Cache Lake Trestle – Algonquin Park

Sunday July 17, 2016

John Rudolphus Booth was born on April 5, 1827 in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada (Quebec).  He left the family farm at the age of 21 to take a job as a carpenter on the Vermont Central Railroad.  Booth moved to Ottawa in 1852 where he started a machine shop.  When it was lost in a fire he decided to try his hand at making shingles.  The business was a success and soon he could afford to lease, and later buy, a small saw mill at Chaudiere Falls in Ottawa.  J.R. was able to win the contract to supply the wood for the parliament buildings that were being constructed in Ottawa following Queen Victoria’s selection of the site in 1858. This gave the business a major boost and by 1892 his lumber mill operations were the largest of their kind in the world.

The pictures in this story were taken in May 1998 on a camping trip to Algonquin Park with my youngest brother.  The picture below shows the Cache Lake trestle in the distance.  The trestle is above the water line for the first half of the span on the east end but the section on the west (right hand side) is concealed.  We determined to visit both ends of the trestle by canoe.

Cache 2

In 1867 Booth purchased the lumber rights for 250 square miles of pine forest on the Madawaska River in what is now Algonquin Park.  Over the next few decades he increased his holdings to over 7,000 square miles of forest.  He increased his mill capacity by running 13 band saws and by 1891 he was consuming two million logs per year.  Some of his lumber holdings were so remote that it took two years for the logs to reach the mill.  Booth began to experiment with barges to move logs and then decided to employ railways to bring his resources to his mill in Ottawa.  The picture below is from the western abutment of the trestle as seen from the canoe.

Cache 7

In 1888 Booth chartered a series of railways which in 1893 were amalgamated into the Ottawa Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (OA&PS).  Construction began in July 1892 with forty crews at work.  Two years later there were 1,100 men working on building the OA&PS.  By the end of 1895 the line extended for 168 miles west from Ottawa and had reached Cache Lake.  In the spring of 1896 work began on driving pilings into Cache Lake for the trestles that would cross two bays.  The first freight train from Parry Sound to Ottawa ran on October 9, 1896.  Things were unstable from the beginning and the Cache Lake trestle shifted on Nov. 11, 1898 causing a delay to the mail train.  We took our canoe in close to the trestle as we crossed the lake but when we pushed ourselves away the paddles sank deep into the rotten wood.  We landed the canoe along the eastern berm where we could safely tie off and get to the top.  The picture below shows the old rail bed as it approaches the start of the trestle.
Cache 4
The line was sold to the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1905 who expanded services with a tourist hotel.  The GTR was absorbed by the Federal Government into the Canadian National Railway (CNR) in 1923 when the  Great Depression caused it to go bankrupt.  In 1933 a flood caused trestle work at Cache Lake to be undermined and the crossing  was determined to be unsafe, and the trestle was abandoned.  Traffic continued on both ends of the line but by the end of the 1940’s only a small number of passenger trains serviced Algonquin Park.  The western end closed in 1952 and the eastern one in 1959.  J.R. Booth continued to run his business empire almost until his death in 1925 at the age of 98.  The picture below shows the trestle as it looked 18 years ago.  The cover photo is from the water’s edge.

Cache 1

With the rail service discontinued, and an active campaign to remove man made structures from the park, the rail line was also cleaned up and left to naturalize.  More recently there is an attempt to make the former rail bed into a hiking trail.  Some sections in the park are being linked together but the abandoned trestle will require a new trail around Cache Lake.  The picture below shows a rail berm on Galeairy Lake with a concrete culvert .  Many of the trestles in the park were filled in to make them stable and it is likely that a wooden trestle still exists inside this berm.  If it had been economically possible a similar repair may have been made on Cache Lake.

Cache 5

Cache Lake contains some interesting remnants from the former days when steam engines sped across the trestle above it’s waters.  That history is slowly being broken up and carried away like the piece of trestle seen below in the outflow from the lake.

Cache 3

The GTR built the Highland Inn in 1908 as a four season tourist attraction for the park.  They built it near the park offices and provided service from the GTA as a means of boosting passenger traffic.  The Highland Inn was the first tourist hotel opened by the GTR and it was such a success that by 1913 a tent city was used for overflow.  The expansion that year was substantial including new wings on both ends and a 3 story central tower.  The new additions were not winterized like the original structure had been indicating that the anticipated winter usage had not materialized.  When the CNR took over in 1923 they continued to promote the hotel until the failure of the railway trestle a decade later combined with the depression to force them to close the Highland Inn.  It was operated by the Paget family from 1937 until 1956 when it was purchased from them by the Ontario Government.  A 1954 policy to return the park to a natural condition led to it being torn down in 1957 and burned.  The Highland Inn and Algonquin Park Station are seen in this archive photo.  All that remains is the train platform and a fire hydrant.  The footings for the water tower can also be located near the mature red oak forest that was planted in place of the inn.  The picture below is from the Toronto Public Library.  The park offices are on the left and the water tower is just on the right edge of the picture.  Algonquin Park Station is partially hidden behind the train as it pulls away from the inn.

Highland Inn 1910


Google Maps: Cache Lake

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Follow us at http://www.hikingthegta.comin Park Station. Highland inn is long gone and only the train platform and a fire hydrant remain. 

6 thoughts on “Cache Lake Trestle – Algonquin Park

  1. Pingback: Hiking the GTA #200 – Greatest Treks 2 | Hiking the GTA

  2. Tom Simmons

    Nice detail of this area and the details of the Booth empire were a nice addition. I was up to that area by boat in about 1970 when the trestle was somewhat “standing”. As I recall there was some concrete footings in the area for what was likely a saw mill. The highlight for that trip was the number of Garter Snakes that made the area on the west side of the trestle their “home” . We had to carry our wives back to the boat because of all the snakes !

  3. Christa

    My dad’s ashes were spread in Cache Lake in 2017. I spent every summer of my childhood (aged 1 – on) for 3 wks a year camping in Pog Lake. We often canoed at Cache. When I was a kid in the 80’s/90’s my dad would get us out of the boat and fish off the old, crumbled tressle. One year we managed to make it through and see around the bend where the trestle was still high above. We boated underneath it. That area still haunts me to this day.

  4. Pingback: Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails | Hiking the GTA

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