THE earliest railroad scheme in which Port Hope took an interest was a proposed tram-line to Bewdley at the head of Rice Lake. This undertaking was agitated in 1832 and on the 9th of January, 1833 Postmaster David Smart made application to the Legislature for authority to construct such a line. Permission was granted but with that the scheme seems to have dropped.
By 1845 the Toronto and Kingston Junction Railway had begun to be pushed and in October a public meeting of the inhabitants of Port Hope was held to consider the project. Nothing definite was accomplished during the ensuing six years but in 1851 a deputation was sent to a railroad meeting at Kingston and the same year a grant of £20 was voted by the Council to aid in making a survey of the proposed route. In 1852 the Grand Trunk Company absorbed this lesser road along with many similar ones and began the construction of its through line from Portland to Sarnia. Its original capital was £9,500,000 which was soon increased to £12,000,000. By January of 1856 its road was complete with the exception of gaps between Brockville and Toronto and Guelph and Sarnia. Contracts were let during the spring to Mr. John Fowler for the section from Grafton to Port Hope, to Mr. Betts for the viaduct and to Messrs. Humphrey and Harris for the section from Port Hope to the western limit of Hope Township.
The latter gentlemen had their contract completed first and on Sept. 1st, 1856 they invited several prominent citizens of the Town to an excursion over their line. ” A goodly number were at the depot grounds to see the Iron Horse harnessed for the first time in the history of the town to cars freighted with regular live Canadians.” Arrived at the Clarke line the excursionists watched the completion of Messrs. Spence and McKenzie’s section, which joined them to Toronto. On their return to town supper and complimentary speeches closed the proceedings.
A week later Mr. Fowler opened his section with an excursion party from Cobourg, who were also taken over the Hope section. Several Port Hope citizens accompanied the party on their return to Cobourg, where a banquet was served according to the usual custom.
Meanwhile the Albert Bridget across the valley was in a fair way toward completion. Contractor Betts began work in May and by the end of August all his supporters were in place. They were built of white brick with stone foundations, averaged thirty feet in height and were fifty-six in number. With extra work the heavy task of completing the bridge was accomplished by October 13th. The following graphic account of its opening is taken from the Port Hope Standard of the 14th inst :-
“Yesterday at half past twelve the cry of all ready was announced by some one on the great Viaduct in front of the town, and in a few seconds a shrill whistle and the sound of a bell was heard from near the depot. Presently a rumbling noise and puffing of the iron horse approached us, when with a few others we were asked to take a ride on the rail’ across the Albert Viaduct. We of course availed ourselves of the pleasure and off we set at a rapid rate about 40 feet above the locality where the dismal swamp’ and the Canadian Nightingale’ existed but a few months back. As soon as we cleared the curve on the west end of the viaduct steam was put on and the locomotive went over the rest at the rate of at least 45 miles per hour. It then returned on Monday, October 27th, 1856, the first through train from Toronto to Montreal stopped at Port Hope. There was no ceremonial and no crowd. Its stay was but of ten minutes’ duration. It consisted of three first and three second class cars and among its passengers were Chief justice Sir John B. Robinson and Mr. Ross, Chief Engineer of the Company.
There have been many changes in the Grand Trunk since that first through train crossed the viaduct. Four passenger trains a day were then deemed sufficient to accommodate the travelling public, while now twelve are none too many. The engines and cars of the present day tower far above the odd old vehicles of the early railroad and travel at double the speed. The road-bed both east and west has been moved, owing to the inroads of the Lake. But chief of all the old Albert Bridge has been replaced by a magnificent double-track structure on huge stone piersthe finest piece of engineering work in Town. The Grand Trunk Company built this bridge themselves and spent seven summers in its construction. (1887-1893.) The foreman of the work and the man on whom the greater part of the responsibility lay was Mr. Thomas White of Port Hope, who may look with pride on the result of his work. The bridge was at first intended to be single-track and several piers had been erected before the order was countermanded. The stone used in these piers was quarried at Foxboro, back of Belleville. The foundations were laid on rock bottom at an average depth of fifteen feetin many cases a depth of twenty feet being required. There were thirty-two piers erected with spans of various lengths, the longest being about seventy feet. Not the least interesting part of the construction lay in the fact that the bridge was built on a curve. While work on the bridge was in progress, traffic was not at all delayed and at the same time the line was being double-tracked to the east.
All the frontier towns seem at one date to have had ambitions towards securing railroad communication to the north and to Cobourg belongs the honour of completing the first such line, for on Friday, December 3oth, 1854, the Cobourg and Peterboro’ Railroad was officially opened. Meanwhile Port Hope had decided to build to the same point and a charter had been secured in 1846 for that purpose. The line was surveyed in 1852 by Messrs. Keefer and Tate and £50,000 stock was subscribed to by the municipality in December of that year. The plans of the projectors of the road now suffered a change and for some reason it was decided to build first to Lindsay. The contract for the Port Hope and Lindsay Railway was let in May 1853 to Messrs. Zimmerman and Balch, who were to complete the road by the end of 1854. Unfortunately construction dragged for lack of funds and by the end of the contract time only the grading had been done. The Town thereupon increased its subsidies by £50,000 in 1854 and £70,000 in 1855. It was not until September of 1856 that track-laying was started. On the 6th of that month the rails were put down across Walton Street. A month later ten miles had been covered and on the 5th of November the official opening excursion was run to Millbrook in a box car. Early the following year the road was pushed through to Lindsay. The same year Messrs. Tate and Fowler leased the road and contracted to build the Peterboro’ Branch for £50,000, Port Hope providing £30,000. The work was rapidly done and the road opened May 31st, 1858.
In 1869 the name Midland Railway was applied to the system and two years later it had reached Beaverton. By 1873 Orillia was connected with Beaverton and in 1878 the terminus was at Midland. The road was finally consolidated with the Grand Trunk Railway by an Act of Parliament of 1893.
The early lessees of the road from all accounts had much difficulty in keeping out of the sheriff’s clutches and for days at a time not a train could run on the road. One amusing incident typical of this is told concerning Mr. Fowler who leased the Port Hope and Peterboro Railway in 1859. To quote the Guide of July 5th :” Mr. John Fowler announced last week that he would run an excursion train to Peterboro on the ‘ Fourth’ and that the charge per head for the trip to and fro would be the moderate sum of 50 cents. The train from Peterboro arrived at the usual hour, the band which accompanied it playing ‘ Yankee Doodle.’ 9.30 A. M. was the time fixed to leave for Peterboro’ but alas for the pleasure-seekers who had assembled at the station, when the fingers of the Town Clock pointed in that direction, Mr. Deputy Sheriff Benson by virtue of an execution against the goods and chattels of the lessee took possession of the ‘ Queen ‘ (engine.) About eleven o’clock the locomotive ‘ Clifton’ was procured from Mr. Superintendent Williams of the Lindsay Line and being harnessed to the Peterboro’ train, those who had hung about the station for two mortal hours were soon speeding rapidly northward.”