||March 23, 2001
CNR’s Algonquin Route
||Steam shovel working on rail line through Algonquin Park-
Richard Anderson Photo
For over eighty years, from (1915-1995), the Canadian National
Railway ran from Ottawa to Capreol through the north side of Algonquin
Park and was a major influence on the way of life in the areas it
traversed. The line was abandoned in the mid-1990s and the rails
were pulled up, leaving little but memories.
There are many stories of work, play, joy and sorrow at the now
vanished stops along the route. The route is of particular interest
to me because the line bisected the Township of Chisholm, where I
live. The Alderdale, Wasing and Fossmill stops were all within the
township. Other evocative place names are found as the line progresses
eastward into the park--Kilrush, Coristine, Kiosk, Ascalon, Odenback,
Daventry, Brent, Acanthus, Radiant, Traverse, Brawny, Archay, Kathmore
and Dahlia. It would be difficult to capture the history of all of
these locations; some did not develop into communities at all, while
others flourished for various reasons. Kiosk, Brent, and Archay remain
as access points and campgrounds in the park.
Over the next few weeks, I will write about a sampling of these
locations, starting next week with Alderdale and Wasing and followed
by Fossmill, before entering the park to look at Kiosk and Brent.
At the turn of the last century, as Canada was being settled and
before the era of automobiles and highways, railways were built wherever
there was a need or a chance for someone to make money. The Canadian
Pacific Railway drove its last spike in 1885, finishing a railway
that was nestled close to the U.S. border, to establish Canada's
presence coast to coast.
The CPR did not serve the vast area to the north, so entrepreneurs
soon began to plan for another line. In the 1890s, William MacKenzie
and Donald Mann began to build a railway system in the prairies.
They had a lot of friends, a lot of imagination, and a lot of nerve.
Their various lines began to come together as a potential transcontinental
McKenzie and Mann lacked a line from Ottawa to Sudbury to complete
the transcontinental route. Trains had to take the circuitous route
from Ottawa to Toronto and then on to Sudbury. In 1912 they began
work on a more direct line from Ottawa to Sudbury. The route cut
through the north side of the Park.
The late Stanley Anderson, writing in a Chisholm history book,
provides details of the impact of the railway on the township. He
states that most people, working hard just to survive, were oblivious
to the railway until crews began pounding survey stakes in various
locations throughout the township. The positive and negative aspects
of the initiative were soon in evidence. Farmers made money as jobs
became available, and rights of way were purchased. Food and accommodation
were in demand. People began to see the easy access to markets where
bartering-- commonplace in Powassan--would no longer be required. There
would be easy access to medical, legal and social needs in North
||Work crew moving barn to new foundation in Chisholm Township.-Chisholm
Woman's Institute Photo
On the negative side, some of the farms were split by the line
and fences and underpasses were needed. Over the years fires, train
wrecks, and collisions with animals and vehicles became commonplace.
On one occasion the township Reeve, Art Conrad--along with three
members of his family--was killed by a transcontinental train.
At first the survey crews headed west towards the south side of
Lake Nipissing, crossing the Grand Trunk Railway from Toronto to
North Bay. To everyone's surprise, the line was shifted sharply north,
and ran twenty km through the heart of Chisholm and on to North Bay.
There was a buzz of negotiation and activity as the grading started.
One man sat with a shotgun on the right of way until he got what
There were several big contractors who subcontracted sections
of the line. There was very little heavy equipment, so hundreds of
men were required. A group of Swedes stayed in tents one winter and
cut a 16-foot wide section through solid granite. Eventually, Spaniards,
Italians and Finns arrived with their wheelbarrows and pickaxes to
work from sunrise to sunset, living and working in rough conditions.
Eventually, as the basic railbed was completed, the rails were
laid and huge steam-powered scoop shovels appeared to add fill and
widen key areas. A narrow gauge rail line was temporarily laid beside
the main line, and a dinky engine hauled away the fill to where it
was needed. Several houses and barns were relocated. Many Chisholm
men got work as teamsters, hauling tons of bolts, cement, timber,
coal, tools, and even dynamite for miles along the route.
By 1916 the line, called the Canadian Northern, was done and trains
began to pass twice a day each way. An additional local train traveled
up and down regularly, stopping everywhere it was flagged and at
various stations. The arrival of the train, with its passengers,
mail, Eaton's packages, etc., always created a stir.
Over time, some of the locations mentioned above grew, and some
faded, as economics prevailed. It should be noted that the Canadian
Northern went bankrupt in 1918 and was taken over by the federal
government and in 1923 it became a part of the Canadian National
By the mid-1990s the CNR was deeply in debt and looking to cuts
its losses. The Algonquin Route was closed and the rails pulled up,
ending a remarkable era in local history. One citation stated: "November
23rd, 1915 to November 24h, 1995 -- after eighty years plus a day,
the work was done in every way."
Rails being pulled up on Alderdale trestle
Efforts have been made to have sections of the rail bed become
a part of the burgeoning trail system in the province. The CNR is
apparently turning over large sections of the line between North
Bay and Sudbury this month. Different groups will work to develop
a co-ordinated four-season recreation trail with an eye on economic
development for that region.
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