Jim Jardine or Mr. Jennings coming down the steps, Stan Jones, unknown, David Searles, George Searles, Lizzie Prescott (Haye), three unknown, Flora Duffus (Huckstep), Mrs. Coope, unknown and Harry Filer. (Photo from West Hamilton, a Village and a Church.)
HRER #303 at the H&D Dundas station. Built in 1897 by the Crossen Company as a combine, it was originally numbered HRER 35. It was renumbered 135 after the Cataract company took over the HRER, and was later renumbered 303 around 1910. It was scrapped in 1932. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 18, 1910. (From Vintage Postcards of Hamilton, used with permission)
HRER #303, at the Hamilton Terminal Station circa 1920. (From the Richard Vincent collection, used with permission)
HRER #305 at the B&H Ancaster stop in 1908. Built by the Ottawa Car Company in 1906, #305 was scrapped in 1932. (From the Ross Gray collection, used with permission)
HRER #305 at Appleby Road in Burlington in the summer of 1909. The couple in the foreground are the motorman, John Dudley Williamson, and his wife Eleanor. (Photo courtesy of the Burlington Public Library, used with permission)
HRER #309 at the Hamilton Terminal Station in the summer of 1928. Built by the Preston Car & Coach Company in 1910, it was originally HTC #601 before being reassigned in the mid 1920s. It was scrapped in 1933 (Photographer unknown)
HRER #399 at the Hamilton Terminal Station in January 1920. Built by the Ottawa Car Company in 1899 as a trailer, it was originally numbered HRER #50. It was renumbered and rebuilt into a milk car in 1912. It was retired in 1928. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)
The remains of the HRER can be viewed here
Details on the Radial cars used by the HRER are here.
Jardine, David N. West Hamilton, a Village and a Church. West Hamilton Heritage Society, 1989
Mills, John M. Cataract Traction: The Railways of Hamilton Canadian Traction Series Vol 2, Toronto, 1971
Mills, John M. Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, A Canadian National Electric Railways Subsidiary: An Illustrated History of Electric Transit in Canada's Niagara Peninsula Railfare DC Books, Montreal, 2007