Origins of the B&W Railroad
The crying desperate need for a better communications system linking the Rideau country and the St. Lawrence River led to the birth of the Brockville and Westport Railway.
On March 4th, 1888 the first train completed its maiden trip from Westport to Brockville. For 64 years, the railway served Leeds well and faithfully until hard times forced its closure in 1952.
While the railway was not completed until 1888, the germ of the idea for the system was actually born 18 years earlier, in Farmersville, now the village of Athens.
A group of Farmersville folk began talking about a rail line connecting the Rideau and Brockville in 1870. By 1874, they were gathering funds for the project, but they failed to get the financing they sought. Their project died on the drawing board.
In 1882 a colourful railroad character named Robert G. Hervey arrived in Brockville from New York. He was representing the Knickerbocker Trust Company of New York City, a firm noted for investing in projects for which funding was hard to secure.
Hervey was an engineer, a crackerjack fund raiser and a go-getter, a man who always set his goal and then reached it. After examining the situation and analyzing the financial possibilities, Hervey decided that a Brockville and Westport Railway was feasible. Accordingly he set about aising funds.
Hervey’s idea was ambitious, for he projected a railway starting in Brockville, travelling across Leeds County to Rideau, hitting Westport and then streaking through the heavily timbered north of the Rideau heading for Sault Ste.Marie.
He moved up and down the route of the proposed line, talking to township councils, village officials, leading citizens and the average man in the street.
All communities along the line readily agreed to pitch in, with the result that Hervey was able to start construction in 1885. Hervey, the fund raiser, then turned railway builder. He got the contract, backed by the Knickerbocker Company and the B&W began to take shape.
In those days, Kingston Locomotive Works built nearly all railway locomotives used in Canada. So Hervey ordered his engines from Kingston.
The Rideau Canal, busy with its freight business, proved to be a lifesaver. With no railway line connecting Kingston and Westport, there was no way an engine could be driven to the new line. Hervey solved the problem by hiring a barge to bring the engine to Westport via the Rideau Canal. Around March 1, 1888, the first locomotive rode proudly into Westport aboard a Rideau Canal barge. A horse drawn flatbed hauled it from the lake to the Westport station.
On March 4, the historic journey began in Westport. Leading a group of Westport citizens aboard the train, were three prominent Westport businessman, W.H. Fredenburgh, G.E.Adams and H.W.Lockwood. Until the line was built Westport’s only means of transport to Brockville was via the stagecoach. Stagecoaches made daily runs both ways, though the roads were mere wagon trails, hot and dusty in summer, cool and rutted in spring and fall, and virtually impassable in winter.
Hervey was never able to extend his railway from Westport to Sault Ste Marie, since his construction funds ran out.
Though it was a painfully slow journey, with numerous stops along the way, the B&W became the most popular mode of transportation from Rideau to Brockville.
Hervey’s fund raising had a hand in the numerous stops. Each community that raised funds was guaranteed a station in return for donations.
Thus the route touched Newboro, Crosby, Philipsville, Delta, Lyndhurst, Athens, Glen Elbe, Unionville (Forthton), Glen Buell, Seeley and Lyn before the final run into Brockville.
The B&W carried business people, picnickers and high school students, as well as an assortment of freight. A monthly pass cost $5. and Mary McCann of Westport used to recall riding the B&W to school in Athens. She would board the train in Crosby and after high school closed for the day, would board the train in Athens for the trip home.
At one time approximately 100 high school students rode to classes daily on the B&W. Students from Lyn and Athens used the train to attend Brockville Collegiate Institute.
Daily the B&W carried mail from Westport to Brockville, dropping off sacks of mail along the way. Brockville mail was carried on the late afternoon train. The railway also had its special days. Tuesday was set aside as “Excursion” day for trips into Brockville. Friday was “cheese day” when cheese from half a dozen cheese factories in Leeds was placed aboard to go to the cheese exchange in Brockville for grading and sale to other points. Saturday was “livestock day” when cattle cars were added to the train to carry cattle, sheep and pigs to market in Brockville.
In 1910, the Knickerbocker Trust sold the railway to the Canadian Government, apparently well aware that revenue would decline in view of the rising popularity of the automobile and competition from trucking firms hauling freight.
Under government control the B&W did well for a decade or so then the line began losing money. The Canadian National Railways took over the line but it still lost money.
After a half million dollars in deficits in six years 1945-51, the CNR decided to abandon the venture. The line was closed down in 1952. (Recorder and Times, various editions)
Within Elizabethtown the B&W had four stops, it started at the Church Street Brockville Station, then on to Lyn, then a stop at Seeley, Glen Buell and Unionville (Forthton) before leaving Elizabethtown for its next stop at Glen Elbe.
For more information on the Brockville and Westport Railroad go to: www.railwaybob.com
Memories of the B&W Railroad
When the rail line closed in 1952, the old steel rails were taken up and sold to the Gillette Razor Blade Company. Americans and Canadians shaved for years on B&W Steel.
The old roadbed was dismantled, the log ties sold to farmers and the raised sections bulldozed over. In a few places between Brockville and Westport the old roadbed can still be seen intact, but minus the rails and logs.
Though the old B&W train was highly popular with pic-nickers and tourists it gave a slow tedious journey to the businessman.
The line was only 45 miles in length, but the train took a minimum of two hours and 40 minutes to travel from Brockville to Westport, and much longer if weather conditions were poor. The train made 16 stops en route, including two for water for the steam engine. One of the water towers was installed at Lyn. The early wooden coaches were supplied with hard heavy-framed seats, with a thin covering of straw of horsehair, held down by slippery, hard leather covers. Later the coaches were equipped with plush covered seats.
One of the famous trains of the old B&W Railway was the “Jitney”, a coach especially designed to carry students to and from high schools along the rail line. The ‘Jitney” consisted of a standard railway coach with a built in diesel engine for propulsion. The coach carried Westport students south to high school as far away as Athens. Probably the most famous passenger was “Jitney” Jim Lyons of Westport. He was born aboard the Jitney in 1927. He was the son of Frank and Bedelia Lyons. His mother was unaware that the birth was impending when she boarded the coach.
Don Fulford of Athens has fond memories of the old B&W:
“I remember when I used to visit my brother at Soperton, I would tell the conductor where I had to get off. I would board at Athens and when we approached Soperton, the train would stop at my brother’s pasture and I would get off. The conductor asked me when I was going back and I told him. He said he would have the whistle blown to let me know the train was stopping, and I would board the train right there.”
“They were pretty good to nursing mothers too. If a baby aboard the train needed milk the train would stop at a farmer’s field, the engineer and fireman would get off with a pail, milk a cow and bring the bucket of warm milk back to the baby’s mother.”
“It was also a common occurrence to stop and pick berries in season. The train crew and passengers would get out and fill buckets and pails with berries from the fields.”
In the big snowstorm of 1931, the B&W locomotive buried itself in a huge snowdrift at Forthton, and was stuck for hours. “You couldn’t see anything but the back end sticking out of the drift. In those days there were no snowplows, but a big rotary plow had just been delivered to Brockville. This plow came up the B&W line and plowed out the engine.” (Recorder & Times, Darling Scrapbook 4, pg 97)
When the Brockville and Westport Railway was built a small station was erected at Glen Elbe, a mile north of Forthton. Old timers used to pay 10¢ to ride from Glen Elbe into Athens. (Recorder & Times Feb 9, 1978)
is a paperback book written by Edna B. Chant and was published in 1998. Edna Chant was a reported with the “Athens Reporter” for 23 years and she is the author of four books.
Her book, which is made up of news clippings from various sources, from which we have taken excerpts, gives us a glimpse into life in our area for over a hundred year period ending with stories from 1975.
While her book covers many areas of Leeds and Grenville we have only focused on the area within Elizabethtown-Kitley Township.
The Brockville and Westport Railway, known simply as the B&W was a great boon to the County of Leeds. The company which was also empowered to operate a steamboat on the St. Lawrence River and Rideau received its charter on Feb 15, 1871, but nothing further came of the project until March 25, 1884, when a new project was launched to build a railway from Brockville to Westport and from there to the shore of Georgian Bay, and from there to Sault Ste Marie. The line like many other ventures of that period, never reached its objective. However by March, 1886, the lie was completed to Lyn Junction, and by July 1st, it reached to Brockville. But no funds were forthcoming from the Provincial Government. For the first decade of operations the B&W earned a surplus, and things looked bright, but expenses were so high the company became known as “The Bad Wages and Seldom See Money Railway”. It was take over by an American Trust Co. in 1903, and by 1910 the owners put it up for sale. On Dec 14, 1911 it became part of the Canadian Northern System. It serviced Brockville, Lyn, Forthton, Athens, Delta, Phillipsville, Crosby, Newboro and Westport. But the line lost money with the increase of cars, buses and trucks until at the end of June 1952 service was suspended. Ne last train pulled into Brockville on August 30. On Friday, August 14 1964, a plaque commemorating the railway was unveiled at Westport near the former railway station, with several prominent persons present. The unveiling was done by S.J.Sully, former Westport stationmaster for 37 years. “Sid”, as he was called by everyone, loved his job and every task received his personal attention. If you ask any of the older residents of Westport what they miss most in the present era, their answer will likely be “We sure miss the old B&W.” It seems that Westport has never been the same since they lost the railroad. To the younger generation it is only a name They can show you where the tracks used to be, but they never knew the thrill of hearing the whistle, or the excitement of watching the train chug up to the station, and unloading the varied cargo of passengers and express.
On March 4 1888 the first train ran over the B&W tracks. Nineteen passengers travelled from Brockville to Westport on the B&W on March 12th, 1888 and reported an enjoyable trip. For the time being, the train will go up the line one day and return down the line the following day. Much work still has to be done but all have reason to be proud of what was accomplished so far.
The Athen’s Reporter, as they pertain to the B&W Railroad
February 12th, 1889
A passenger on the B&W Stage last Wednesday had one of her heels frozen.
March 12th, 1889
A large force of men have been shovelling out the snow drifts on the B&W during the past five or six days. On Sunday night a heavy freight train arrived here from Lyn. The line was this morning clear of snow from Westport to a point three miles east of Athens, and it is expected that regular trains will be running again tomorrow.
March 19th, 1889
The snow blockade on the B&W which was raised on Sunday of last week was followed by a further blockade by the G.T.R. refusing to allow the B&W to pass over their line from Lyn to Brockville until a settlement was effected of the large account due them. Manager Hervey came down with the “Spot Cash” and was also able to secure a further lease of running powers over the G.T.R. line until such time as the B&W track shall be laid on the two miles yet unfinished. Traffic was resumed on the road on Saturday (Inst.) and regular trains are now running over the road on scheduled time. Contractor Knowlton of Newboro passed down yesterday to make arrangements for outing down the rails on the two miles yet unfinished.
March 26th, 1889
It is said that arrangements are almost completed for finishing the laying of the track on the B&W from Brockville to Lyn. The iron for the overhead bridge will probably be on the ground this week. If these rumours are correct, another month will see that section of the road in running trim.
April 2nd, 1889
The B&W R.R. must be a great boon to the back country at this season of the year. The train passes here every day (LYN) loaded with passengers.
Saturday April 27, 1889
The run off on the B&W, near this place (LYN) on Wednesday, might possibly have been saved by the employment of a few more section hands. “A stitch in time saves nine.”
April 30th, 1889
Railway Business: The following are among the railway honuacs [sic] voted on by the Dominion Parliament:
To the Brockville, Westport and Sault Ste. Marie Railway, $64,000. for 20 miles, from Westport to Palmer Rapids.
To the Thousand Island Railway $54,000. from the St. Lawrence River at Gananoque to a junction with the B&W.
Tuesday May 7, 1889
The twenty mile extension of the B&W west of Westport, will pass through a portion of the country rich in phosphate deposits.
The B&W has a full fledged news agent who supplies the daily papers’ The Reporter will be for sale on the train hereafter, commencing with tonight.
The work of ballasting the B&W is progressing rapidly. A large force of men, including about twenty Italians are working at the gravel pit and in the lifting gangs.
Monday May 13, 1889
The “R.G.Hervey,” as one of the B&W engines is called, has a new bell, replacing the old one, which was cracked voice, used to emit a discordant warning to the unwary. The new bell is a dandy.
December 31st, 1889
The B&W station at Unionville is being divided. One section will be removed to Gilbert’s Crossing and the other will be moved up to the Addison Road.
The Athens Reporter and County of Leeds Advertiser
Tuesday Nov 20, 1894 (date show is the date on the paper, not the correct date)
On Friday evening shortly after leaving Lyn, the B&W express struck a cow with disastrous results. The cow was instantly killed and the engine and tender derailed. No serious damage was occasioned to the train and it reached Athens only about three hours late.
Tuesday Jan. 8, 1895
The B&W was several hours late yesterday morning, the train being held over to allow voters to mark their ballots in the Crosby election.
Tuesday Jan. 15, 1895
The Mallorytown stage failed to arrive last night, the road being blocked with drifts. The other stages were only slightly behind schedule time and the B&W express came through without delay. (Athens)
Feb. 12, 1895
Reports from woodsmen put the depth of snow on the level at from three to six feet.(Lyn) Surely the regularity of the train service on the B&W this winter should convince the back country folks of the reliability of a mail service on that route. At present it takes three days to get a return mail from Delta or west of this to Lyn, and the same from Addison or Greenbush.
Tuesday Sep 10, 1895
The Westport Mail Service
The deputation from the villages along the line of the Brockville and Westport Railway that went to Ottawa to interview the postmaster general with regard to the B&W Railway, returned today and report that no difficulty will be experienced in the railway getting the carriage of the mails, provided that the railway will give proper security for the due conveyance of the mails. In fact an order in council was passed as far back as October, 1891, providing for the transfer under these conditions.