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Great Railroad Stations - Smithville, ON

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl

Smithville, Ontario

As the railroad era of the late 19th century was entering its most expansive mood yet ever seen, the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway was born. In 1884 the company was granted a charter to build from Toronto to Buffalo across the ĎGolden Horseshoeí of Ontario to connect to the booming railroad center in Buffalo. Railway service between the U.S. and Canada had been in place for many years by way of the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls, but direct service from Toronto to Buffalo was seen as a great boon to the somewhat isolated towns south east of Hamilton which itself was becoming a great iron and steel making center, the "Pittsburgh of Canada". Like many railway schemes, the projections were higher than the realities, and nothing much was accomplished until the 1890ís.

The first depot in Smithville was constructed in 1895. Lightning literally struck and the station was destroyed by fire. About 1903 the present station was built, and it has been called by Elizabeth A. Wilmont, Canadian author of several wonderful station history and photo albums, "the most decorative station in the Niagara Peninsula, certainly the most whimsical ever built by the T.H. & B. Company."

The Railway, dubbed the "To Hell and Back" by railfans was always more of a freight hauler than a major passenger carrier. However, for many years, its association with the New York Central (which owned 37% of the stock) and the Canadian Pacific (which held 27%) yielded fine results in the passenger department such as handsome Hudson type locomotives pulling heavyweight consists on fast express schedules, frequent connecting service to the Central at Buffalo, and in the 1930ís a stylish new Art Deco station in downtown Hamilton.

A complicated accounting and operating arrangement with the other roads which held an interest (Michigan Central and Canada Southern) made for pooling of locomotives and equipment. After World War I, six passenger trains a day plied the rails and through sleeper car service was available to New York City. In 1924, CPR completed a series of heavyweight coaches and baggage cars. These were painted in a sharp maroon color with gold lettering for the T.H. & B. Below that, in smaller letters, were shown the names of the principal owners, Canadian Pacific, T.H. &. B. and Michigan Central. (When Michigan Central was absorbed by parent NYC in 1930, the name was changed.)

Traffic reached all time highís in World War II and through service connections via Buffalo were never busier. In 1948, two NYC Hudsonís were acquired to assist with T.H. & B.ís passenger service. Steam continued to operate well into the 1950ís. In 1954, the railroad acquired GP9ís fitted with steam generators. By the late 1950ís, as elsewhere, the decline of the passenger train was evident. Self propelled "Dayliners" were acquired to replace the locomotive hauled consists. The service declined to a spartan, lightly patronized, almost unknown one by the late 1970ís. (A unique clause in T.H. & B.ís charter required it to provide passenger service in perpetuity to Hamilton, in exchange for the right to construct itís line through the city. CP Rail, by now the sole owner, negotiated a buy out of the agreement and service ended in 1981.)

Your author along with other NRHS chapter members enjoyed a farewell fan trip led by the late Al Kerr in October 1979. The fun began at Oakville where we boarded for the fast ride down the Canadian National to Hamilton Junction (near Bayview Junction). From there it was onto a short stretch of Canadian Pacificís rails to T.H.&B.ís home rails. Then the climb up and across the Niagara Escarpment began, and our Dayliner showed none of itís age as we sped along a well maintained right of way through Smithville, which then still had an open agency. From Welland to Fort Erie we joined ex-Michigan Central rails and crossed the International Railway Bridge into Black Rock. Then joining the Belt Line, we rolled our way into Central Terminal, rocking the last several thousand feet on the poor track and vast emptiness that the Terminal had become. Occasionally, I would visit Central Terminal to photograph the train, and once in a while there would be an honest to goodness patron that would detrain from the T.H. & B, perhaps continuing on to points east by way of Amtrak. Later in the afternoon, the return train would retrace her steps to Toronto.

After the end of passenger service the Smithville depot was closed, and sadly neglected until being acquired in 1990 by the West Lincoln (municipal) Council. Today, the station has been moved back slightly from the original location, and has been undergoing a loving restoration. The exterior, office and former waiting room with itís magnificent fan windows have been restored. A full basement was constructed, and an archive center for the local historical society established. The depot is open today as a visitor information center, and the T.H.&B, as part of CP Rail, may yet one day be revived as a busy railroad.

A quiet, cold winterís afternoon on the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway at Smithville, Ontario is seen in this late 1970ís photo by Jon Rothenmeyer.

 

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