Passing of the Farmer’s Friend
A good and faithful servant retires to a well earned rest
Gertrude E. Wheeler (nee Forth)
On August 30th, last year, the old B&W Railway of Leeds County, Ontario became only a memory — a fragment of Leeds County history.
The engine whistled a mournful note of farewell as it passed our little station of Forthton on it final trip from Westport to Brockville.
For 64 years it had served the farmers of Leeds County faithfully and well. But latterly because of the increasing popularity of trucks and buses, it was playing a losing game. A continuing deficit in returns brought about its abandonment.
Half a century ago, before the motor age, and the building of good highways, the old Brockville & Westport meant a great deal to the rural community; it was their railroad—part and parcel of their daily lives. Not only did it offer a novel means of travelling from place to place, but as a shipping medium it was a decided advantage to all district farmers. Tons of fertilizer, feed and road materials were unloaded regularly at country stations to be conveyed later by team and wagon to the farm homesteads. Outgoing freight from various points along the line consisted chiefly of livestock, butter and cheese. Every Friday ten carloads of the last named commodity were billed for Brockville.
The old B&W was, perhaps, Ontario’s most romantic railroad. In those unhurried days it rambled leisurely through a picturesque countryside translating ordinary mileage into terms of scenic charm.
Leaving Brockville on its daily week-day trips its first stop was at Lyn, a Rip Van Winkle village as quaintly lovely as its name.
Then it meandered further on an apparently unchartered course across prosperous farmlands where mild-eyed cows stood knee deep in clover or dreamed beneath the maples’ lavish shade.
Six miles from Lyn was Forthton Station. It was named after my grandfather, John Forth, who gave the railroad the land at this point through which it passed with the understanding that a station would be built there. The promise was kept, but with the clapboards hanging loose, and windows broken, the station is a mere ghost of its former self. The plank platform, now dilapidated and deserted was once the scene of happy rural travelling. The annual Sunday School picnic at Beverly Lake was a long anticipated event. On a sunny July morning over a hundred children and parents would board the train at Forthton for a wonderful day in the open.
The next stop west was Athens (Formerly Farmersville) a village mainly composed of retired farmers.
From there the train ambled on to Lyndhurst, a settlement near where the Briar Hill Gang lived in the ‘90’s terrifying all whom they choose to molest with their daring pranks.
The next station was Delta with its beautiful Beverly Lake—a resort for picnic parties.
A few miles from here took you to Plum Hollow where the Witch of Plum Hollow studied the tea leaves, and foretold the future with such startling accuracy that their clientele extended into the border states.
Crosby and Newboro were the only other stops further west before the B & W’s final destination at Westport about 45 miles from its starting point, Brockville.
Crosby is a tiny station hidden away in the woods.
Newboro was noted in those days as the place from which great quantities of iron ore were shipped by water to Ohio.
The B&W’s last run was a colourful chapter in the railroad’s history. Several local residents and former employees were on board to pay their last respects to a railway that had been a faithful servant and a loyal friend tom the farmers of the district since the ‘80’s.
Jack Radford, owner of the CFJR radio station in Brockville was among the group. He had with him a tape recording instrument to record the eventful trip in detail. This was later broadcast over CFJR.
Austin Cross of the Ottawa Evening Citizen was also a passenger.
The party included too, George T. Fulford, MP for Leeds County. In speaking of the trip, he said: “This is a very sad occasion. I’ve travelled on 154 railroads, but these are the saddest and most poignant miles I’ve ever travelled.”
Mr. Fulford concluded his remarks by expressing the hope that the old abandoned road might be used someday as a motor highway. Here indeed, is the germ of an idea which might well take root in the soil of progress. Where would we find greater scenic beauty in our province? And where, with the foundation already laid would it be possible to construct a motor way at such a comparatively small cost?
Conductor Pete Moore who had served the railroad for 44 years made the final trip. He had started on the road when he was sixteen. In those early days he fired with cord wood.
When asked what he had to say of the folks along the line, he exclaimed with hearty sincerity: “The meals I’ve eat, and the times I’ve had would fill a book.”
The scream of the old engine as it puffed past the forlorn country stations was fraught with pathos for the farmers and housewives who appeared at different points for a last goody. Most of them were elderly people who felt they were bidding farewell to a friend of more than half a lifetime, and to a railroad that had played an important part in the development of Leeds County.
Some waved flags in tribute, while others took photographs of the old B&W that in its gala days had carried as many as 250 passengers on its daily trip from Brockville to Westport and return.
Superintendent Curle was always proud of the railroad for which he worked. If anyone made a disparaging remark about the B&W he would retaliate loyally by saying: “It may not be the longest line in the country, but it’s just as WIDE.”
(Taken from the book “Country Musings” by Gertrude E. Wheeler)