Rail Returns to Gloucester
Written by Philip Jago
As workers stacked lengths of railway in the median of Highway 174 just east of Montreal Road these last weeks, few realized that they were making history. The last time rails were seen in those parts was in 1939/40 when Canadian National dismantled its “L’Orignal Subdivision” between Hawkesbury and a location in Ottawa’s Overbrook neighbourhood.
The L’Original Subdivision was once part of the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) or Canada’s 2nd transcontinental railway established by Sir William McKenzie and Sir Donald Mann to compete directly with the storied Canadian Pacific Railway, completed several decades earlier as a means of connecting east with west.
Construction of the “L’Original Sub.”, known variously as the Ottawa and Grenville Subdivisions began in the early 1900s with the intention of making it part of a line running from Montreal to Ottawa from whence one route headed to Toronto with the other, following the Ottawa Valley, being completed through to Vancouver.
Within the expanded boundaries of east end Ottawa, the CNoR built stations at Cumberland, Rivington (2-miles west of Cumberland), Orleans, Hiawatha Park, Cyrville, and an initial terminal located on Henderson Avenue in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood.
The first train to arrive at Orleans was on November 30, 1909, while through service between Montreal and Ottawa began on December 5; ultimately, service was extended to Toronto and Vancouver but that’s another story for another time.
Financial difficulties brought on by over-aggressive expansion and the onset of World War 1 led to the demise of the CNoR. On November 20, 1918, the Canadian Government assumed control and appointed a new Board of Directors, ultimately to the establishment of Canadian National Railways.
Although portions of the CNoR continue to be used by Canadian National throughout Canada, such was not the case for the L’Original Subdivision. Service went into a long slow decline and by July 7, 1939, Canadian National received permission to abandon the line between Hawkesbury and Hurdman, a point where the line crossed Canadian Pacific’s Sussex Subdivision, now the Vanier Parkway. The last scheduled train was on Saturday, July 28, 1939. With the onset of the war, little time was lost in dismantling the track and related infrastructure, approximately 56.6 miles, to aid in Canada’s war effort.
Today, the Canadian Northern right of way is part of a hydro line in the Cyrville, Beacon Hill South and Orleans areas and is readily visible from Highway 174 from just east of the St-Laurent Shopping Centre until almost Montreal Road where the line veers to the left to cross Green’s Creek[i] from whence it then crosses St-Joseph Boulevard at the intersection with Bearbrook Road, descending a grade through several rock cuts at the back of the Orleans Fruit Farm and then running parallel to Highway 174 all the way to Trim Road, east of which it follows a route away from the highway re-emerging at the bottom of a spectacular rock precipice to parallel the highway through Rivington (follow the pole line) to a point just to the west of Cameron Street in Cumberland where 174 runs directly on the old trackbed to the intersection of Old Montreal Road and Route 174, just to the east of Canaan Road, the approximately municipal boundary. To the best of this author’s knowledge, only one structure survives, the station at Cumberland which sits close to its original location to the west of Cameron Street.
It has been a long time since 1939 but it is heartening to see the return of the railway to the northeast end of the city.
“A Brief History, Champlain Street”, The Orleans Star, March 3, 2016, thanks to Denis Gagnon and L. Bruce Chapman
Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages,https://churcher.crcml.org/
Jim Christie, Engineering and Contract Record, https://archive.org/details/engineeringcontr231torouoft/page/n164/mode/1up?view=theater
Leslie Goodwin and Joan Scott, Railways of Gloucester and Beyond! Ottawa: Gloucester Historical Society, 2015, ISBN 978-0-978479-1-5
[i] The Green’s Creek trestle, now a popular hiking area in the NCC Greenbelt, was a spectacular piece of engineering for its time. Only the footings survive what is termed as “a steel viaduct with concrete footings and trestle approaches [which] carries the track across a valley 800 feet wide and 100 feet in depth. This valley contains a flat 800 feet wide and at this point, large ice-jams occur in the spring. The steam viaduct occupies the central portion of the valley and is 410 feet in length, being divided into 60-foot spans with 80-foot towers and an 80-foot span crossing the stream.
As today’s engineers building the LRT extension have faced numerous challenges associated with soil conditions in the east end, so did the builders of the Canadian Northern line. In building the foundations for the trestle (still visible today), they encountered “from five to six feet of sand and clay, underlying which is a deep stratum of hard blue clay. Between these two is a layer of driftwood about one foot thick, bedded in sand.” The excavations were made 12-feet square and at an average depth of 11.5 feet, the maximum being 15.2. J.H. Ryckman, “The construction of Small Concrete Piers”, Description of Work on a line of the C.N.R. Together with Tables of Costs” in Engineering and Contract Record, http://archive.org/stream/engineeringcontr231torouoft#page/n165/mode/1up