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Canada Atlantic Railway

The Canada Atlantic Railway

The Canada Atlantic Railway was formed out of a combination of railway lines constructed between the Vermont and Quebec border, west to the shores of Georgian Bay at Depot Harbour. The entire project was implemented by a prominent lumber baron from the Ottawa Valley named John R. Booth, a wealthy man who owned saw mills in the capital city and thousands of square miles of timber limits beyond. The following is a breakdown of all rail lines that were either constructed or controlled by the Canada Atlantic Railway.

Canada Atlantic Railway

Location: The Canada Atlantic Railway is located in Eastern Ontario, originally stretching within Ontario between Ottawa and Glen Robertson. Beyond the Provincial borders, the line connects through Quebec with the Central Vermont Railway at Alburg Junction in Vermont.

History: The origins of the Canada Atlantic Railway (CAL) date back to the creation of two lines incorporated by a group of Scotts from Ottawa hoping to connect into a railway in Vermont that would lead south to American ports and markets. The first, known as the Montreal & City of Ottawa Junction Railway, was incorporated in April 1871 to construct a line from Ottawa east thru Alexandria to Coteau Junction in Quebec. The second line, created in June 1872 as the Coteau & Province Line Railway & Bridge Company, was empowered to construct a line from Coteau Junction east to the American border. It included within is realm a bridge over the St. Lawrence River. The combined lines would create the shortest route possible between Ottawa and the States where access could be had to markets for Ottawa lumber in addition to year round port facilities. Given the lack of money made available, little work was completed on the project for a number of years until both charters were purchased by a group headed by John R. Booth. At this point, the charters were combined in May 1879 to form the Canada Atlantic Railway Company.

In the summer of 1881, construction finally began with the delay being attributed to the opposition placed against the line's attempts to obtain funding from the Government for both the railway and St. Lawrence bridge. By July 1882, the line was open from Ottawa to Coteau Landing, the location of where the bridge was to be built. Here, a temporary ferry service was added that connected the railway with its tracks on the opposite side of the river leading to the American border. It was not until 1897 that a direct connection was made to an American line (Central Vermont Railway at Alburg Junction), the railway being forced to route traffic through the Grand Trunk at Lacolle Junction south to Rouse's Point. In 1890, the bridge across the St. Lawrence was finally completed, providing an unbroken link not effected by winter or other elements. The railway itself was built to a high standard while the terrain allowed for excellent grades and minimal curves. As a result, the company was able to introduce fast freight and passenger service between Ottawa and Vermont that rival companies could not match. Funding for the line came predominantly from the private sector. Ultimately, the Canada Atlantic stretched from Vermont west to Georgian Bay when it took over the Booth controlled Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway in 1899 (see below), creating a line of just under 400 miles.

Approximate Millage: From Ottawa to Vermont, the line totalled 138 miles. The CAR at its maximum was 397 miles (Depot Harbour to the American border). Within only Ontario, the CAR extended 329 miles.

Current Status: The Canada Atlantic between Ottawa and the Quebec border has become, under Canadian National ownership, the Alexandria Subdivision. It remains in active service.

Principle Stations: Within Ontario, principle stations include the following: Ottawa, Casselman, Maxville and Alexandria.

Remaining Stations: There are a total of five stations remaining along the CAR. They are as follows:
1. Ottawa: In original location as a the Government Conference Centre.
2. Vars: Moved to Cumberland Township Heritage Museum as a display building.
3. Casselman: In original location on Station Street, remains in railway use.
4. Maxville: In original location at King Street, is currently vacant.
5. Alexandria: In original location at McDougall Street, remains in railway use.

Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway

Location: The subject line is located in North-Central Ontario, connecting the capital city of Ottawa with what was once the Georgian Bay town of Depot Harbour, just south of Parry Sound.

History: Although the Ottawa to Vermont line of the Canada Atlantic Railway was doing okay, for the most part it served primarily as a feeder line for its larger competitors. Not content with being placed in that position, CAR management first contemplated an expansion to the west of Ottawa in 1886 in hopes of sharing in the lucrative grain traffic by providing a shortcut route to eastern markets. In addition, the Booth sawmills had recently acquired vast timber limits that would be well served by a western railway line. A third consideration was that the present CAR line was in need of additional traffic to upgrade profits. Accordingly, in March 1888, the Ottawa, Arnprior & Renfrew Railway was incorporated that was followed two months later by the creation of the Ottawa & Parry Sound Railway. The two companies were then merged in July 1991 to form the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (OA&PSR). Construction had not taken place immediately given the lukewarm response received from the Government on funding and the opposition put forward by effected parties, in particular the Canadian Pacific.

Construction was finally initiated in 1991. Built through the Algonquin highlands, the line was subject to extreme topography that required substantial blasting, filling and bridge works. Portions of the railway were first opened for traffic into Arnprior in 1893. As construction proceeded west, the OA&PSR purchased the Parry Sound Colonization Railway, a company incorporated in March 1885 by the citizens of Parry Sound to construct a line east from their town to connect with the Northern Railway at Burks Falls, later changed to Scotia. Some construction had been initiated when the line was acquired. The OA&PSR chose as its terminus on Georgian Bay a location to the south of Parry Sound on an Indian Reserve that possessed an excellent natural harbour, much to the chagrin of the people of Parry Sound. Here was built the new company town of Depot Harbour that included a port with grain elevators and warehouses, railway yards and terminal facilities, and other needed institutions such as a hotel, school, church and stores. While the tracks had been completed to the waterfront by 1895, the town site and related services were not ready until December 1896. The entire line from Ottawa to Depot Harbour was completed in various stages between 1893 and 1896 when full service was inaugurated. The OA&PSR was merged with the Canada Atlantic in August 1899 (see below).

Approximate Mileage: 264 miles.

Current Status: The OA&PSR became under Canadian National management the Renfrew Subdivision. The line was abandoned in the following manner: From Cache Lake to Two Rivers 1940, Hurdman Junction to Nepean Junction in the Ottawa area in 1952 (presently the route of Highway 417), Two Rivers to Whitney 1952, Scotia to South Parry 1956, Kearney to Cache Lake 1959, Scotia to Kearney 1975, Golden Lake to Whitney 1983, and from South Parry to Depot Harbour and Arnprior to Renfrew in 1988. The only portion of track that remains active is that from Nepean Junction to Arnprior. This segment was purchased in 1992 from CNR by the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton and leased to the Arnprior-Nepean Railway Company. CN provides services under contract.

Principle Stations: Ottawa, Arnprior, Renfrew, Eganville, Killaloe, Barry's Bay, Madawaska, Whitney, Algonquin, Spruceville, Orrville and Depot Harbour.

Remaining Stations: There are a total of four stations remaining along the OA&PSR. The are as follows:
1. Ottawa: In original location as the Government Conference Centre.
2. Goshen: Moved to a nearby farm as a storage shed.
3. Eganville: In original location at Highway No. 512, currently vacant.
4. Barry's Bay: In original location at Opeongo Road as a community building.

Central Counties Railway

Location: The Central Counties Railway is located in Eastern Ontario. The line is divided into two components, extending north from Glen Robertson to Hawkesbury, and from Rockland to Limoges.

History: The Central Counties Railway Company (CCR) was first incorporated in June 1887 as the Prescott County Railway Company with the power to construct three branch lines, each to radiate out from the Canada Atlantic Railway. The first was proposed to lead from Glen Robertson north to Hawkesbury. The second would connect Glen Robertson with Cornwall to the southwest, while the third would extend north from Limoges to Rockland. Both Rockland and Hawkesbury were the location of Booth controlled sawmills. The charter sat dormant for a couple of years until funds for construction could be obtained from the Government. In April 1889, the name of the line was changed to the Central Counties Railway. Construction commenced in the summer of 1891 on the Hawkesbury branch which was leased to the Canada Atlantic in September of that year. Revenue traffic began in January 1892 with operations being controlled by the CAR. Construction on the Rockland branch did not begin for several more years, being open for traffic in July 1895. It was leased to the CAR that fall. Like the Hawkesbury branch, the line was operated by the Canada Atlantic. The third branch south to Cornwall was never constructed.

Approximate Mileage: The line from Glen Robertson to Hawkesbury was 21 miles while the Limoges to Rockland branch was 17 miles.

Current Status: The Rockland branch was abandoned by Canadian National by 1927. The Hawkesbury branch, which became known as the Vankleek Subdivision under the CNR, remains in operation. It was sold by the CNR in November 1996 to Railtex and now operates as the Ontario L'Orignal Railway Company short line railway. In addition, the company operates into Hawkesbury over a 4.4 mile spur line constructed by CN in 1972.

Principle Stations: Glen Robertson, Dalkeith, Vankleek Hill, Hawkesbury, Limoges and Rockland.

Remaining Stations: The only remaining station along both lines of the CCR is the building at Dalkeith. It has been moved to a local sawmill property as an office and storage building.

Pembroke Southern Railway

Location: The railway is located in North Eastern Ontario, linking the Ottawa Valley community of Pembroke with Golden Lake to the south on the Canada Atlantic.

History: Like the Central Counties, the Pembroke Southern Railway (PSR) was created with the purpose of connecting outlying communities with the CAR. The PSR was incorporated in May 1893, however, it sat dormant until 1898 when funds finally became available for its construction. Revenue traffic commenced the next year in August at which time, the line was leased to the Canada Atlantic for operational purposes. It disappeared as a corporate entity in 1956.

Approximate Mileage: 21 miles.

Current Status: The line was abandoned by Canadian National in 1961.

Principle Stations: Golden Lake and Pembroke.

Remaining Stations: There are no remaining stations on the Pembroke Southern Railway.

Canada Atlantic Consolidation And Sale

The Canada Atlantic, as originally constructed, extended between Ottawa through Quebec to the International border. The length of the railway increased substantially when it was merged with the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway in August 1899, a line it had operated since its inception. In addition, the CAR controlled two long term leases on both the Central Counties (September 1895) and the Pembroke Southern (August 1899). Movement on the line remained constant, in particular for grain and other through traffic originating from Depot Harbour. By the early 1900's, however, the line was up for sale. A number of groups, including the Canadian Northern, Intercolonial, and New York Central Railways, were interested in purchasing the full CAR system for a variety of reasons. In the end, however, it was the Grand Truck who placed enough money on the table to convince Booth to sell the line, principally to keep the company out of the hands of competitors and to finally have direct access into downtown Ottawa . An offer to purchase was reached in August 1904 with the line assumed by the GTR in October 1905. Having paid too much for the property, the GTR was next forced to upgrade the railway in keeping with its own construction standards. Not long after, through traffic along the former CAR ceased, the last through train operating in July 1923. The connection was severed permanently when a trestle in Algonquin Park was disabled in 1933. Today, Depot Harbour has become a ghost town while the majority of the right-of-way east from Georgian Bay into Ottawa has either disappeared or become transformed into hiking and other multi-use trails.

Additional information on the Canada Atlantic Railway can be obtained from the following site:

The CAR Research Site

Last Updated: June 25, 2003

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