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Not what you think of when you say Bala!

Bala Summer Station

Old post card c.1910 F.W.Micklethaite/Toronto Public Library digital collections

S.S. "Ahmic" and S.S. "Cherokee" at C.P.R. Bala summer station.

Northbound train arrived, 1919. S.S.Cherokee at the dock. Public Archives of Canada PA83885

Southbound train arriving c.1919. National Archives of Canada A83858


SS Cherokee

Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives 21723

View from the wharf. Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives 14944

Summer service to the Muskoka resort area of Bala dated to the opening of the CPR line north of Bolton to Romford Junction and Sudbury in 1907-08. Prior to this the Grand Trunk (now CNR) had the Toronto-Muskoka Lakes service to itself, its line being built many years before the CPR. Their Muskoka Express from Toronto to Muskoka Wharf (Gravenhurst) met such early day ships as the Nipissing, Islander, Medora, and Kenozha and in later times the rebuilt Segwun and Sagamo. In 1901, the construction of the Royal Muskoka Hotel was begun by the Muskoka Navigation Company on an island in Lake Rosseau. This was one of the first high class hotels to open in the area. The name itself suggests opulance, well dressed men and women from well to-do families. The famous hostelry continued to serve patrons until it burned down in 1952. Just before and after 1901 many stately summer homes were built along the shores of Lakes Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph. Timothy Eaton, the great department store entrepreneur, was one of the first of the wealthy to build in that area, his magnificent summer home on Lake Rosseau becoming a girls school in later years.

Many affluent American families were attracted to the beauties of the Muskoka region. A number of families from the Pittsburg area settled along the shore of Lake Muskoka at Beaumaris and it became locally known as millionaires row. The result of this gave the CPR impetus in 1908 to introduce a through sleeping car service between Pittsburg and Bala on Trains Nos. 85 and 104. At this time, eight CPR passenger trains served the area.

The summer service flourished down through the years. In 1927 six trains each way served Bala, four on a daily basis including Trains Nos. 709 - 710 which ran Toronto-Bala-Mactier daily except Sunday. With the influx of the American business, Bala became a Customs Port of Entry. The Bala Weekend trains continued to serve the tourists until 1963, by which time the trains had been renumbered to 317 - 318. The photograph showing the throngs of passengers on the platform of the Bala Summer station was taken around 1927 and the streamer Cherokee is shown at the station wharf.

Norm Roberts, now (February 1986) Afternoon Train Order Operator at Toronto Yard, recalls the time he was the Second Assistant Agent at the Bala Summer station back in the late 1940s. W.H.N.Rossiter

"The unusual feature at Bala was the existence of two station buildings, a summer station and a winter station. The winter station stood on the west side of the track, opposite the south switch of the passing track. Its location was about a half mile north of the summer station, away from the water. The summer station stood on the east side of the track, high on the embankment above Lake Muskoka. This building was literally situated on an island with the lake to the east, a control dam for the Muskoka Lakes to the south, a canal to a hydro plant at the north end of the platform, and the tracks to the west side. An elevator operated next to the station lunch room to take freight down to the wharf at lake level, behind this were the stairs for passengers. The S.S. Islander would dock to meet the noon trains, and the S.S. Segwun, or Sagamo would tie up overnight to connect with the night trains.

The winter station would close about the middle of June, except for less than car load freight business. The night operator and agent would move their business operations to the summer station. About a week later two Assistant Agents, a Commercial Operator, a messenger boy and the lunch counter staff would be brought into handle the heavy summer traffic. They lived in the summer station. After Labour Day the procedure was reversed. The call letter "Q" was used at both stations.

The most notable recollections I have about this station during my early relieving years were the large crowds, the platform was a sea of people meeting the Friday and Sunday night special. Also of interest was the large number of unchaperoned single girls travelling on their holidays. Nowadays this would be considered the norm.

On the Friday night special, the express baggage buffer car would be an old rebuilt troop transport car with one narrow door from which you had to unload the mountains of baggage, and boxes of bread. For working this train, which arrived after our regular hours, one Asistant Agent would receive an overtime call, and the other would be paid one dollar by the agent, to handle the large bread shipment.

The next station to the south was Severn Falls which was a summer flag station for Medonte. In late June, the Chief Dispatcher would send you up to Medonte to pick up the records and open up Severn Falls. The first thing you would do was advise the dispatcher you were open, also the "RN" (call letter for the Commercial Telegraph office). After Labour Day, you would close up and the signal maintenance would come and take down the order board. As far as I know, this was the only train order board still using a coal oil lamp on our district. Many was the morning I would come on duty and receive a message from the dispatcher that my order board light was out.

I believe Bala and Severn Falls were the only two summer stations (Ed: Port Mc.Nicoll was another one) on the old Ontario District. This system was done away with in the mid 1950s."

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