Cobourg Peterborough Railway

In many ways, the story of the Cobourg Peterborough Railway is the story of Cobourg.  Many of the people who were significant in early Cobourg had a large role in its development.  Colin Caldwell’s entertaining narrative is presented on 13 pages.

See also a shorter version by historian Ted Rafuse here.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 1

As author Colin Caldwell points out, the building of the Cobourg Peterborough Railway was one of the defining events in Cobourg’s History. It was originally published as a series of articles and that format is reproduced here although different photos and links have been added and some editing done to improve the web experience.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 2

As we saw last time, through the heroic efforts of Peter Robinson, 2,024 desperately poor Irish Catholics had managed to emigrate from the old country in the hope of finding new lives in Upper Canada. We left them, here in Cobourg, in late August of 1825, camped in rows of white canvas tents on what must be our west beach, though it would in those days have been quite a bit further inland.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 3

Once the earliest days of pioneer settlement in Cobourg were over, the townsmen began looking inland. Peter Robinson’s settlement of 2,000 poor Irish at Peterborough had got them thinking about the amount of trade that could be brought through Cobourg if it was properly managed.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 4

As we saw in the last instalment, James Grey Bethune’s scheme for opening up the inland water-way by means of steamboats and a lock at Bobcaygeon was only partly successful. The steamboats worked fine, but the lock was useless. Added to that was the fact that the goods and passengers still had to find a way down to Lake Ontario from Rice Lake.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 5

Though the original Cobourg Railway Company had secured an extension of three years on their building permit in 1836, by the early 1840s work on the line had still not begun. The Cobourg Railway Company’s charter lapsed and the townspeople began to think of the possibility of a new, improved plank road linking Cobourg to Rice Lake.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 6

The idea of a railway had already fallen through once, and by 1850 – in a terrible foreboding for the future even the apparently fool-proof Plank Road had practically disintegrated because of the ice and snow. Cobourg residents must have been at their wits end.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 7

In February 7, 1853 Mrs. Mackechnie, standing in for her husband Stuart Mackechnie, the mayor, who was away in England, turned the first sod for the new railway.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 8

If building the railway between Cobourg and Peterborough was the most important event of Cobourg’s history — as I, for one, would be prepared to argue — then the faulty construction of the bridge is the most important element in that history’s sorry outcome. I would hold that, in the end, Cobourg impoverished itself and remained a relatively sleepy, if elegant, backwater, for the next hundred years because of that bridge.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 9

The festivities surrounding the opening of the railroad from Cobourg all the way to Peterborough were barely over when the ice in Rice Lake began the first of its relentless assaults on the bridge.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 10

D’Arcy Edward Boulton, as we have seen, was, in a sense, part of the railway since before the beginning of the railway. It is hard not to see him as having made the very best effort he could to get it running.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 11

By September of 1860 Cobourg’s spectacular new Town Hall, named Victoria Hall in honour of Her Majesty, was almost ready for the gala opening. (Victoria Hall today). Even better, at the very time of the opening, the first-ever Royal tour of Canada was to be undertaken by Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, and Cobourg had managed — probably due to the dedication of the hall to the Queen — to get on the roster of towns the Prince was to visit in his tour of Canada West.

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – 12

“To attempt to give a description of the extent or value of the Iron Ore, Lithographic Stone and Marble belonging to the Marmora Iron Works would be folly — suffice it to say that they are all of the very best quality and inexhaustible.”

Cobourg Peterborough Railway – Epilogue

As we have seen, the Cobourg and Peterborough Railway’s most prosperous years came during the time when the railroad was functioning as originally been planned in the 1830s.