Cobourg Peterborough Railway - Epilogue

train40As 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.

Under the management of the Marmora Iron Co. it carried goods, brought from the Rice Lake region, down to Cobourg harbour for shipment to the United States and ignored its fantastic bridge. When the ore ran out and the lumber trade moved farther north, only tourism to Rice Lake was left. The Grand Trunk Railway ran the line for wealthy sportsmen for several years, but that too began to fade away by the mid-1890s.

Cobourg harbour 1870Cobourg harbour 1870By 1895 it had become a storage siding for temporarily unused trains. The Hastings Star once noted that it had become a haven for "a large number of tramps who are making this district their headquarters". Apparently, one night, they even staged a concert in one of the cars, though one can imagine that the word "concert" is a bit of poetic licence.

The official closing of the line in 1898 caused some discontent in Cobourg, the Star complaining that some thought should still be given to the numbers of sport fishermen and excursionists wishing to travel easily to Rice Lake. They briefly discussed having the railway again revert to the town.

The railroad idea died hard. Even in the 1850s, when a transworld railroad was discussed in London (the idea was to build a rail/steamboat line linking London and China) Cobourg petitioned that such a line be passed near Rice Lake as it crossed Canada.

In the late 1890s a new Cobourg Northumberland and Pacific Railroad was mooted briefly but such an oxymoronic beast never appeared. Yet at one point there was a considerable fever gripping Cobourg over this plan and surveys were done and plans drawn up either to use the old tracks or perhaps rebuild the line to have it enter through the eastern part of town. Again we hear ghosts of the original plan from 1834.

As late as 1907 the Peterborough Examiner wondered whether the old bridge might not be repaired and the line to Blairton reopened for more mining. Some stone was taken from Bewdley and dumped beside the old bridge, but the plan went no further.

Most of the tracks were eventually taken up. In E. C. Guillet's time (ca.1948) he met Cobourgers who could recall the rails being taken up from Summit and loaded on to cars which took them down to Harwood, each ride getting shorter as the tracks disappeared.

As the railroad dominated Cobourg's life during the whole of what we normally consider the Victorian Era, it is entirely fitting that the bulk of the tracks should be taken up during the First World War, for use in transporting ammunition in the trenches in Flanders, where the Victorian Age could be seen to come to a close. As the young and enthusiastic men streamed out of Cobourg to fight in France, is it not a bit poignant that their old railroad would go with them?

Used as a spur for shuttling coal (now coming from — not going to Rochester) from the harbour to the CN lines for many years, the sections of the railroad which ran through town lasted until 1983.

You can still see bits of it, here and there in the country-side. A very impressive part of the "berm" which brought the railroad up to the proper level for reaching the level at Dale Road near Baltimore can be seen in the industrial area near White's Road, west of Division. This section looks over Cobourg Creek and the golf course. At Harwood one can still see the meagre beginnings of the bridge (see part 7), though flooding Rice Lake to level off the canal system has left the rest of the bridge as only a water hazard.

It was Cobourg's greatest project and its after effects loom like a shadow behind all of Cobourg's history.



More on what happened to the railway.

John & Jane Fowler of Yorkshire, England.

John and Jane, married 23rd November 1827 at Egton, Yorkshire came to Cobourg, ca. 1850, on "invitation" from one or more distinguished Cobourgers, in order to correct the less than adequate work done by Contractor Samuel Zimmerman, on the contract for the C&PR (Cobourg and Peterborough Railway). Fowler was, in 1846, a UK "Contractor of Publick (sic) Works" and he arrived in Cobourg with his wife, Jane, and their six children; an infant Edwin died enroute. (An additional six children were born in Upper Canada) It appears-in retrospect-that Fowler was expected to finance the C&PR bridge refurbishing and the necessary line upgrading with his own financial resources; something it seems he was not prepared to do. Consequently, Fowler was only able to effect less than an adequate restructuring based on any additional financing made available to him from either the towns of Peterborough and Cobourg or from both of these two-or more-- limited township sources. He later, jointly, with Henry Covert, owned and sold the C&PR and became connected with the new PHL&B R (Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway) which became the very successful Midland Railway of Canada.

The John Fowler financed Millbrook trunk-line to Peterborough, from off the PHL&BR is another story when, later, the C&PR bridge finally collapsed into Rice Lake originally intended as the rail route to Peterborough. Also, when the GTR (Grand Trunk Railway) was being constructed from Montreal to Toronto it engaged Fowler's railway construction talents which became the professional talents of his son Robert, at "Rat Portage" (Kenora, Ontario). Robert's sister, Jennie, on 19th June 1882 drove in the last spike connecting Manitoba and Ontario on the Canadian Government's transcontinental line at Feist Lake.

I believe the family did take possession of a farm of about 400 acres, with a house and barns, a mile or two east of the Town of Cobourg on the north side of the "King's Highway". They may have bought or leased the farm property from a Henry Covert, Esq., of that community. (We have a painting of the Fowler House of that time in the 1850s, by Anita (Fowler) Coderre of Ottawa).

John (1900) and Jane Fowler (1898) were buried at Holy Trinity Cemetery Headingley Manitoba.

Info supplied by: Capt. Donald Maxwell Fowler, C.D. (Ret'd), Brockville, Ontario.


Written by Colin Caldwell

Epilogue is on this page and an index is below.