Midland Railway

Friday October 4, 2019

While in the area of Port Hope on a vacation day I decided to check out the remains of one of the first railways in Ontario, then known as Upper Canada.  Port hope had originally intended to build a rail line to Peterborough but was beaten by Cobourg who launched the Cobourg and Peterborough Railway in 1854.  The remains of this rail line can still be found in our post Rice Lake’s Sunken Railway.  The plans were changed and the Port Hope Lindsay and Beaverton Railway was born.  In 1869 the name was changed to the Midland Railway.  Passenger service ended in the 1950’s and most of the line was abandoned by 1970.  The conversion of the line to a hiking trail marks one of the earliest rails to trails projects in Ontario.  Part of the old main line is now used as the Ganaraska Hiking Trail.

My exploration began in the Port Hope Conservation Area.  One of the hiking trails following the north side of the river follows the old right of way for the railway.  As you walk along the trail you will see that you are following a berm that is occasionally replaced by wide embankments where the rail line cut through small hills to create a level roadway.  Material taken from the cuts was used to build the berm through the hollows.  The picture below shows some of cut embankment on the right of the shot.

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Corbett’s dam stands on the site of an earlier dam that was built in 1889 by Doctor John Corbett.  It was expanded in 1893 to produce electricity which it continued to do until 1912.  A fish ladder was added in 1973 to facilitate to migration of Rainbow Trout in the spring and Salmon in the fall.  On the day that I visited there were countless salmon in the river all trying to make their way up the fish ladder.

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As the railway continued downstream it passed the industrial heart of Port Hope.  Some of the earliest enterprises in many communities were the lumber and grist mills.  The grist mill in Port Hope is one of the few surviving examples of post and beam construction of a mill.  It stands on a foundation of river rock.  In 1851 John Molson wanted to expand his brewing empire into Upper Canada and so applied to Toronto for a permit.  He was rejected due to local competition and so he looked to the second largest port in the province which was Port Hope. He purchased a piece of property on the river about a mile outside of the downtown area.  The purchase included a grist mill, saw mill and a stave factory.  The mill had six runs of stones and was capable of producing 300 barrels of flour per day.  The mill operated until 1924 when it became a studio of Group of Seven artist J. W. Beatty.

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The Canadian Northern Railway also followed the Ganaraska River into Port Hope.  The line opened in 1911 and crossed the river on a series of concrete piers with steel truss bridge spans.  The bridge has been removed but the poured concrete piers still stand on the far side of the river.

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Cavan Street was home to much of the early industry in Port hope because of the easy access to water power supplied by the Ganaraska River.  The old Globe Factory building at 121 Cavan Street is perhaps the best remaining example of a large scale operation.  Several others exist but have been reduced to single buildings.  The Globe Manufacturing Company started in Port Hope as early as 1830.  The first section of this building was constructed in 1853 and is the middle section.  Later additions were made as the building continued to be a manufacturing site until 1976.  Various tools were produced here including files and related hand tools.

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After crossing the Ganaraska River the railway tracks ran up the middle of Ontario Street where they passed the front door of the Ganaraska Hotel.  This was just one of 13 hotels that were in town at the time of the arrival of the railway.  Many of the other ones can be seen in our companion post Port Hope – Historic Hotels.

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The rail line crossed Walton Street and followed a lane that was granted to the rail line.  The name Lent Street is quite appropriate and remains to this day.  Lent Travel now operates from the small building south of the old rail line while a branch of Scotia Bank leases the historic building that stands to the north.

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There is a little train station that was built around 1855 and is believed to have been a whistle stop for the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway.  The station was later moved to where it stood beside the Grand Trunk Railway for years.  It was later moved for an employee to use for personal storage.  The building eventually became slated for demolition  but was given to the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Port Hope Branch.  They restored the building and moved it to its present location on Lent Street beside the right of way for the Midland Railway.

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Sitting behind the old town hall is an object that looks like an old tomb stone at first glance.  In 1878 there was no access to drinking water in the town market.  The mayor was William Craig and he paid for the erection of a water fountain on the condition that the Market Committee provide the connection to the water source.  Water flowed from each of the lion heads on the four sides of the fountain for the benefit of the townspeople and their horses.

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The right of way followed Lent Street as it approached the harbour area.  There are still some sleeper ties that are rapidly becoming overgrown along the old rail bed.

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The Midland Railway was crossed by two further rail lines as it neared the harbour.  A single track on concrete piers stand in the front of this picture while the Grand Trunk Viaduct supports a passing train on the old Grand Trunk Line.

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There are so many things to see in Port Hope that it almost begs a return trip to this community on the eastern edge of the GTA.

For additional blogs on the area check out Port Hope – Historic Hotels and Wesleyville Ghost Town

Google Maps Link: Port Hope

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