When Kingston was a Rail Town

When Kingston was a Rail Town

By Eric Gagnon

Ontario’s urban growth of the late 19th Century required lumber, minerals, and wood for pulp. All these commodities were available north of Kingston, to be extracted and exploited by railway lines not yet built. Several proposed railways were promoted for the Kingston area: in 1846, the Wolfe Island, Kingston & Toronto Railway; in 1853, the Cataraqui & Peterborough Railway; in 1854, the Kingston & Smiths Falls Railway; in 1856 the Kingston & Newburgh Railway; in 1868, the Kingston & Frontenac Railway; in 1869, the Kingston & Madoc Railway.

Only one was successful – the Kingston & Pembroke (K&P) Railway. With a planned northern terminus on the Ottawa River and crossing two of its tributaries – the Mississippi and the Madawaska – all three rivers could bring forth lumber traffic. Development and settlement supplies could be shipped north, with agriculture and resource products shipped back south – to Kingston and beyond!

Later leased by Canadian Pacific, the line is still referred to in the local area as the K&P or in the vernacular, the Kick and Push. It was a lifeline connecting many small communities to a world that their inhabitants had little connection to, or interest in. Without the K&P and its southern terminus at Kingston, the city might have only had one railway reach its waterfront, not two. In the early natural resource exploitation and transportation boom, a year-round timber supply not hampered by winter freeze-up, unlike river transport, was desirable. The K&P only reached Renfrew to the north, not its namesake city of Pembroke, though earlier promoters were keen to link Lake Ontario with the mighty Ottawa River. A connection to a transcontinental line was also desirable, potentially adding traffic and receiving a share of that traffic.

With its request to build on Fort Frontenac lands refused, the K&P instead settled on Place d’Armes in 1873. Its principal address was listed as Place d’Armes in 1885. The original station of the K&P in Kingston was built there. A small two-stall engine shed and turntable was nearby, in use between 1877 and 1883, and the track continued across the water via a causeway to North Street.

From there, construction started north. Eleven acres of what was deemed swamp were filled in to provide land for the K&P yard, roundhouse, and turntable along the Inner Harbour. The track then crossed the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) at a diamond crossing protected by semaphore signals. The K&P car shop, built along Montreal Street, would burn in 1905 after some years of disuse. Still standing nearby is the Depot School, designed by John Power and opened in 1873. The K&P crossed the Grand Trunk by means of a diamond, west of the CN Outer Station.

Although the K&P had negotiated running rights with the GTR from River Street to near Brock and Ontario Streets in 1886, it requested and was approved construction of its own track between Brock Street and the K&P passenger station across from City Hall. Built in 1885 at a cost of $12,000 and measuring 65 x 24 feet, the stone station included stone from the demolished Market Battery nearby and it still stands. Designed by William Newlands, main floor wider central curved windows as well as other curved windows were crowned with coloured art glass fanlights. The bellcast roof featured six gabled dormers and a patterned slate covering topped by iron fringe work. The interior was finished in natural woods. A 125-foot covered passageway led to the station baggage room. With the end of passenger service, the baggage room was demolished on February 29, 1960. In the 1920s, large floral CPR lettering was part of the decorative station gardens. CP built a freight shed closer to the lake, and it was demolished in 1966. The station is still in use as Kingston’s Visitor Information Centre.

Two-thirds of total freight tonnage carried by the K&P in 1890 was lumber, and it was being rapidly depleted. There was little fertile soil to produce successful crops. In the K&P era, Snow Road held the distinction of being the single station shipping the most maple syrup in the Dominion of Canada. Mines produced apatite, lead, talc, feldspar, graphite, and mica. Shipped to Kingston and forwarded by the James Richardson Company to markets in the United States and Europe, these mineral deposits were comparatively small. For instance, the Wilbur mine near Lavant, yielded 143,000 tons between 1886 and 1900. It was said that in 1903 there was hardly a prospector in Ontario who searched beyond Frontenac and Hastings counties. It was also said that a year later, there was not a prospector who would remain in the area! New and far-away prospecting fields that were now open beckoned.

In 1890, Sydenham’s Foxton Company sold mica for $200 per ton. By 1914, the price was set at only six cents per pound. Feldspar mining began after 1900. Richardson’s Kingston Feldspar & Mining Co. shipped sizeable quantities by rail from operations like the Card mine, two miles west of the K&P station in Verona, and the Reynolds mine in Portland Township. Used for tile glazing with the opening of the Richardson Co.’s Frontenac Floor & Wall Tile Co. plant in Kingston, the Richardson quarries shipped 16,374 tons of feldspar in 1910. Some went to enamelware factories in New Jersey and Ohio.

Much of the freight traffic generated no wealth for Kingston or even the shareholders. The line could not fully develop Kingston’s hinterland, largely because its rail corridor could not sustain much economic development nor even livelihoods. But the line was popular in later years with summer vacationers heading to Sharbot Lake and deer hunters boarding at Sharbot Lake to head to hunting camps further north.

Cream was sent to Perth Creameries from Flower Station. Storeowners in Verona waited for wares sent north from Kingston. Pulpwood was loaded into boxcars. Shoppers could take the train into Kingston on market days, arriving mere steps away from the bustling market stalls. Family members made day trips to visit relatives who still lived in the country, and vice versa, to see how new inhabitants of the city were faring in Kingston.

As of Jan. 1, 1913, the K&P was no longer a separate legal entity. CP had leased the K&P for 999 years. The K&P was subsequently to be officially referred to as CP’s Kingston Subdivision. CP had no mainline connection at Kingston, unlike CN, so cars for Kingston customers or those along the line had to be brought from Smiths Falls via Tichborne.

CP freight trains to Kingston operated on an “as required” basis. CP’s freight business in Kingston receded with time and with the advent of highway transport. With the closing of its freight shed across from City Hall, express and piggyback trailers were handled at a site on Place d’Armes.

CP served several industries in Kingston: along Division Street Gus Marker and Norman Coal; along Railway and Rideau Streets MacCosham Van Lines, Coca-Cola, Weston’s Bakeries, Canfor, I. Cohen, Pilkington Glass, Monarch Battery, C.E. MacPherson, Quattrocchi’s and a gas dealer; at Cataraqui and Wellington Streets the Woolen Mill, Shell Oil, and Canadian Dredge & Dock. Around City Hall and Ontario Street, CP served coal yards and grain elevators.

CP’s Kingston Subdivision was abandoned in segments: Calabogie to Snow Road – 27.9 miles in January 1962; Sharbot Lake to Tichborne – 8.5 miles in February 1964; Snow Road to Sharbot Lake – 14.5 miles in September 1966; Calabogie to Renfrew – 14.4 miles in February 1977; Tichborne to Kingston – 35 miles after May 9, 1986. Most abandoned trackage was removed one to five years after abandonment.

CP’s station agency at Kingston was terminated on Feb. 24, 1976.

The agent was replaced by a mobile Customer Service Centre supervisor based in Kingston. CP’s roundhouse was demolished in 1978. The 70-foot turntable was relocated to Wakefield, Que., in July 1974. In 1985, CP helped move Canadian Forces vehicles on flat cars from CFB Kingston to major military exercises in Alberta.

The last train on the subdivision was a rail pick-up train in January 1987. Once that work train had finished its trip, the last physical pieces of the ‘Kick and Push’ were gone, forever.  

Eric Gagnon is the author of eight Canadian railway books. You can see his most recent book at booksbyericgagnon.blogspot.com.

Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoyed Eric Gagnon’s four-part look back at the railways around Our Lakes. Next month we begin a new series on the life and legacy of a Bedford Mills settler from the 1800s.

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