Railway Traces in and around Kingston

Articles and Photographs by David Page.

To the casual railway transportation observer in Kingston, Ontario, it looks like there is nothing here but the great sweep of the Canadian National (CNR) main line north of the city proper. In fact, there is plenty of railway infrastructure left from the past in and around Kingston. Since almost none of this is identified for the public, I felt that an outline of local "railway archaeology" would make an interesting story.

The view from the fireman's side of 487, coming into Tichborne. The station platform is evident at the left, and the coaling tower down the line. We coaled and watered there before departure for Kingston. We also picked up a cut of freight cars (see photograph below).         

A quick look at local railway history sets the stage for an exploration of current remains. The Grand Trunk Railway (later CNR) arrived in Kingston in 1856. Its broad-gauge (1676mm) track cut the land travel time from Montreal to Toronto from over a week to just 12 hours. A few years later, in 1884, Kingston saw another rail line established, the Kingston & Pembroke Railway (leased by Canadian Pacific in 1912). The "Kick and Push" as it was always referred to, never did get to Pembroke, but provided connections with CPR main lines at Tichborne and Sharbot Lake.

Other railway lines in the Kingston area included the Canadian Northern (CNoR) main line through Yarker and Sydenham, the Thousands Islands Railway, and the Brockville and Westport Railway. Traces of all of these railways are still visible if you know where to look.

Let us start with the city of Kingston. Kingston has had four railway stations and all the buildings still exist. The CN "Outer Station", on Montreal Street, is a “listed” building of sorts, is in poor condition and wanted by neither the CNR nor the City. It was opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1860 and is a classic Ontario stone building. The shape of the "long curve" at the station is still visible, particularly westward (follow the right of way along Hickson, Harvey and Elliot Streets), as is the platform. Across Montreal Street, in the "Village on the River" park, old railway bridge abutments poke up through the grass.

The CNR also had an "inner station", located at the SW corner of Johnson and Ontario Streets. The building is now a restaurant. Usually referred to as "Hanley Station", the agent's name, it was the terminus of the shuttle service to Kingston Junction near the Outer Station. The CNR shut down this service in 1929, but prior to that one could board a sleeping car in downtown Kingston and wake up in Toronto the next morning!

The CPR station was strategically located right across from City Hall. It is now the tourist bureau. CPR D10 class (4-6-0) locomotive 1095, in poor condition, sits near where the buffers would have been. For an excellent 1950s aerial photo of the CPR station, with a train departing, look in the ground-floor meeting room at the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour building.

The newest and only active Kingston station is the VIA one on John Counter Blvd.   It was opened in 1974 and serves Ottawa,Toronto and Montreal trains daily.  In preparation for re-locating the station, the main line was shifted north to eliminate most of the long curve.

Taken from the fireman's side of CP 4-6-0 487 in the 1950s, we are approaching the cross-over over to the east side of the CN Kingston Branch (Hanley Spur). The River Street bridge is visible, as is the CN signal mast. The top signal is set at clear, presumably for CN northbound.... I cannot tell if there is also a lower arm at stop, or is that part of the warning device for personnel on top of cars. There is a fixed stop sign on the right for CP trains approaching the crossover. I have no idea how this was controlled unless it was through some form of shared train orders.

Within the city limits a number of former railway alignment features are still visible. On the K&P line, look for the angle-cut building on the north side of lower Princess Street, diagonally opposite the Holiday Inn. The railway line passed by here, crossed Ontario Street at steep angle and proceeded toward the Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan building area and on through to the Wellington Street extension. The roundhouse footings and sector shape of the building are still visible east of the right of way and north of the Kingston Marina property. See if you can spot the cornerstone and date (note: this unrecognised site will probably be torn up to make way for the LVEC)[2007 note: this did not take place...the dreaded LVEC site shifted downtown]. The K&P line continued more or less parallel to Rideau Street, sharing the right of way with the CNR. It crossed Montreal Street near Quattrocchi's store, where I remember seeing boxcars sitting at the freight platform. The next place you can see the K&P alignment is where it crosses Sydenham Road about a couple of blocks before Highway 401. You can walk back toward Kingston on this alignment and see a different view of the entry into the city. The walk includes some cuttings and embankments and takes about 15 minutes each way. One final nearby K&P feature still extant is the Highway 401 flyover over the alignment just before the Highway 38 exit …..glance northward and you will see the now-trail heading to the bush. There are many other K&P features visible further north, bearing in mind that this line was torn up only in the 1980s.

Back to the CNR.   There is no evidence of CNR downtown lines still visible, except for bits of the right of way out on  Montreal Street, on the east side. The City tore down the River Street wooden bridge over the old CN line a couple of years ago (see photo). The locomotive works (Canadian Locomotive Company - the infamous "Block D") and the shipyard on Ontario Street were served by a CN spur from the Hanley Station which ran to near the Pumphouse Steam Museum. This was an important industrial line ..... I recall seeing many steam and diesel locomotives awaiting shipment in the yard on the north side of Ontario Street.   All gone now.

A typical CN heavyweight passenger train of the day, powered by a 6200-series Northern, awaits departure from the Outer Station. There appear to be white flags fluttering above the class lights, so the train must have been an extra section. The lower track to the left (east) of the locomotive was probably the Kingston Branch which was still in use  for freight at the time.[2007 note: I was subsequently corrected on this last statement...the Kingston Branch was a hundred yards further east/left]  

One shouldn't forget Kingston's street railway which ran from the 1870s to 1930. Today there are only two faint reminders of this fairly extensive system: look up the east side of Barrie Street from King Street, in the park, and you will see the parts of the double line of trees which flanked the streetcar line; look on the north side of King Street, opposite the Penitentiary, where there is a dirt path for a sidewalk.... the wide verge was the streetcar alignment, on its way to Portsmouth village and Lake Ontario Park. The streetcar double track down Princess Street existed for many years after the service was terminated ... it was still there when I was kid in the early-1940s.

CP D4g No. 487, rear quarter view, with wood mail-express car, at the station at Sharbot Lake, ready for departure. Blower exhaust and very full coal bunker are evident. The train for Renfrew was back-to-back with the Kingston train, but unfortunately I did not take a pic of it.                                    

Outside Kingston there are a number of interesting bits of railway archaeology. The former CNoR line high-level bridge at Yarker is still there, as is the "new" (1960s) plate girder bridge high above Harrowsmith Road, between Harrowsmith and Sydenham. This latter structure, the design and installation of which was supervised by my friend Mike Vigrass, then CNR regional engineer, is quite complex because of its steep angle to the road's deep cutting and the fact that a new, higher alignment was required for the new bridge (to allow for unbroken train operations). Mike says he held his breath as they lowered the bridge into place, hoping all four corners would be in the right place. They were! Both old and new alignments are still visible. The CNoR (latterly CNR) alignment crosses County Road 10 near Perth Road Village, on its way to Smiths Falls.

Aboard CP 4-6-0 487, coming into Kingston, approaching the CPR roundhouse, along the shore of Anglin's Bay. There is now a paved footpath at this exact location. Another locomotive is visible to the right of the roundhouse.   

The little Thousand Islands Railway has most of its line visible, above and below the "Susan Push" locomotive plinthed where the line crossed King Street in Gananoque, a town of 5,000 some 18 miles to the east of Kingston. Even the mainline station (Gananoque Junction) is still there and sports a latter-day makeover by VIA. One train a day, in each direction, still calls there.

Looking back from the cab of 487, just after departing Tichborne. You can see the six or so freight cars which have been cut in behind the engine, with the wood mail-express car and wood coach on the rear. This photograph is not great quality but you can imagine that 487's cab was not exactly a stable platform for me and my clunky 616 camera!

At the outer limits of our exploration is the Brockville & Westport Railway, of which little remains except the station in Westport. Check out the little museum in Westport which has quite a bit of material about the B&W. The curator, Gerry, is knowledgeable and friendly[2007 note: Gerry is no longer the curator] . The B&W stopped running in 1952 and so I consider myself lucky to have seen a train in Westport that same summer from a cruise on the Rideau Canal.

The railway museum in Smiths Falls (on the former CNoR line referred to earlier) is worth a visit ... it is the only one of its kind around here.

One final note: there are a number of good, local books about Kingston's railways and at least one good website (about the B&W)...look them up

Bytown Railway Society,  Branchline, November 2005, page 10.

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