Inverness and Richmond Railway
The I&R traces its history to 1874 when the Inverness Railway Company was incorporated, changing its name to the Inverness Coal Field and Railway Company in 1875 and to the Inverness Coal, Iron and Railway Company in 1886.
The economically tumultuous conditions of the coal industry in Inverness County was evident as these various railway charters appeared and disappeared. The growth of the Sydney Coal Field and the establishment of the coal and steel industry in what would become Industrial Cape Breton during the late 19th century only made the future of the Inverness mines more uncertain.
The I&R was incorporated in 1887 with a charter to build a railway line from the district of Margaree in north-central Inverness County to the ports of Mabou, Port Hood and Port Hawkesbury, along with a branch to the Bras d'Or Lake port of Whycocomagh.
Acquisition by Canadian Northern Railway
Construction of the I&R line finally began in the late 1890s after the company was acquired by Sir William Mackenzie and Sir Donald Mann who were expanding their Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) system across Canada.
The I&R was built from Inverness Junction (at the south end of Port Hawkesbury) on the Intercolonial Railway's Point Tupper-Sydney mainline 60.5 miles north along the coast of the Northumberland Strait to Inverness. The line opened on June 15, 1901 to serve coal mines in Inverness and Mabou which were owned by the CNoR. Local proponents had wished the I&R to continue building north from Inverness to Cheticamp, however it would never venture beyond the mines at Inverness. Also, despite its name, the line would also never extend into Richmond County.
The I&R hauled coal from mines in Inverness and Mabou to a coal wharf in Mabou during the summer shipping season and to a coal wharf in Port Hastings during the winter season when sea ice made Mabou inaccessible.
The assets of the I&R, along with those of the Inverness-Richmond Collieries and Railway Company of Canada, were consolidated by the CNoR to become the Inverness Railway and Coal Company (IR&C).
The CNoR entered financial difficulty during World War I and the IR&C defaulted on interest payments for its debt on May 1, 1915. The IR&C was placed in receivership under the National Trust Company and continued to operate the coal mines and railway much as before. On June 23, 1919 the Eastern Trust Company took over as receiver.
The IR&C saw the mines spun off by the receivers over the years and the coal loading port at Port Hastings declined in use.
Acquisition by Canadian National Railway
The remaining railway line from Inverness Junction in Port Hawkesbury to Inverness was leased to the federal government's Crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR) from February 1, 1924 until June 1929. That month saw the line purchased outright by CNR. The
In 1955, the construction of the Canso Causeway saw the original I&R line from Inverness Junction in Port Hawkesbury to Port Hastings upgraded and realigned to become part of the Truro-Sydney mainline of the CNR. A new junction for the I&R line was created immediately east of the Canso Canal Bridge.
Abandonment and alternative re-use
Under CN, the I&R was known as the Inverness Subdivision. By the 1970s, CN applied to abandon the line, citing marginal freight traffic, however the applications were denied by the Canadian Transport Commission. Deregulation of the railway industry in the 1980s saw CN re-apply successfully and the line was fully abandoned from the Canso Causeway to Inverness in 1986 and the rails were removed for scrapping by 1989.