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Canadian Locomotive Company

Donald R. Mc.Queen and William D. Thomson

Early advertisement in Kingston (Canada West) City Directory, 1867.
Special Collections, Stauffer Library, Queen's University.


The Canadian Locomotive Company in Kingston, Ontario had early beginnings both in Canadian and railway history. The first Canadian public railway, the Champlain and St.Lawrence Rail Road opened July 21, 1836 between Laprairie and Dorchester (St.Johns), Quebec, a distance of only 14 and a half miles. This was only a decade after the 12-mile Stockton and Darlington Railway opened during September 1825 in England, birthplace of the steam locomotive.

The Ontario Foundry, began business in 1848 eventually specialized in the construction of steamship boilers and engines. The company's first railway steam locomotive was turned out on Wednesday, December 20, 1854. It was the first of four locomotives for the new Grand Trunk Railway of Canada which was still under construction between Montreal and Toronto. A further order of five locomotives for the GTR was to follow in October and November of 1856. Unlike many other locomotive builders who chose to use the name of their location as part of the corporate name, "Kingston Locomotive Works" was only a phrase used by press and the trades when making reference to the company. It was never used as an incorporated name. Less than three dozen locomotives were built before the Ontario Foundry went bankrupt in 1860. In 1865 its assets were incorporated by a shareholder-owned company, the Canadian Engine & Machinery Company. It too ran into financial troubles during the depression of 1878-79 and declared bankruptcy.

Sketch of Canadian Locomotive & Engine Company works in the 1880's.
CLC/Record of Printing Plates, Queen's University Archives.

The CE&MCo was reorganized in February 1878 as the Canadian Locomotive and Engine Company Ltd. With another ownership change in April 1881, plant machinery was updated in order to increase capacity. Many of the new investors were also members of the Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate, and when funds were needed to further their commitment to finish the construction of the CPR, they sold their shares to respected locomotive builder Dubs (doobs) and Company, from Glasgow, Scotland. Dubs took over the management on January 1, 1888. CL&EC became a major supplier to the CPR, delivering nearly one-third of its locomotives over several decades. These Dubs-boilered locomotives proved to be both durable and long-lasting engines.

With customers such as the CPR and GTR both building their own locomotives and sluggish economic growth during the 1890s, the Dubs-controlled CL&ECo filed for bankruptcy and closed the plant in January 1900. It was bought by a group of Kingston investors and incorporated in February 1901 as the Canadian Locomotive Company. Strengthened by the subsequent railway building boom of the Laurier era, improvements followed which eventually allowed for the production of one locomotive per week. The Canadian Locomotive Company, Limited, a name which was to remain in use until 1965, was created in June 1911 when the corporate structure was reorganized.

Aerial view of Canadian Locomotive Company's works circa 1920.
National Archives of Canada PA-30632

In the two major world conflicts of the 20th century, locomotive shops such as CLC, MLW and CPR, contributed to the war effort through the manufacture of armaments and munitions. Large numbers of locomotives were also built both for the war effort and for post war reconstruction overseas. In fact during both World War I and II CLC locomotive production was unprecedented, remaining slightly higher than the boom during 1955-1956 when demand for both steam and diesel locomotives was very high. Although production throughout the 'Roaring Twenties' was moderate, the decade not only saw steam and electric locomotives leave the plant, but also the introduction of North America's first mainline diesel (oil) electric as CNR 9000.
Steam propulsion on railways had reached its peak by the end of World War II and CLC like other builders concentrated on steam locomotive production largely for exports to post-war France, Belgium and India. Like the others, CLC felt its future lay with diesel locomotive production and it sought out opportunities with existing builders in the United States.

In 1948 CLC became the Canadian representative for the Baldwin Locomotive Works and its subsidiary, the Whitcomb Locomotive Company. However, both the small number of orders for Baldwin's designs and the troubled Stirling engined-Whitcomb locomotives built for CNR's PEI lines led to the termination of the licencing agreement. CLC then turned to Fairbanks-Morse and Baldwin's shares in CLC were acquired in 1950 by the newly created Canadian Fairbanks Morse. Subsequent orders proved to be more extensive and moderately maintained plant production until 1957. However, F-M designs failed to capture a significant share of the market and in the end, F-M got out of the locomotive business both here in Canada and in the United States. BLW followed suit, and eventually so did ALCO and MLW, leaving the locomotive manufacturing field to two companies, General Electric and General Motors.

As the F-M market dried up, CLC, in partnership with federal government agencies, sought other opportunities in the locomotive export market to sell small industrial locomotives of the Davenport-Besler design. In 1955 CLC bought the Davenport-Besler Corp. Inc., which included its inventory of Porter locomotives. One of these designs was a Canadian-only Diesel Torque Converter (DTC) switcher which was produced for the CPR. Rather than being the usual diesel-electric locomotive, it was, as were most of CLC's exports, a diesel-hydraulic locomotive.

On July 26, 1965, CLC became Fairbanks Morse (Canada) Ltd. Locomotive construction dwindled even further as the company branched out into industrial machinery, marine engines, weigh scales and consumer products. But even this type of diversity would not save the company. Declining business and a labour dispute resulting in strike action closed the plant in June 1969. When efforts to find a new buyer failed, the plant buildings were demolished in August 1971. Having constructed more than 3000 locomotives from its earliest beginnings, made it, at the time, Canada's second largest commercial locomotive builder after Montreal Locomotive Works. But the Kingston firm still holds the Canadian record for being in the locomotive building business for the longest period of time.

The accomplishments of the Canadian Locomotive Company under its different names were varied including a number of firsts and lasts. CLC built locomotives for railways large and small, near and far, whether they were steam, diesel-electric or diesel-hydraulic. What follows is a look at some of the many locomotives built over the history of the Canadian Locomotive Company.

Steam Locomotives 1 2 3

Diesel Locomotives

Export Locomotives


Published by CRHA Kingston Division
ISBN 0-9698285-1-9


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