Canadian Northern Ontario Railway - Toronto to Ottawa Line


Location: The subject line is located in south-central Ontario, extending between the Provincial capital of Toronto and the National capital of Ottawa. For much of its route, the line parallels Lake Ontario, passing through Smith Falls on its way north from the lake.

History: The construction of the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway line between Toronto and Ottawa was a product of the company's inability to secure ownership of the Canada Atlantic Railway , thereby providing a direct rail link from the west via the Great Lakes to Ottawa and Montreal. Other factors that played a part in the decision to build the subject line at great expense was the necessity to challenge the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) within their established markets along the north shore of Lake Ontario, and to string together a variety of properties acquired by the Canadian Northern as feeders for their system. The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway itself was created as in July 1905 with the renaming of the James Bay Railway (JBR) project then under construction by William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, owners of the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), between Toronto and Sudbury. From that point on, all CNoR properties within Ontario were to be built under or merged with the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway banner. It was intended that the subject route between Toronto and Ottawa would form the southern leg of the Canadian Northern Railway's transcontinental route.

Contracts for construction of the line were issued in the spring of 1910 with work commencing at a point with the JBR within the Don Valley near Toronto known as Todmorden. To the east, the railway ran parallel to the GTR and CPR, servicing many of the same communities. Given the later time frame of construction for the CNoR, however, preferable terminal sites and docking facilities were difficult to obtain, leaving the line and related station grounds located in remote areas distant from the commercial and residential core. Between Deseronto and Sydenham, the company utilized the previously purchased tracks of the Bay of Quinte Railway as opposed to constructing a new right-of-way. Beyond the Kingston area, the line was built through the more difficult Canadian Shield terrain on its way to Ottawa via Smith Falls, pushing back the time of opening. Completion of the railway took place in the following manner: Todmorden to Trenton (105 miles) in September 1911, Trenton to Deseronto (28 miles) in January 1912, and Sydenham to Hurdman (near Ottawa, 86 miles) in December 1913.

Little of the funding for the project was obtained through government bonuses or guarantees given their reluctance at the time to support the project. As a result, the majority of monies were obtained by Canadian Northern directors from British money markets. It was initially the company's intention to construct the line under a separate charter known as the Ontario & Ottawa Railway but this was not pursued. Although several CNoR owned branch properties connecting with the line did provide some traffic, profitability was not possible until the full Canadian Northern transcontinental line was operational. The matter was further hindered by the location of the line relative to its competitors as noted above, in particular in Ottawa where the station at Hurdman was far from the city core and ignored by most passenger and freight clients. With the passing of the CNoR into federal ownership along with the GTR in the early 1920's, the necessity to operate and maintain two lines along the shoreline was not required. Accordingly, the lesser of the two routes (that of course being the CNoR) was abandoned as costs rose during the depression of the 1930's. The section of line extending through Smith Falls north of Kingston survived until disappearing in the late 1980's.

Approximate Milage: A total of 249 miles made up of 219 miles of new construction and 30 miles of existing track (Bay of Quinte line between Deseronto and Sydenham).

Current Status: Under Canadian National ownership, the line was known as the Orono, Deseronto and Smith Falls Subdivisions. Portions of the route have been abandoned in the following manner: The section from Cobourg to Brighton 1924, Todmorden to Greenburn 1926, Trenton to Desoronto 1931, Brighton to Trenton 1932, Greenburn to Binlook and Oshawa to Port Hope 1937, Binlook to Oshawa 1939, Sydenham to Smiths Falls 1984 and from Desoronto to Napanee 1986. The tracks from Richmond to Smiths Falls were purchased by VIA Rail in 1991 from Canadian National.

Principle Stations: Oshawa, Port Hope, Cobourg, Colborne, Brighton, Trenton, Belleville, Deseronto, Napanee, Newburgh, Harrowsmith, Smith Falls, Ottawa.

Remaining Stations: A total of nine Canadian Northern Ontario Railway stations along the Toronto to Ottawa line have survived. They are as follows:
1. Binlook: Moved not far from original location as a private residence on Highway #12.
2. Oshawa: Moved to property at 64-68 Wayne Street as a private residence.
3. Solina: In original location on Solina Road as a private residence.
4. Starkville: Moved to property on Newtonville Road as a private residence.
5. Port Hope: In original location on Highway #28, former MTO office.
6. Newburgh: In original location on Grove Street as a private residence.
7. Harrowsmith: In original location on Ottawa Street as a private residence.
8. Smith Falls: In original location at 90 William Street as the Smith Falls Railway Museum.


Last Updated: January 1, 1998

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