St. Patrick's Ward: Riding the Rails of Industry

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St. Patrick's Ward: Riding the Rails of Industry

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Rail in Guelph: An Introduction

Rail has often been described as one of the driving forces in the development of Canada as a nation in economic and symbolic terms. The history of Guelph in many ways mirrors that of Canada in terms of rail leading to development and expansion in both an economic and geographic sense. Indeed, rail in Guelph came to symbolize a capitalist conception of economic progress. As Leo A. Johnson states: "It meant a commitment to a belief in the virtues and possibilities of eternal growth and the equation of progress with economic expansion." As this collection will explain, rail was particularly important to the development of St. Patrick's Ward. Even the geographical boundaries of the Ward can be defined by rail, as the Ward Residents Association describes the boundaries of the Ward as east of the Speed River and south of the Grand Trunk Railway tracks.

The Dawn of Rail in Guelph

The first railway to pass through Guelph was the Grand Trunk Railway. The process began on August 30th, 1851 when an Act was passed by Parliament incorporating the Toronto and Guelph Railway Company which was a venture arranged by local elites such as wealthy farmers and landlords in meetings which were often exclusive. Property owning elites in Guelph were particularly enthusiastic about the prospects of a Toronto market to which 1 million bushels of grain could be transported. By 1853, Grand Trunk Railway construction was well underway, bringing in millions of pounds of capital, thousands of labourers, and rising wages, creating the impression in Guelph that the future was indeed bright.

Further Developments

The Grand Trunk Railway was leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888. Rail was constructed to link Guelph with the CPR main line between Guelph and Hamilton. This was a lengthy process which required enticing Toronto investors to inject £100,000 of capital into the venture. The GTR on the other hand, was awash in financial issues discouraging any further dealings from the City of Guelph.

Guelph Junction Railway

One of the most significant developments in terms of the history of rail in Guelph occurred when the CPR signed a lease to the City of Guelph for the use of their line in return for 40% of the profits. This led to the Guelph City Council buying its rail outright for $170,000 ensuring that all profits generated by rail would fill the city coffers and pay for, amongst other things, public works projects. The Guelph Junction Railway, as it came to be known, was unique in Canada for being owned by a municipality as most rail during this period was privately owned. The Guelph Junction Railway line facilitated the transportation of resources and products which drove trades, industrial development, and construction in the late 19th century, particularly in the 1870s.

Industry and Rail

It is no surprise that rail in the history of Guelph, is often mentioned as synonymous with industry, particularly in St. Patrick's Ward. For example, Standard Fitting and Valve Co. amongst many other industries, located in close proximity to Grand Trunk Railway tracks. As rail was so important to industry, it was also very important for industrialists and other local elites to exert control over transportation. For example, James Walter Lyon, the man widely accredited to attracting industry to the Ward, was president of the Hydro Electric Railway Association of Ontario and President of the Guelph Radial Railway from 1903-1919.

Street Rail in Guelph

In fact, R. Gilbank describes even smaller scale street rail lines as being essential to the transformation of the Ward into a burgeoning industrial area. In 1875, the idea of street rail was seriously discussed and in 1877 an attempt was made at creating the Guelph Street Railway Company. This company however failed to obtain a charter, finally obtained by George Sleeman in 1894. However, It took until 1911 for street rail to be extended into the Ward down Wyndham and York Street. The development of street rail was important to the development of the Ward as an industrial neighborhood as it offered workers and their families quick and affordable transportation.

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Items in the St. Patrick's Ward: Riding the Rails of Industry Collection

Guelph Station on Grand Trunk Railway 1869
Guelph station on Grand Trunk Railway in 1869.

Canadian Pacific Railway and Grand Trunk Railway Postcards, Guleph
A collection of postcards from Guelph showing the significance of rail to the city's history.

Pictures of C.P.R. Train and Track, Guelph
A CPR train during a time period in which St. Patrick's Ward became a fully industrialized neighbourhood in Guelph.