Northern Railway of Canada

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The Northern Railway of Canada was a historical Canadian railway located in the province of Ontario. It was eventually acquired by the Grand Trunk Railway, and is therefore a predecessor to the modern Canadian National Railway. The railway was originally known as the Toronto, Simcoe & Lake Huron, but soon became the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron, both names referring to the three lakes the railway connected. The line ran roughly north out of Toronto to Newmarket, then northeast to Bradford and Allandale (now part of Barrie) before turning west to Collingwood.

Financial difficulties and the resulting government bailout led to a reorganization of the company resulting in little more a name change to Northern Railway of Canada, in 1859. The railway's detractors referred to it as the "Oats, Straw, and Hay".[1] Additional lines connected to it over the years, extending the rails to Meaford and Penetanguishene to the west, and north to Lake Muskoka. In 1887, the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) gains a controlling interest, and the takeover was formalised in January 1888.


Cover of the Act of the Province of Canada chartering the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railroad Union Company, 1851

In July 1849, the Toronto, Simcoe & Lake Huron Union Railroad is founded by Frederick Chase Capreol and Charles Albert Berczy. The Guarantee Act helped finance construction of the railway through the sale of bonds, with the interest guaranteed by the colonial government. Other early events were:

  • Groundbreaking by Lady Elgin on 15 October 1851.
  • November 1852 the railway was renamed the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Railroad.
  • In February 1853, the railway commissioned the construction of the first locomotive built in any British colony.[2]
  • In August 1858, the OS&HUR becomes the Northern Railway Company of Canada following a government bailout.

Several subsidiary railways were subsequently incorporated into the Northern Railway, including:

In June 1879, the Northern merged with the Hamilton and North-Western Railway, becoming the Northern and Northwestern Railway. Construction of a subsidiary, the Northern and Pacific Junction Railway, which ran between Gravenhurst and Nipissing, proves to be a significant financial burden.

A further extension in 1880s with the combined forces of the Northern Railway and the Hamilton & North-Western Railway connected the line from Muskoka, to the transcontinental CPR at North Bay in 1886. The Northern Railway was purchased by Grand Trunk Railway in 1888, and through its amalgamation, became part of the Canadian National Railway. CNR operated the mainline as the CN Newmarket Subdivision, selling off the branches to the west, and pulling up the sections north of Barrie. It is now the Barrie line after its purchase by Metrolinx.


Lady Elgin, Engine No. 1 of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Railroad.

The first locomotive of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Railroad was named Lady Elgin and built in Portland, Maine.[3] It was named for Mary Lambton, second wife of James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, the 42nd Governor General of Canada (1847–1854); she had also lifted a ceremonial silver spade for the sod-turning ceremony of the construction of the railway at Front Street and Simcoe Street on 15 October 1851.[3] Because of the high customs duties and shipping costs for the locomotive, executives of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Railroad decided that subsequent locomotives would be built in Ontario.[3]

The James Good foundry Toronto Locomotive Works, located at the corner of Queen and Yonge Street,[4] would manufacture nine locomotives for the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron railway at an average cost of $5000.[1][5] The first of these was named Toronto, built in its namesake city and the first locomotive built in Canada[6] or in any colony of the British Empire.[4] Commissioned in February 1853, its construction was completed by 16 April.[6] Over five days, it was rolled along temporary wooden rails on Queen Street and York Street, and on 26 April it was lifted onto the new OSH railway tracks on Front Street.[1][6] Torontonians would monitor the locomotive's progress from the foundry to the Front Street tracks, and the event was the subject of a later artistic rendering.[4] Its first duty was three weeks later, transporting passengers and freight between the city of Toronto and the community of Machell's Corner, now known as Aurora.[1] This first duty is commemorated by a plaque installed in 1953 at Union Station in Toronto.[7] The Toronto and other locomotives were scrapped after Canadian railways converted from the 5'6" track gauge to the 4'812" American standard gauge starting in the 1870s.[5]


The railway earned revenues from passenger, freight, postal, and sundry other sources. The total earnings for 1 January to 7 July 1860 were $166,108.64, and for 1 January to 6 July 1861 were $210,177.46.[8]

Year Week Passenger Freight Postal and sundry Total
1860 ending 14 April 7012.86[9]
ending 19 May 8645.63[10]
ending 7 July 6824.88[8]
ending 14 July 6409.73[11]
ending 8 August 6564[12]
1861 ending 13 April 8953.38[9]
ending 18 May 8724.89[10]
ending 6 July[8] 1810.92 7168.35 84.72 9064.00
ending 13 July[11] 1728.20 7412.90 81.66 9222.81
ending 8 August 9224[12]

Recognition of the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway[edit]

In 2010, the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway was inducted to the North America Railway Hall of Fame.[13] The OS&HR was recognized for its contribution to railroading as a "Community, Business, Government or Organization" in the "National" category (pertaining specifically to the area in and around St. Thomas, Ontario.)


  1. ^ a b c d Filey 2014, Full steam ahead.
  2. ^ Hind 1854, p. 76.
  3. ^ a b c Boles 2009, p. 12.
  4. ^ a b c Boles 2009, p. 13.
  5. ^ a b Mainer 1982.
  6. ^ a b c North America Railway Hall of Fame: The Toronto.
  7. ^ Boles 2009, p. 14.
  8. ^ a b c Poor & Schultz 1861, p. 524, Railroad earnings.
  9. ^ a b Poor & Schultz 1861, p. 372, Railroad earnings.
  10. ^ a b Poor & Schultz 1861, p. 422, Railroad earnings.
  11. ^ a b Poor & Schultz 1861, p. 549, Railroad earnings.
  12. ^ a b Poor & Schultz 1861, p. 611, Railroad earnings.
  13. ^ North America Railway Hall of Fame.


Further reading[edit]

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