Incorporation and Construction
The railway line to Maniwaki was incorporated in 1871 under Quebec Statute as the Ottawa and Gatineau Valley Railroad Company to build “from or near the village of Hull to a point at or near the confluence of the Desert and Gatineau Rivers,” (Maniwaki). Included in the first Board of Directors were such prominent Gatineau Valley individuals as E.B. Eddy, Alonzo Wright, John MacLaren, Andrew Pritchard, and Patrick Farrel.
Like so many railway projects of the last century, many years passed between incorporation and actual construction; it was to be some 11 years in this case. Finally, on June 15, 1882, the first sod was turned “at a site ¼ miles (sic) north of the Aylmer Road near the toll gate.” Alonzo Wright and Murray Mitchell, the railway’s Chief Engineer, were given the honours of digging.
Delays continued, however, and local politicians became dissatisfied with the lack of progress. During several meetings of Hull council early in 1886, O & GV representatives were questioned. They responded with a whole host of excuses for the delays.
Still no work had been done by the beginning of the summer. In fact, it was not until the end of the decade that any significant activity took place.
The first indication that work had commenced was in 1890 when various accounts reveal that construction was actually taking place. By this time Murray Mitchell had been replaced as Chief Engineer by W. Dale Harris who was to hold the position until 1896. Mr. Dale Harris was faced with a particularly “sticky” problem in the form of clay, which plagued construction south of Wakefield. Embankments collapsed and culverts shifted, causing more delays.
Finally, the Hull-Wakefield section was ready for government inspection in October of 1891. Regular passenger service started in 1892 and during this time construction continued north of Wakefield. The line reached Farrellton in December of 1891 and Low in August of the following year. On February 14, 1893, the first train reached Kazabazua; regular passenger service to there started approximately one month later.
Gracefield was reached in 1895 with the first regular freight train arriving on October 21. By this time, some of the leading figures involved in the line had changed, as had the name.
On July 23, 1894, the line was incorporated as the Ottawa & Gatineau Railway Company. The leading directors were H.J. Beemer, M.S. Lonergin, J.E.W. Currier and J.D. Mullarky.
Following the completion of the railway to Gracefield, the pace of activity slowed to a crawl. No further activity appears to have taken place until 1900 when records reveal that rock cuts were worked on to the north of the community.
In May of 1901, the name of the railway was again changed and plans were formulated to take over the Pontiac Pacific Junction Railway (Push, Pull and Jerk) to Waltham in the Pontiac region. The O&G thus became the Ottawa Northern & Western, amalgamating later that year with the PPJ.
The following year (November, 1902) the ON&W was leased to Canadian Pacific for 999 years. In 1958, CP officially absorbed the company.
Under CP’s control, construction picked up. Grading was completed to Blue Sea Lake by April of 1903, with track-laying being completed in June. Finally, in January of 1904, the rails were in place to the end of track at Maniwaki.
The first passenger train arrived in Maniwaki on February 8, 1904. It returned the following day to Ottawa with a Mr. McFall as engineer and a Mr. Hoolihan as conductor.
Though it took more than 20 years to reach Maniwaki, the line’s promoters had dreams of expansion all through the building period. In 1887, the company’s charter was amended to permit the construction of a railway all the way to James Bay, a provision which Canadian Pacific retained until the 1930s. A further amendment in 1894 permitted the company to extend to Lake Temiscamingue while newspaper accounts of the day also mentioned the possibility of a branch to the east to Buckingham.
The only actual new construction occurred during 1926 when the tracks between Chelsea and Cascades were rerouted because of the building of the Chelsea dams. The old line was to be flooded along this part of the route.
With the completion of the various sections of the railway, no time was lost in initiating freight and passenger services. During the first ten years of operation, most trains were mixed. Following the CPR takeover, separate freight and passenger services were offered.
In 1914, there were two trains a day each way, except Sundays. Freight service to Maniwaki was offered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, returning to Ottawa the following day.
Service was expanded between 1927 and 1931 to include an additional passenger train for commuter service between Alcove (the next station north of Wakefield and the site of a wye) and the nation’s capital. The bunkhouse used by the train’s crews is still standing and is located there, on the west side of Highway 105. During the same period an express train was run non-stop to Kazabazua after which it would stop at each of the stations. This train was run only during the summer on Fridays (northbound) and Sundays (southbound) and was intended for the cottager traffic.
During the Depression, passenger service was trimmed substantially. From that time to the end of passenger operations in January of 1963, service consisted of a train each way, daily except Sunday when the Saturday northbound train returned to Ottawa in late afternoon.
Steam powered passenger trains were utilized until the latter part of the 1950s when, to cut losses (the mail contract having been lost), CP introduced their gas electrics and finally Budd RDC “Dayliners.” Records are sketchy but it appears that the date of the last run of a steam-hauled freight on this line was March 29, 1959. The last regular steam-powered passenger train was January 3, 1960.
Passenger services ended on January 27, 1963, but regularly scheduled freight operations continued until March 1968, with Monday, Wednesday, Friday northbound trains returning Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. After that, service was as required.
In 1973 a serious washout occurred just north of Chelsea, putting the branch out of service until 1974. After this, the National Museum of Science and Technology and the National Capital Commission began summer excursion train operations which ran on a twice weekly basis until September 1, 1985.
For Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ottawa in October, 1977, the Museum of Science and Technology arranged for a “Royal Train” to carry Her Majesty up the Gatineau Valley on her way to the Prime Minister's summer cottage (Harrington Lake in the Gatineau Hills). On a cool rainy October day, steam locomotive 1201 hauled the former governor general’s cars to Wakefield, Quebec, with the Queen on board. The GG cars are the same ones which had carried her mother and father (George VI) across Canada in 1939.
Newspapers: various editions of the Ottawa Citizen, Free Press, Journal;
Periodicals: Railway and Marine World, Branchline (1968).
Other: Extracts from the diary of W. Dale Harris; details on the GG’s train from an interview with the late Walter Dickson, former CP engineer.