Monday, July 15, 2024

The Push, Pull and Jerk

A Short History of the Pontiac Pacific Junction Railway Episode 3: The Pontiac and Renfrew Railway

The Pontiac and Renfrew Railway (PRR) was a short industrial railway that linked the Bristol Iron Mine with the nearby Pontiac and Pacific Junction Railway (PPJR) in Western Quebec during the final years of the nineteenth century. Granted its charter in May, 1888, its sole purpose was to carry ore from the mine to the PPJR for transport onwards to markets across North America. Of the many railways that were developed in Quebec over the past 150 years, this little line was unique in that it was constructed, used and then torn up not once, but twice.
The Bristol Iron Mine was located on Lots 21 and 22, Range II of Bristol Township in Pontiac County, approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) north of the Ottawa River. Iron ore was first discovered in this area in the early 1860s, but it was not until the winter of 1872-73 that extraction efforts were undertaken by John Moore of Duluth, Minnesota while working for Ennis & Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Between January and September 1873, a small crew of eight or nine men worked the mine, bringing some 4,000 tons of ore to the surface, none of which was successfully shipped to market. Following this wasted effort, the mine lay more or less dormant for the next decade until the Robertsville Mining Company of Madoc, Ontario re-opened it and began extracting ore once again in September, 1884. In its first winter of operation, work crews pulled 7,000 tons of ore from the mine, much of which was hauled to the north shore of the Ottawa River on horse-drawn wagons. From there it was pulled across the frozen river to be loaded onto Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) trains at Braeside, Ontario. This was clearly an inefficient arrangement as the horses could pull only about three tons of ore each trip and make, at most, two trips per day. For this herculean task, the teamsters earned the paltry sum of 35 cents per ton carried.
With ore piling up faster than it could be dragged down to the river, it was evident to all (except, perhaps, for the overworked teamsters) that a better transportation solution was required. An obvious option was to connect the mine to the nearby PPJR which had been granted a charter in 1880 to build a railway linking Aylmer, Quebec with Pembroke, Ontario via the north shore of the Ottawa River. By the autumn of 1884, construction on that line had reached as far as Quyon and it was fully expected to continue westwards the following year. By early 1885, the mine’s directors were expressing their keen interest in having the PPJR either detour slightly to the south to run past the mine, or to run a branch line directly to the pit from the main line which was under construction just to the north. As an inducement to the PPJR, the mining company promised to ship at least three car loads of ore per day, year-round, via that line if a connection could be made. This, alas, was not sufficient to sway the PPJR’s directors, and construction continued along the originally-intended route approximately 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) north of the mine.
In December 1886, the mine was acquired by Ottawa businessmen Robert Blackburn, Hiram Robertson and Charles Magee, and together they formed the Bristol Iron Company. These new directors continued to lobby the PPJR for a connection, and shifted the transport of all of their ore from the original horse-drawn route to the Ottawa River to the little hamlet of Wyman where it could be loaded onto the PPJR. By the winter of 1888, the mining company had erected several large bins along the track at Wyman to hold the ore en route to its shipment to Aylmer. Unfortunately, a branch line directly to the mine was still lacking and, increasingly frustrated by the “dilly-dalling” of the PPJR, the mine’s owners decided to seek a charter and construct their own railway to carry ore from the mine to a point where it could connect with the North American rail network.
In the spring of 1888, Blackburn, Robertson and Magee, along with John Bryson of Bryson, W.J. Poupore of Chichester, Caleb Symons of Bristol and R. Dulmage of Arnprior, founded the Pontiac and Renfrew Railway Company. The charter gave the company the authority to construct a single or double-track railway from a point on the CPR between Braeside and Arnprior to a point on the PPJR near Wyman. This included permission to build a bridge across the Ottawa River if it was deemed to be necessary. Construction of the railway began in the summer of 1888 with 150 men engaged in preparing a roadway from the PPJR at Wyman southwards towards the mine. By mid-August, a 66-foot wide right of way had been cut through the woods, the timber for the required trestles was ready, and grading was well underway. By the following spring, the roadway was fully cleared and graded and all of the necessary bridges and culverts had been completed. Once the rails that had been ordered from Liverpool, England, arrived in the summer, crews began to lay the track down to the mine and work was completed by the end of October, 1899.
It was a standard gauge single-track railway, 4.25 miles (6.83 kilometres) long, constructed with 56 pound steel. It included a Y-junction with the PPJR and an additional 3/4 of a mile (1.2 kilometres) of sidings. The total cost of the railroad and its equipment was an astounding $46,856,84 – the cost of a very modest pick-up truck today. In order to offset these costs, the company received a total of $31,066.30 in subsidies, with $13,600 coming from the federal government and an additional $17,433.60 from the provincial government. Despite the authorities granted in its charter, at no point did the company appear to seriously consider building a bridge across the Ottawa River to Braeside as doing so made little economic sense once the mine was connected to the PPJR.
The railway’s rolling stock consisted of a single 4-4-0 engine built in 1871 by the Avonside Locomotive Works which was, aptly enough, located in Bristol, England. Originally built as the 42” gauge No. 6 “Rice Lewis & Son” locomotive, serial number 839, for the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, it was converted to standard gauge in 1881-82 and later became CPR engine number 156. In 1889, it was sold to the PRR and was delivered to Wyman Station on October 24 of that year. It appears as if the PRR did not operate any other of its own wagons, but rather used cars provided by the CPR to carry its iron ore to market. It is also possible that the PPJR provided cars to carry ore from the mine although no record of this could be found.

Shawn MacWha, originally from Lachute, spends as much time as possible
at his camp “up on the Picanoc” north of Otter lake. He has a keen interest in Quebec’s past and writes a weekly history column for the Townships Weekend newspaper in Sherbrooke.


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