Life, economy depended on the train
“Creemore will experience the most serious setback in history on April 28,” was the statement made which summarized the news that the Canadian National Railway (CNR) was slashing train service from four trains a day to two. The year? 1930.
For 52 years trains had been arriving in the village in the early morning going south, noon going north, south about four o’clock and north in the evening.
The whole life and economy in Creemore depended on the train service that ran between Collingwood and Beeton with connections to other lines. S. and J. Hisey regularly sent shipments of cattle, pigs and produce to Collingwood and Toronto. For example three freight cars were sent out in March of 1910. In March of 1925 seven cars of livestock, two cars of grain and considerable way freight left Creemore for Toronto All the stores and businesses depended on mail orders, traveling salesmen, and receiving business mail and merchandise by rail. Four mails a day kept communication thriving. People would come to Creemore, shop, do business and return home by train a few hours later. Students who used the train to attend various high schools and continuation schools would be out of luck after the service was cut. Many counted on receiving the Toronto evening newspapers to keep current on what was going on in the world.
All the communities along the line were very angry. Meetings were held, a firm of lawyers hired, and a committee formed to make an appeal to the CNR. A committee of Creemore businessmen met the superintendent in Allandale. He pointed out that a large capital expenditure would be needed to bring the line up to standard and also that the vastly improved highways made car, truck and bus travel more feasible.
As we know Creemore survived that setback as it did again in 1955 when daily service was cut completely.
At the turn of the century the train service through Creemore was operated by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). It had financial problems, defaulting on repayment of construction loans to the federal government. After several years of arbitration the GTR was absorbed into the Canadian National Railway. But for many years the GTR served the people well. A new Creemore station was built in 1906 on the north side of the tracks replacing the old one on the south side. The old station became a freight storage dept. A new coat of paint improved the appearance of the station in 1917. The colours were beige and park green, a sort of dull dark green.
The local people counted on the daily arrivals and departures six days a week but there were times when no trains came through or were late. A derailment east of Glencairn involving the engine and seven cars caused a six-hour delay (1916). Another time no trains arrived for two days. The track was flooded near Collingwood and a drop in temperature made the track a sea of ice (1918). Winter storms caused delays almost every year. A snowplow pushed by two engines had to be sent out to clear the drifts (1906).
Newsworthy items about the trains often appeared in the local papers. Employees of the GTR were instructed to warn passengers to keep their feet off the cushions. They were making the seats dirty. (1921) Accidents and near accidents happened. A spark from the engine set fire to the grass just west of Hisey’s coal shed. Firemen quickly quenched the flames (1913). Mrs. Ed Kerr, getting on the train after it started to pull out, lost her footing and fell backwards behind the car. Fortunately it was at the back of the train (1903). Mrs. T. Maxwell, driving home from Dunedin with two children and a horse and buggy, found herself in a dangerous position with the train approaching. A wheel caught in the channel beside the rail. Mrs. Maxwell jumped with the children and at the last minute the horse made a sudden bound and cleared the track (1910).
Charles Barber, walking westward out of Creemore, was suddenly seized with an epileptic attack and fell between the rails. It was minutes before train time. Fortunately, the engineer, looking out the engine cab, saw the man and stopped the train. He was put on the train and in Cremore taken to the doctor’s office for treatment (1908).
Farm animals in Creemore’s early years were free to wander the streets. “As the seven o’clock train was coming to the station S. Sampson’s cow was unceremoniously crossing the railway on Mill Street. The result was a collision which was rather hard on the cow. The engine struck her amidships and lifted her high in the air. She fell squarely in front of the engine… (I’ll spare you the details)… and delayed the train an hour and a half.” (1906).
Please note that the current series of stories come from the era 1900 to 1930. To read about the early days of the railway check out the Purple Hills Arts and Heritage website at phahs.ca, where you will be instructed how to access Bridges of Creemore Mills which has a chapter on the first railway into Creemore in 1878.
Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to The Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.