Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Northern Railway/Georgian Trail

Closely associated with industry in the harbour at Meaford was the Northern Railway whose western terminus was here from 1872 until 1984 when service was discontinued.  The route was retained however, and today this is the Georgian Trail, extending 34 km. from Collingwood to Meaford.

It's hard to imagine today the excitement that preceded the coming of the railway.  Towns promised 'bonuses' (piles of cash) to attract the railroad, and 'Mad Cap' Capreol, the entrepreneur who initially incorporated the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway, was the man who could make it happen.  In fact he was fired before the first sod was ever turned, but the railway, renamed the Northern Railway, was built from Toronto to Collingwood in 1855.  This is 'TheToronto', the 2nd locomotive built for the company.  The Northern beat the Great Western as the first working railway in Canada West by 6 months.

One of the early railway maps for this part of Ontario (then Canada West, a British colony), shows the main route and three extensions.  Initially they resisted expansion westwards, and a rival, the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway slipped by on a route to the southwest to reach Owen Sound.  Shortly after that, the North Grey Branch was built, extending from Collingwood through Craigleith and Thornbury to Meaford by 1872.  Later branches to Muskoka and Penetanguishene were built.  The Muskoka Branch became the foundation of the rail route to northern Ontario, and eventually west to the prairies and is still in use.

Passenger service in Meaford was popular.  It would be quite a journey to get to Toronto otherwise in the early days.  The station was located right down on the docks, the grain elevator in the background here.  There is no trace of it today.

A blurry historical picture shows the steam train roaring across the fields east of Meaford.  Agricultural products were the major freight, so much so that the line became known as the 'Oats, Straw and Hay'.  Remember that in the early years, transport in Toronto was by horse and buggy, so feed for horses was actually very important.  There was a huge population of horses in the city, and they all needed their oats, straw and hay.  Horse manure was our first major urban pollution problem, in the 1890's!

Now the rail line is gone, and the Georgian Trail has taken its place, but the route is the same.  You can see it curving into town from the southeast right down to the docks.  Originally the rail line then curved around the headland on the right, encompassing the arrowhead on this diagram, and ending about the word 'ARE'.

The entire route of the trail runs from Meaford through Thornbury and Craigleith to Collingwood.  And it's all a very well maintained trail, easy for both bikes and pedestrians.  There's been a major effort to create, build, promote and maintain this trail.

This is the start of the trail down by the harbour.

It's entirely for non-motorized use.
I think there's some winter xc-skiing.

This is a stretch east of town - looks like an old railway bed, doesn't it!  I wonder how many users know the history.
The Craigleith Station still exists, and is run as a small museum.  It's on my list to visit.  When downhill skiing became popular around Blue Mountain in the 1950's, the Craigleith station would see hordes of skiers get off the weekend ski trains bringing people from Toronto.  It's still Ontario's best skiing area, but you can't get there by train anymore!


It's winter solstice today, a date I usually notice, because tomorrow the days will start getting longer.  The weather of course lags the celestial change by quite a bit, so the midpoint of winter won't be for another month here, but withing a week I'll be noticing the slightly longer days.  The first sign of spring to come.  I even got outside for 10 minutes to get some fresh air on the shortest day of the year!


  1. History with the photos and words, I wondered yesterday if any of the wheat from those elevators to the cargo ships would have come to New Zealand. WAY back in the days when we were just married ( wow,,, in 1962 and after) the wheat boat came into Auckland, and Hugh took his truck in, with the high sides and tail gate in place, and loaded about 8 ton for a poultry farm. Then, we both shovelled it all off by hand!!! This was once a month. Later on, grain silos were installed on the poultry farms and we delivered by hopper trucks, getting the grain from a firm near Auckland.How things change over the years. Love that train chugging through the snow covered tracks.Hope your allocated 10 minutes was a good time to be out there.

  2. I love the Craigleith is a beauty. I wish they would take a few more of the old rail beds around here and turn them into hiking trails.

  3. I’ve never seen a train staion quite like that one. Thanks for sharing, FG

  4. What a lovely place, think I'd enjoy exploring the museum.

  5. Hello, The train stations and museum are my favorite. We have old railway trail turned into a bike and hiking trail too. Have a happy day and weekend. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  6. We have many old railway beds that have been turned into trails around here. I love the history you shared here of the trains of yesteryear. I am glad we are gaining a bit more light each day. That's what the solstice means to me. :-)

  7. Thank you for helping to preserve and make us aware of your local history!

  8. Very interesting history. Stanwood had a train station until the early 1970s and it was torn down. About 5 years ago the town lead by the Margaret Haugan pushed for a new station. We got one---well it is a boarding platform nicely done. Freight trains come through quite often as usual but now--if there are any passengers to pick or or deposit the Amtrack comes through twice a day.

  9. Great old train and stations. I'll have to show your post to Ken. : )
    I for one will welcomes brighter mornings!!

  10. In the late 1800s rail lines were built everywhere and served their purpose for a while. We have a lot of abandoned rail lines, some have been turned into trails that are great. Thanks for giving us tours of your new habitat.

    Have a very happy and healthy holiday season and a great new year.

  11. Having spent my youngest years growing up in a small southwestern Ontario town right next to the railway station I've always had a fondness for railway lines, stations, and trains. Like you I too will be looking forward to longer days.

  12. Craigleath's former station is particularly eye catching.