Tag Archives: Toronto Grey & Bruce

West Toronto Railpath

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The West Toronto Railpath is currently 2.1 kilometers long and runs along the former right of way of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway. The County Atlas below shows the area as it looked around 1877. Several railways have already been built through The Junction and more would follow over the next decade. On the map I’ve coloured the Toronto Grey & Bruce in blue with the section on the rail path being green. The Grand Trunk Railway is yellow while the Credit Valley Railway is orange. To the right, The Northern Railway is red.

Before mergers began, there were five railways that intersected in West Toronto, or The Junction. These would eventually become three lines of Canadian Pacific Railway and two of the Canadian National Railway. The crossed each other on a complicated set of tracks known as the West Toronto Diamond Crossings. The archive picture below shows crews working on the diamond in 1924 and is part of an information plaque at the northern end of the rail path.

When the crossings were rebuilt with grade separations, which were much safer, the diamonds were no longer required. The last one was relocated to the trailhead and preserved as part of the information installation.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was incorporated on March 4, 1868 with the official sod turning ceremony being held in Weston in October of the following year. To save money, the railway was built to a narrow gauge of 3’6″ instead of the standard (or Provincial) gauge of 5’6″. This allowed construction to proceed for $5,100 per mile instead of the $8,100 required for the standard gauge. It formally opened on November 3, 1871 with the first train making it to Owen Sound in 1873. The picture below shows a nearly deserted railpath early on a Sunday morning but it filled up quickly with a variety of dog walkers, cyclists and joggers.

There are several works of art along the railpath including murals on a few buildings. One building has been painted in blue and green with the shapes of the vegetation along the building being left white. This allows for a visual growth indicator as the trees and vines continue to grow onto the painted sections. Four steel sculptures have also been erected along with various places to sit and pause as you walk the trail. Other buildings have extensive murals on them.

Railway sidings ran along the track side of most of the industrial buildings in the Junction Triangle. Although the rails are gone the sidings can be spotted by looking for doors that open a couple of feet off the ground. These would have been at the right level to load and unload the rail cars.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was converted to standard gauge in 1881 to make the interchange between its freight trains and those of other lines easier because the cars could just be moved from one line to the other. In 1883 it was leased to the Ontario & Quebec Railway and was taken over by the CPR the following year. By the 1950s the line was known locally as the Old Bruce and when it stopped serving the local industry it was closed for good. The line was dismantled in 1996 and the right of way was purchased by the city for a railpath which opened in 2009.

Catalpa Bignonioides is a flowering tree that is native to the southern states but has adapted to northern climates including parts of Canada. There are some of them in flower along the side of the trail and they produce a powerful scent. The flowers will turn into long beans that hang from the branches. This is just one of the many flowering plants that line both sides of the trail making it a great place to see butterflies and other pollinators.

The Junction hydro substation is tucked in along the rail corridor and has a date stone that reads 1920. For some reason several on line resources, including the Toronto Architectural Conservancy, list the building as having been completed in 1911. Perhaps the 1920 date above the large door refers to an expansion.

By 1883 there were five railways passing through the area and getting around them safely was starting to become a problem for the communities that surrounded the tracks. Workers had to cross the busy rail lines to get to the various industries where they worked. In 1907 a temporary pedestrian bridge was built as the first project designed by the Ontario Bridge Company. It is one of only a few multi-span steel Warren pony truss bridges in the province. It connects Wallace Street with Dundas Street West and was only intended to be in use until two underpasses were created on Dupont and Bloor Street. The bridges that were built over those underpasses are dated 1925 and one of them is featured in the cover photo.

The picture below is looking south from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge in July 1985 and was taken from “Old Time Trains” web page. The tracks would be removed in April 1996.

Milkweed grows in great numbers along the sides of the pathway however I didn’t see any Monarch Butterflies nor any caterpillars. Both seem to be a little scarce so far this season but this will be a great place to see them when they are in full flight.

“Ghost sign” is a term that is sometimes applied to faded lettering or images on the sides of old buildings. Also known as brickads, they were common between 1890 and 1960 with most of them being from the 1920s and earlier. Advertising for Coke was often painted on the sides of convenience stores and for industry it was common practice to paint your company name and perhaps a list of products or services right on your building. Canadian Hanson & Van Winkle erected their building in 1917 on the west side of the rail corridor where they produced equipment for the electroplating, polishing and buffing industries.

Scythes and Company Limited opened their company in the Junction in 1910. Aside from cloth and canvas products the building was also home to the manufacture of pickles, sauces and catsup. Ghost signs adorn all four sides of the building but the side facing the railpath has been freshly painted to restore the original brickads on the building.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway passed through the city and headed north through Cardwell Junction which is now only marked by a set of bridge abutments where two former rail lines once crossed. From there it went a short distance north to where it climbed the escarpment on a long horseshoe shaped curve. This was the location of a tragic derailment on September 3, 1907 known as the Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster.

Approval has been made to extend the trail another 2 kilometers with an agreement between Metrolinx and the city to complete it in 2022. A third phase could see the trail extended to Strachan Avenue.

This is a convenient trail because of all the places where there is access and it’ll be interesting to come back and check out the extension when completed.

Other Rail Trails in Toronto: Leaside Spur Trail, the Beltline Railway is described in three parts: Kay Gardner Beltline, Moore Park Beltline and York Beltline Trail.

Other Toronto Grey & Bruce Blogs: Cardwell Junction, Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster

Google Maps Link; West Toronto Rail Path

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Caledon Township was surveyed between 1819 and 1820 with settlements beginning shortly after.  The town of Melville was founded in 1831 but was originally known as West Caledon after the church that was located on the southwest corner of Highpoint Sideroad (25th s.r.) and Willoughby Road (1st line west).

Jesse Ketchum Jr. saw the possibility for a mill and a town was born.  He built a dam on his property creating the mill pond that still exists today.  The concrete dam in the cover photo replaces an earlier wood structure that would have required constant maintenance. His father, Jesse Ketchum, had been a tanner in Toronto and had gotten rich selling leather to the government, whom he silently opposed in the rebellion of 1837.  In 1831 he had donated property for a school and a park in Yorkville, both named in his honour.  Jesse Jr. laid out the north part of Orangeville on lands owned by the family in 1856.  Then in 1859 he laid out an ambitious town plan for Melville on his property there.  Soon there was a tannery, possibly connected to the Ketchums, as well as a saw mill and an oat mill.  The town never grew the way Ketchum Jr. envisioned and eventually the tannery and mills all closed.


There is an Upper Credit Conservation Parking lot on Porterfield Road (2nd line west) south of town, near the train tracks.  From here a trail leads east following the Credit River.  A footbridge is provided to cross the river and then the trail divides but we followed it to the north, toward Melville.  As we made our way along the trail we could hear the approach of the Credit Valley Explorer as it was making a short run through Melville.  The picture below shows the engine as it is emerging from behind a small ridge.  The Explorer runs on the old Credit Valley Railway (CVR) right of way south of town.


To the early settlers a fence had no practical value.  Pigs and cows were left to forage all summer and were slaughtered in the fall.  By the middle of the 19th century farms were opened up enough that property lines needed to be marked and cedar rails were used, often in a zig-zag pattern.  These snaking fence lines wasted a lot of productive land and eventually they were replaced with straight fences. Fence wire was introduced in the 1890’s and steel poles came after WWII.  Snaking fences had one major advantage that kept them in use even after more advanced methods became available.  They were the only truly portable fences and farmers could move them to reconfigure their fields to meet changing needs.


Following the trail east along the river, you will come to a new fence where the trail loops back around.  This fence is running along the top of a berm in the field.  This berm is the former right of way for the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway (TG&B) that ran through Melville starting in 1871.  This section of the line has been closed for nearly a century but the berm is still visible from Google Earth.  There isn’t much to see other than an obviously man-made hill in the field.  There are interpretive signs in the park but none about the railway. Yet, one can stand here and almost see the steam engines rolling into town.  The farmer has created a stone fence along the edge of his field where he sold a strip of land for the railway.  Every spring the frost lifts a new crop of stones to the surface of the fields so that the farmers have to clear the rocks before planting.  Stone fence lines across Ontario are the result of needing to dispose of these stones.


The CVR came into town in 1879 and it intersected with the TG&B just south of Highpoint Sideroad.  Known as Melville Junction it contained the station and freight buildings.  Today the junction has reverted to a farmer’s field and the old right of way for the TG&B is being kept open by a lawn mower.


In 1932 the CPR closed the section of TG&B line from Bolton to Melville.  A little south of Melville is the site of the Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster where a train left the tracks in 1907 killing 7 and injuring 114.  From there the line passed through Cardwell Junction.  The portion of track between Melville Junction and Orangeville is still in use as part of the CPR line through town.  Between Highpoint Sideroad and Willoughby Road the tracks cross the Credit River on a bridge that replaced the original trestle.


This one and a half story cottage is the oldest remaining home in the village.  It was built around 1850 in what is known as the Georgian Style.  The 2 over 2 windows are likely replacements as most of the homes in this era had 6 over 6 windows.  The smaller panes of glass were easier to produce and transport without breakage.


Like all small towns, Melville had at least one hotel.  The large building on the northeast corner of town was also the post office.


According to the date stone, Caledon School Section 12 in Melville got a new building in 1871. Melville’s saw mill was doing a good business in decorative brackets for eaves and the local tradesmen liked to use them in pairs.


Italianate architecture was popular in Ontario between 1840 and 1890.  This style also tends to have the round headed windows and doors that can be seen in this example below from 1875.  Like many Italianate houses,  George Hillock’s home has heavy bracketing under the eaves with the ornamentation being paired.  Another interesting feature of the style is the Widow’s Walk.  This platform on the rooftop was often railed with highly detailed wrought iron.  The name comes from their frequent location on homes built near water and the suggestion that women would walk there looking out for their husbands to return from sea.  The fact that they often didn’t return made them widows.  It is, in fact, a variation on the cupola which is common to the Italianate style.


At the intersection of highway 10 and Highpoint Sideroad stands an abandoned house (red arrow on map). The preceding two buildings from the 1870’s were made of red brick with buff trim.  Typical of many homes in the 1850’s, this one is buff with red trim.  This farmhouse was built in 1859 by David Watson and has been covered in greater detail in a separate post which can be found here.


Google Maps link:  Melville

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Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster

Sunday June 12, 2016

When the train left Markdale on Sep. 3, 1907 making a special run to the Exhibition in Toronto everyone anticipated a day of fun and not the horror that would leave 7 dead and 114 injured.

Railway construction in Canada in the 1850’s was expensive due to grand stone bridges and stations built to elegant standards. However, traffic was light and many early railways struggled to stay in business.  A recession and the American Civil War meant that there was almost no railway construction in the 1860’s.  After Confederation in 1867 a desire to open up the northern counties led to a plan to build cheap railways into the interior of the province of Ontario.  The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was  chartered in 1868 to build a line from Toronto to Grey and Bruce counties.  To keep costs down a narrow gauge track was built.  It was opened to Orangeville in 1871 and ran 3 trains daily.  When extended to Owen Sound it would run only 2 that far each day.  Construction required 3 major bridges over the Humber River, the Grand River and the Saugeen River.  Another major obstacle was the ascent of the Niagara Escarpment near Caledon.  This was accomplished by means of an 11 and 12 degree curve with a 462 foot radius known as The Horseshoe Curve just north of Cardwell.  Unfortunately, the choice of a narrow gauge made freight transport uneconomical because cars couldn’t be switched between tracks and had to be off loaded and reloaded onto other cars for further transport.  The line was in trouble from the beginning being unable to cope with the freight load.  The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) bought them in 1881 and converted the track to a standard gauge.  The GTR couldn’t finance the gauge conversion and lost control to the Ontario & Quebec Railway (CPR) in 1883.

The Toronto Industrial Exhibition opened in 1879 as an annual fair to showcase industry and agriculture.  The fair changed it’s name to the Canadian National Exhibition in 1912 to reflect the national scale of the exhibition.  Railways were always looking for new ways to generate revenue and providing transportation to entertainment sites such as Eldorado Park was part of their marketing strategy.  Five different rail lines offered special rates and added services to bring people to the Exhibition.  One of these excursions left Markdale at 7:34 am on Tuesday September 3, 1907 with a return fare of just $1.55.  Engine 555 had spent the night in Owen Sound where the crew had gone to use the turntable to turn the train around for the return trip to Toronto.  The big Ten-Wheeler (4-6-0) left Owen Sound at 3:20 am arriving in Shelburne at 8:25, nearly an hour and a half behind schedule.  The crew appear to have been trying to make up time because when they reached Orangeville 2 men got off saying they worried the train would be wrecked because of the speed it was going.


It was standing room only in the five coaches and so two more were added in Orangeville before it left there at 9:00 am with about 600 people on board.  South of Caledon the train started it’s descent of the escarpment, known locally as Caledon Mountain, where it passed a Slow Board with a speed limit of 25 mph posted for the upcoming curve.  Twenty-three year old George Hodge was at the helm and he claimed he never saw the sign.  Perhaps that is because he was driving at up to 60 mph and the sign was a blur to him.  The rail line can be seen on the map above as it leaves the town of Caledon.  The rail line runs along the west side of modern Heart Lake Road.  In the picture below it can be seen as a berm in the field.  I’ve marked it with red arrows for clarity.


This is the view of the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway line looking north from Escarpment Sideroad.


The 1950 archive photo below shows the same vantage point 66 years ago.  Steam railways kept the trees and vegetation trimmed for the full width of the right-of-way to help prevent sparks from starting fires.


The wooden crib that supports the embankment has been almost lost behind a new growth of vegetation.

Horseshoe rail

The rail line has been abandoned since 1932 and the rails were removed for use during World War 2.  The ravine where the tracks crossed Escarpment Sideroad has been filled in to reduce the grade for cars on the road but the rail corridor continues on the south side.  Most of the ties have also been removed but there are still some where the line curved to head east toward the Horseshoe Curve.


The Horseshoe was designed to allow the locomotives to climb or descend the escarpment.  Between mile 38 and mile 37 on the line the elevation drops from 1050 feet to 965 feet in a grade of 2%.  That morning as the passenger train entered the curve on the horseshoe, which can be seen in the cover photo, it left the tracks.  Five of the seven coaches ended up in the ditch and four of them were destroyed.  Seven people were killed and 114 injured in the worst rail disaster in this part of the province.  The picture below shows the wreckage with Horseshoe Hill Road in the background.


The passengers never completed their excursion to the Exhibition that day because they didn’t make it safely down off of the Niagara Escarpment.  The view from beside the Horseshoe Curve allows you to see the CN Tower on a clear day.  The Exhibition is located near the base of the CN Tower.


Helmsman George Hodge and Conductor Matthew Grimes were arrested and charged with criminal negligence.  At the trial Hodge claimed to have been doing only 15 miles per hour.  It turned out that Hodge had driven his first passenger train the day before when he left Parkdale in Toronto with this very train.  Speculation included hungover or sleeping crew members but in the end they were found not guilty.  The CPR was found guilty of not providing competent crew members and they ended up paying off the survivors for years afterward.  Canada Hawkweed, pictured below, has flowers which are similar to common dandelion.  The leaves have toothed margins and can almost appear to be hooked over.


The Horseshoe Curve is still visible in this Google Maps image.


The former Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway can be seen from the Bruce Trail where the Bruce follows Escarpment Sideroad.

Google Map link: Horseshoe Hill Curve

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