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The Craigleith Heritage Depot (Posted On: Monday, September 08, 2008)

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With the Grand Opening of the recently restored Craigleith Heritage Depot scheduled for September 21st, we asked Suzanne Ferri, Curator, Town of The Blue Mountains, Craigleith Heritage Depot to provide us with some background history on the Depot and the Railway.   The Grand Opening is on September 21st starting at 1:00pm and all details are listed below.  Make sure you read the details if you plan on attending this open to the public event because there are some key things you won’t want to miss.

 

This is an excellent read and we thank the Craigleith Heritage Depot for their contribution.

The Changing Railways

In Upper Canada (what is now southern Ontario), the railway boom began in earnest in the 1840s. The provincial government committed to help fund new “long-line” railways (more than 49 miles in length). The government and business owners were keen to see rail links from the established colonies of Upper and Lower Canada to the awakening west. Canada's first long-line railroad met this need. It was the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railroad, extending from Toronto to the Lake Simcoe community of Allandale (south of Barrie) and then to the little village of Hen and Chickens (now Collingwood) on Georgian Bay. The route would cut shipping times to and from the Canadian west by as much as a week.

The line was built in the mid-1850s, opening the way for trade and travel for settlers in the communities along the south shore of Georgian Bay. Although its name referred to the three lakes the railway connected, the initials OS&H brought about a local nickname for the line -- the Oats, Straw and Hay railroad, referring to its most-prominent cargo.

Sir Sandford Fleming played a major role in the creation of the OS&H Railway. Just 28 years old at the time, Fleming had surveyed the area, purchased properties and noted sources of stone and timber, the essential materials of railway building. He put his remarkable talents to work as civil engineer, surveyor, and construction manager for the OS&H.

Within a few years the new railway was in financial trouble. Like many other early railways in North America, the line wasn't getting as much passenger and freight business as its builders had imagined. Thus, in 1858, the railway was reorganized and became the Northern Railway of Canada. The new company was more successful and fixed many of the problems that had plagued the OS&H, including a large number of claims for livestock losses because no fence existed between the railway and the adjacent farms along its route.

Over the next decade, the farmers, millers, businesspeople and residents of southern Georgian Bay joined the chorus of those lobbying to have railway extensions to their communities. On February 5, 1868, a public meeting took place, in St. Vincent, to launch an organized drive to obtain an extension of the Northern line to Meaford and, eventually to Owen Sound.

At one meeting called to discuss a special property tax levy for the purpose of supporting the extension, Richard Rorke outlined the need. For example, he pointed out, farmers could easily spend an entire day, in all sorts of weather, driving their goods to Collingwood, waiting to unload, and then driving home again. “I believe all are agreed on the idea that a Railroad in connection with the Northern would be a great benefit and advantage to the Townships that are concerned in this Extension,” Rorke said. With the strong backing of Sir Sandford Fleming and his family -- his parents and siblings were, by then, residents of Craigleith -- the North Grey extension was built and opened by 1872.

Besides opening the area for to the local lumber and stone and mills, the railway sparked the beginnings of the tourist industry. Trains stopped near the Georgian Bay Summer Resort, at Delphi (opposite modern-day Georgian Peaks) and at the Blue Mountain Mineral Springs where visitors could partake of “valuable waters ... unequaled as a remedy for Rheumatism, Dyspepsia, Kidney and Skin Diseases.”

The railway became the main transporter of goods, passengers and mail. By the 1880s, there were two trains, each day, making the round trip between Meaford and Toronto. In fact, it wasn't unusual to send a letter from one of the North Grey line communities to Toronto on the morning train and receive a reply on the evening train. Still, the railways continued to struggle, financially, and mergers became common. In 1888, both the Northern Railway and its chief competitor, the Hamilton and Northwestern Railroad, were taken over by the expanding Grand Trunk Railroad. That arrangement succeeded for a while, but railways continued to struggle. In 1916, a Canadian government special commission recommended that all railways, except the Canadian Pacific, be amalgamated and nationalized to form the new Canadian National Railway. Negotiations between the Grand Trunk and CN began in 1919 and, in 1923, the Grand Trunk's lines -- including the North Grey extension -- became part of the CN network.

Canadian National operated the line profitably for the next three decades but, by the late 1950s, the growth of the automobile and truck transport were taking their toll on the railways. Passenger service on the North Grey line ended on July 2, 1960. Many local residents, that day, took the opportunity to enjoy one last ride and, for the first time in years, all the available seats were filled. Mail service on the rail line ended that same day, but freight service, primarily serving various industrial operations along the line, continued. By 1984 freight service along the line had slowed to a handful of trains each year. CN decided to abandon the line and put the right-of-way up for sale.

The line's future became the subject of debate. Some favored retaining the tracks for a steam train or local commuter line. Many abutting property owners made offers to buy the right-of-way adjacent to their lands. In the end, however, the municipalities accepted a widely-supported proposal to create a hiking, bicycle and ski trail, and Georgian Trail was born. The tracks were removed and, with a few exceptions, the Trail follows the route of the North Grey line

Craigleith Depot Train Station

In 1872, Andrew Greig Fleming, father of Sir Sandford Fleming, sold a parcel of land to the Northern Railway Company for the purpose of building a train station to serve his newly founded community, Craigleith. The lot was located on an old native trail, surveyed by Charles Rankin in 1834, and known as Lakeshore Road. By September 1872, the Collingwood to Meaford branch of the Northern Railway, also known as the North Grey Extension Company or North Grey Railway, had been constructed and was operating to Meaford. The newly laid track was built across the former Fleming quarry which had supplied building stone for many early structures, including the Craigleith school building and the Collingwood lighthouse.

The first station at Craigleith was probably no more than a platform. Sometime between 1878 and 1882 the station building was lovingly constructed from local timber, and included the most modern feature in railway design, the rounded turret. The turret provided an indoor view of the track from both directions. Inside the station there were separate waiting rooms for men and women and living quarters for the station master and his family. Legend has it that it was the first station master’s wife who planted the famous Craigleith lilacs, given to her by Elizabeth Fleming, Sir Sandford Fleming’s mother. The daily timetable was recorded on the blackboard and hung on the platform, next to the waiting room door. By 1881, there were six trains a day at Craigleith Station. In 1882, the Northern Railway Company was purchased by the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1923, the Grand Trunk became part of the new rail company, the Canadian National Railway. The Craigleith Station would remain under the auspices of the Canadian National Railway until rail service ended in 1960.

The Craigleith train station became the heart and soul of this developing community. It brought a sense of pride to these early Victorian settlers, symbolizing progress, prosperity and civilization. Rail travel became the main mode of transportation, changing the way people could conduct their daily routines. Now people were able to travel to distant areas for the first time, and deliver goods without having to undertake the uncomfortable and time consuming task of navigating early roads by horse-drawn vehicle. Many heartfelt hellos and goodbyes took place on the station platform. The noon mail train would be anxiously awaited, bringing news from far away. Ears would turn for the sound of the oncoming train bringing that special letter, package or loved one.

The convenience of the railway allowed businesses to be created and to prosper. Shipping goods by train instead of by road or boat to Toronto cut the long journey down to less than one day. The ski industry at the Blue Mountain was one of these businesses which benefited by the railway and the Craigleith station. After the private ski facilities were opened to the public in the 1940’s, the ski train phenomenon developed. Torontonians would board the 7:00 am train from Union Station and ride the rails to Blue Mountain and Jozo Weider’s popular new ski resort. From all reports, the ride on the ski train was just as enjoyable as riding the slopes.

After rail service ended in 1960, the Station was purchased by a former mayor of Collingwood and used as a cottage for several years. In 1966, Kenn Knapman decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to own a piece of railway history. No sooner did Knapman buy the property than he discovered that it was slated for destruction. Knapman and his wife Suyrea fought long and hard to save their beloved building and success came on October 26, 1968 when they opened their restaurant and de facto museum as “The Depot”. Kenn and Suryea continued to run the restaurant serving tourists, locals and even many celebrities for the next thirty-five years. Many fond memories were created over steak dinners at “The Depot”. Some of the artifacts collected by the Knapmans are on display at the Depot today.

In 2001, with the support of the Craigleith Heritage Committee and many concerned citizens, the Craigleith Depot was purchased by the Town of The Blue Mountains. The fact that the Craigleith Station continues to stand today is not by chance, but by the dedication and hard work of many volunteers and supporters. The Craigleith Heritage Committee and Blue Mountain Watershed Trust Foundation undertook many years of fundraising campaigns to ensure that the building be fully restored and reopened to the public as The Craigleith Heritage Depot Community Interpretation Centre.

The Town of The Blue Mountains recognizes the importance of this historic building and is proud to have it stand today, fully restored, the last remaining station on Canada’s first “long line” railroad and an exquisite example of 19th century railway architecture.

Grand Opening Information

The Town of The Blue Mountains is pleased to extend a very special invitation to the community to attend the grand opening of The Craigleith Heritage Depot on Sunday, September 21st, 2008 from 100 p.m. 400 p.m., 113 Lakeshore Rd. East, Craigleith. The Craigleith Heritage Depot is housed in a circa 1878 railway station that has been lovingly restored through the dedication and hard work of Town staff and many volunteer citizens. The event will highlight the history of the area through numerous displays, spanning back in time 445 million years! Keynote speaker, archaeologist Charles Garrad will be in attendance. The Grand Opening will also include children’s activities by Elephant Thoughts and tours of the Craigleith Schoolhouse.

The event will be the Town’s first ever ‘Zero Waste’ event. Join in the fun by walking or riding your bike to the event along the Georgian Trail and retrace the route of the historical railways.

There will be no onsite parking. Shuttle buses will be available from Town Hall in Thornbury, or from Blue Mountain Resort, Blue Mountain Inn parking lot. For further information contact Suzanne Ferri (contact information below). To R.S.V.P. to the event, please contact Jody Hodgkinson at 519.599.3131 ext. 254 or toll free at 1.888.258.6867. Please note that residents and visitors may now contact the Craigleith Heritage Depot by phone at 705.444.2601, by fax at 705.444.2793 or by email at sferri@thebluemountains.ca.

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