York-Durham Heritage Railway

History of the Rail Line used by the YDHR

The rail line that we use was built in the late 1860’s as the Toronto and Nipissing (T&N) Railway. It was built to allow its owner, William Gooderham, a well-known distiller from Toronto, to carry grain to his distillery as well as lumber for export and cordwood for resale. The intention was to cut off the flow of lumber from the Haliburton Highlands which at that time was floated down the Trent River to Trenton. They achieved their aim when the line reached Coboconk on the Gull River. It stopped there and was never extended to its intended target of Lake Nipissing (North Bay).

The Company was chartered on March 4th, 1868, with construction starting the following year. Towns paid handsomely to have the railway routed through them, Markham for instance raised over $4,000 in one night. Unionville made a last minute effort and had the railway rerouted after it bought $500 of shares. Uxbridge was chosen as the site of the railway’s shops. Note that these sums represent many millions in today’s dollars.

The line was built from south to north, the first sod being turned at Scarborough Junction (site of the present day Scarborough GO station). The Company built the line cheaply choosing a narrow gauge of 3 ft. 6 in. (1.1m) rather than the standard gauge of 4 ft 8½ in. (1.5 m). To avoid expensive earth moving, the line was constructed by following the natural profile of the land as closely as possible. An additional rail was placed between the Grand Trunk’s rails to allow the narrow gauge T&N trains to enter Toronto. The southern terminal of the line was at Parliament St. just south of King St. where a station, a large yard and docks were constructed.

Public service began on the line on July 1st, 1871 as far as Uxbridge, service north to Sunderland waited until November 1st of that year. Although the first train consisting of 4 flatcars loaded with iron and 1 boxcar loaded with officials passed through Markham at 1:00 p.m. and reached Uxbridge at 4:00 p.m. on April 27th. The official opening was on August 14th with great pageantry, a floral arch being constructed for the official train to pass through. The site of the arch was just south of the original Uxbridge station, which with today’s structures is just south of the present (1904) station.

The line settled down to a slow but steady (and profitable) existence, the average speed of an express passenger train was 28 mph (45km/h), freights and lesser passenger trains averaged about half of that. William Gooderham is noted for telling engineers to slow down as they were wasting fuel by running fast. The only explosive happening occurred in 1880 when the boiler of the line’s biggest engine blew up at Stouffville station, taking off the roof of the stationmaster’s house.

By 1880 it was obvious that the line had to be converted to standard gauge to match the other railways in the area. The Company achieved this in late 1880, but it used up most of its cash reserves, so the Directors sold out to the Midland Railway in April 1881. The Midland was an amalgamation of small lines in the south-central part of the province finally having a network that stretched from Toronto, north to Midland and Haliburton, east to Lindsay, Peterborough and Belleville. When the larger company took over, the shops in Uxbridge were progressively closed and moved to Lindsay and Port Hope. On February 1st, 1884 the Midland group was leased by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) and finally purchased by the GTR in 1894. Ownership of the GTR was transferred to the Government of Canada in 1920 where it became part of Canadian National Railways.

Increased traffic led the Grand Trunk to replace the stations at Stouffville and Uxbridge during the early years of the 20th century. The Uxbridge station, with its distinctive “Witches Hat” roof is owned and maintained by the Township of Uxbridge. Stouffville station was a two-story building as befitting its status as a junction station (a branch once ran from Stouffville to Sutton). The only original T&N stations left are in Markham, Unionville and Coboconk. Stouffville station was demolished by CN in the 1980’s and replaced in the mid-1990’s by the present GO Transit station. The original T&N line was progressively abandoned from Coboconk southward beginning in the late 1960’s. The line north of Uxbridge to Lindsay was abandoned and removed in the early 1990’s. The section between Uxbridge and Stouffville was held out of service for future GO Transit use. South of Stouffville, regular commuter runs continued.

The York-Durham Heritage Railway reopened the line between Uxbridge and Stouffville in 1996 and has been running on summer weekends since then.

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