Sunday, October 17, 2021
Several electric railway lines radiated out of Toronto in the early 20th century but the longest was the one that ran from Toronto to Guelph. It covered 49 miles (79 kilometres) and passed through several towns where it conveyed passengers and provided an express service. The right of way was almost exclusively privately owned and included several major bridges that had to be constructed to carry the line across the ravines and waterways along the route. Among them was the 711 foot (213 meter) long steel trestle bridge that carried the train 86 feet (26 meter) above the Humber River. It is featured in the archive picture used as a cover photo for this article. Although the line was surveyed in 1911 and 41.5 miles (67 kilometres) of track was laid west of Islington in 1914 this bridge wouldn’t be ready until 1916 because they had problems setting the footings. The railway itself wouldn’t open to the public until April 14, 1917.
The 1925 schedule below for the suburban railway shows each of the major stops and the transit time between them.
The car sheds and maintenance shops were located just west of Scarlett Road and tucked in between the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Dundas Street. These remained in use by other companies after the failure of the rail line until the 1980s. They were then demolished to create room for a townhouse development. From the maintenance yards a 200 foot (61 meter) wooden trestle was built as an approach to the bridge over the Humber River. The trestle was filled in when the 1925 extension to the Junction was built. At this time the line was re-routed under the CPR tracks to follow the power corridor. The underpass has been filled in but can still be identified by the cut on either side of the CPR mainline. The picture below looks along the filled in trestle toward the Humber River.
The piers and abutments for the bridge (see cover photo) are all that remains as the steel bridge works were removed for salvage. The river level piers have been repurposed for the pedestrian bridge on the Humber River Trail. The original bridge brought the railway across the river at about the same level as the CPR tracks beside it.
The railway stayed on the south side of the CPR as it approached Mimico Creek where it crossed on an 80 foot (24 meter) long bridge. The walkway that leads from behind Central Arena down into Tom Riley Park follows the cut in the embankment that was made by the railway. Once across the creek, the right of way passed under the CPR tracks and then turned west again. Central Park Roadway now follows the old alignment.
Islington is a village which has paid tribute to its heritage with a series of murals depicting the towns past. A beautiful mural of a radial car has been painted on the side of the building which the train ran behind. Initially there were 6 cars but two were destroyed by fire before they were even delivered. The remaining four cars were 60 feet long and had centre doors on either side. Two more cars were added in the mid 1920s (these with the standard door at the front) and service was increased to every two hours between Guelph and Toronto. For more about Islington and pictures of their other murals check our our post Islington – Village of Murals.
The line roughly followed Dundas Street through Dixie and on toward Cooksville before cutting off on an angle toward Meadowvale. It ran roughly northwest until it reached Highway 7 and then followed it into Guelph. Meadowvale is the next stop along the line where there are still remains to be found. The rail line crossed over the tail race for Silverthorne’s Grist Mill and the crumbling bridge abutments remain as reminders to a different era.
Three substations were built to power the line. The Islington and Georgetown ones were put into service but the Guelph station never was. It was intended to power an extension to Kitchener but the partially built line was scrapped during World War 1. Although there were 100 official stops only three passenger stations were ever built, these being at Acton, Georgetown and Guelph. Some of the stops had small waiting shelters while others were simply a road crossing where one could wave at the train to get it to stop. From Meadowvale the line ran through Churchville and then on to Eldorado Park the most popular destination on the route on summer weekends. Eldorado Park was a 128 acre amusement park created by the railway in 1925 as an attraction that was intended to provide passenger business. Eventually it did this to the extent that multiple car picnic excursions ran to the park, being powered by the railways freight locomotive. The image below shows a rail car dropping passengers off at the park to enjoy a day of fun before jumping on a later car to return to the city.
You can locate the old line through the park by finding the swimming pool. It ran right past the edge of the place where the pool would be built.
Following the old right of way will lead you to the place where most of it has slipped down the embankment and into the river. So much for daily service along this line.
There were 16 sets of sidings constructed to allow trains to pass each other going in opposite directions. Three Wyes were built to allow the train to turn around using a three-point turn. Lambton, Georgetown and Guelph each had one but when the line was extended to The Junction no Wye was built there due to space limitations. In The Junction the car had to travel up a side street to an existing loop to turn before making the trip back to Guelph. Heading west the line passed through Huttonville and Norval before reaching Georgetown. From Georgetown the line carried on moving northwest until it passed through Limehouse. Here it had a wooden trestle over the mill pond in what has become the conservation area before crossing the Second Line where there was a small shelter on the west side of the road. The image below shows the railway trestle piers that remain in the now dry mill pond. You can read more about Limehouse and the kilns from the lime industry in our post entitled Limehouse.
East of Acton sections of the old right of way have been converted into the Guelph Radial Trail. This trail name is easily confused with the Guelph Radial Railway which operated within the city of Guelph. In many places the old railway berm is still clearly visible. For more on this section of the trail see our post Guelph Radial Trail – Action East.
The Guelph Radial trail lets people follow the old right of way from Limehouse to Guelph. The trail has been marked with orange blazes. More can be read about this section of the trail in our feature story Guelph Radial Trail – Acton Section.
The Halton County Radial Railway Museum is on Guelph Line and uses some of the original right of way for short tourist excursions. They provide a home to a lot of electric railway artifacts including the waiting shed for stop 47 along the route. This is the stop which was located at Meadowvale. At the roadside is this car from the London & Port Stanley railway. It operated as an electric railway from 1913-1957.
The next stop was Eden Mills and then on to Guelph. The line was never a financial success and it had very little end-to-end traffic. The timing was poor as it had to compete with the growth of automobile traffic. By 1920 there were 150,000 cars in Ontario which gave people a greater range of freedom than riding the rails could provide. Within a year of opening, the line was turned over to the Canadian Northern Railway and then in 1923 it became part of the recently created Toronto Transportation Commission. The addition of an express department which charged 40 cents to move 100 pounds of goods from one end of the line to the other did little increase revenue. In 1925 it was operating with a loss of 45 cents on the dollar. By 1931 the line was serving only 300 passengers per day and it was closed for good on August 15, 1931.
Aside from the relics featured above there’s likely a few others to be discovered on future expeditions.
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