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Chatham, Wallaceburg and Lake Erie

John Rhodes

Near the conclusion of the 1920s, the C. W. & L. E. was on its last economic legs and was hopelessly in debt. The financial woes of the line were twofold.

The passenger business, profitable between 1905 and 1915, had been erased by competition with the automobile, but nothing could be done about the losses as the passenger service was a charter obligation and the line was forced to continue to provide the service until defiantly cancelling it in July 1927. After this point the railway continued with a viable freight service until it destroyed the Third Street Bridge in a 1929 incident.

A secondary problem for the line was the indifferent attitude of The Canadian Northern Railway who had acquired the line after the death of majority owner George Kipp in 1911.

The Canadian Northern did not want this railway, and only reluctantly agreed to take it off the hands of local investors in return for federal subsidies. One of those investors was David Alexander Gordon of Wallaceburg who was the sitting M. P. for the riding of East Kent and a popular member of the deteriorating Laurier government. Gordon, in a slick move, optioned the Kipp family stock in combination with his own, had himself elected chairman and general manager of the C. W. & L. E. and then immediately flipped control to the Canadian Northern and moved to the U.S. Understanding of what took place here is not rocket science.

From that point on the little railway emanating from King and Third streets to Erie Beach, Pain Court and Wallaceburg started on a two-decade downward spiral that concluded with two loaded bulk (gondola) cars crashing through the deck of Third Street Bridge on June 12, 1929. A few months later the C. W. & L. E. was confined to history.

The equipment and rolling stock was sold off and the valuable copper trolley wire, that which was not stolen, was recycled. The rails, 40-some miles worth, were pulled up and also recycled. None of the rails were left in place except for a short stretch just to the north of the point where the street car tracks crossed the Grand Trunk on William Street and at the junction of William and King streets, which was a left over portion from the time when the street cars lumbered down King Street, between Third Street and William. The bulk of these tracks were pulled up in 1922. Some remnants, in the form of wooden ties, were paved over. North of McNaughton Avenue the right of way moved to the west side of what was then known as the Dover-Chatham Town Line. The tracks then turned westerly at Gregory Drive and junctioned with the Baldoon Road for the trek to Wallaceburg and Pain Court.

There is a stretch of ties that are buried beneath Raleigh Street, between Gray Street and Spencer Avenue and can be seen in the outline of the pavement. I suspect that when the frost passes through the ties each spring it does so at a different pace than the surrounding materials, making the location of the ties easy to ascertain.

Several years ago, some of the road surface of William Street, south of the Grand Trunk was rebuilt and I saw several of the old wooden ties come up in subsurface material.

Chatham, Wallaceburg and Lake Erie enjoyed a considerable amount of freight traffic.



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