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Canadian Northern Railway

Canadian Northern Railway Company


The Canadian Northern Railway Company (CNoR) had its origins in the creation of the Lake Manitoba Railway & Canal Company which was incorporated in 1889 by Manitoba interests to construct a series of portage prairie lines throughout the central portion of the Province of Manitoba to compete with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). The company remained dormant until 1895 when it was purchased by two dynamic individuals from Central Ontario, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann. Having made significant amounts of money in the past independently from CPR construction contracts and other business interests, the two saw an opportunity of providing an alternative transportation service to local wheat farmers. Having the full support of the Provincial Government which offered financing guarantees and rate controls, the railway was completed and operational by 1897. This was followed by the construction of a series of other lines in a piecemeal fashion that radiated out into lands ignored by the CPR. Construction initially was of a lesser standard with the intention that once traffic warranted, the route would be upgraded. In 1899, the Canadian Northern Railway Company was formed with the merger of the Lake Manitoba line with the Winnipeg Great Northern Railway Company.

Over the next ten years, the Canadian Northern built a profitable regional railway system centred within the Prairie Provinces that extended west to Edmonton and east into Ontario to Port Arthur on the shores of Lake Superior. The objective of the company was to break the monopoly of the CPR by servicing large tracts of land that to date had been viewed as unprofitable or offering fairer rates. By the end of the century, however, a series of events dictated by a wave of national optimism, partisan politics, and general dislike in many quarters for the activities of the CPR led to the creation of two additional transcontinental railway lines. Along with the CPR, this included permission for both the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Railway. Accordingly, the CNoR embarked on a massive construction and purchasing program with the aim of stitching together a line from coast to coast. In Ontario, this included the costly construction of a route through the Canadian Shield east from Port Arthur through the Sudbury area to Ottawa and Montreal, upgrading of the existing James Bay Railway from Toronto to Sudbury, and a line east along the Lake Ontario shore from Toronto to Ottawa.

To fund many of the company's initiatives, CNoR management had relied on the sale of Federal and Provincially backed government guaranteed bonds in American and overseas markets. While resources were spread thin, the company was confident it could complete a national system, notwithstanding the dramatic rise in recent construction and labour costs. Each time the Federal government was requested to back CNoR financial initiatives, however, it demanded a larger stake in the company. The situation became critical with the onslaught of war in Europe in 1914 when financial markets essentially became frozen. While the proverbial last spike in the CNoR system was driven in January 1915 with regular transcontinental service inaugurated shortly after, additional funds were needed to operate the system and to complete missing links including costly terminal facilities in Montreal and Vancouver. In general, railway construction amongst the various companies across the country had outpaced population and demand. Acting upon the recommendations of several railway commissions respecting the chaotic railway situation in the country, the Federal Government in August 1917 took complete control of the CNoR with Mackenzie and Mann forced to resign. In June 1919, the Canadian National Railway Company was incorporated with the Canadian Northern being entrusted to it. Over its brief twenty year history, the company had managed to construct a total of 16,093 km across the country.

Below are links to the individual histories of railway lines that were either created by or ultimately came under the control of the Canadian Northern Railway that were constructed within the Province of Ontario.

Canadian Northern Railway Lines:

A. Principle CNoR Main Line Routes:

1) Ottawa to Hawkesbury - pending
2) Ottawa to Toronto
3) Ottawa to Capreol (James Bay Railway) - pending
4) Capreol to Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) - pending
5) Port Arthur to Rainy River (Ontario & Rainy River Railway)

B. CNoR Branch Line and Feeder Routes:

Bay of Quinte Railway - Includes the following railway companies:
1. Kingston, Napanee & Western Railway ( Napanee through Yarker to Sydenham and Yarker to Tweed)
2. Bay of Quinte Railway (Deseronto to Deseronto Jct./Napanee and Tweed to Bannockburn)

Brockville, Westport & North-Western Railway (Brockville to Westport)

Central Ontario Railway - Includes the following railway companies:
1) Prince Edward County Railway (Picton to Trenton)
2) Central Ontario Railway (Trenton to Coe Hill and Wallace)
3) Ontario, Belmont & Northern Railway (Belmar to Cordova)
4) Bessemer & Barry's Bay Railway (Bessemer Jct. to Child's Mine)

Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa Railway (Howland Jct. near Kinmount to Bancroft)

Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway - Includes the following railway companies:
1) St. Catharines & Niagara Central Railway (Niagara Falls to Thorold)
2) Niagara Falls, Wesley Park & Clifton Tramway Railway (Niagara Falls)
3) St. Catharines Street Railway (St. Catharines)
4) Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway (Various routes between St. Catharines, Niagara Falls & Port Colborne)

Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway (Thunder Bay to Gunflint)

Toronto Suburban Railway (Toronto to Guelph)

Toronto & York Radial Railway - Includes the following railway companies:
1. Metropolitan Street Railway (Toronto to Sutton)
2. Schomberg & Aurora Railway (Oak Ridges to Schomberg)
3. Toronto & Mimico Railway & Light Company (Toronto to Port Credit)
4. Toronto & Scarboro Electric Railway, Light & Power Company (Toronto to Scarborough)

Page Last Updated: December 4, 2001

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