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Carillon and Grenville Railway Reporting mark: CAGR

The Carillon and Grenville was one of Canada's earliest railways. Completed in 1854, the 12-mile long portage railway operated along the Ottawa River between Carillon and Grenville. Its sole purpose was to transport passengers to and from the steamer that travelled along the Ottawa River between Montreal and Ottawa.

Carillon & Grenville
"The oldest train in America"
Pub: Valentine & Sons, ca. 1907

The railway began as part of an ambitious plan to create a rail line along the Ottawa River from Montreal to Hull. For working purposes the railway was known as the Montreal and Bytown Railway. With railways still in their infancy, the Ottawa River was a primary navigation route. A new railway along the river was considered essential.

James Sykes, an Englishman from Sheffield, was awarded the contract as both principal contractor and fundraiser. Sykes, along with his two brothers and another Englishman, Charles deBergue, quickly got down to work. By October 1854 the 12-1/2 mile-long portage line was completed. Rolling stock arrived in December and the railway was up and running before the end of the year.

In the meantime Sykes returned to England where he had raised £50,000 to cover extensions to the railway. He was carrying the money with him on his return voyage when, tragically, his ship went down with all hands. With the project now in dire financial difficulty, the future of the railway remained uncertain for a number of years.

The Carillon and Grenville in operation, ca. 1900

After several years of litigation, the Montreal and Bytown Railway (or what existed of it) was declared insolvent and placed on the auction block. John J.C. Abbott, a lawyer and future prime minister, was the lucky bidder. He picked up the railway in 1858 for a little over $21.000. Under Abbott's ownership, the Carillon and Grenville Railway saw some modest improvements. Abbott hung on to the railway until 1864 when it was sold to the Ottawa River Navigation Company.

Unlike most railways that found themselves in the grips of expansion fever, the Carillon and Grenville Railway never grew beyond its humble beginnings. For the entire 56-year duration of its existence, it remained nothing more than a seasonal portage railway. It made one return trip per day between Carillon and Grenville, timed for the arrival of each steamer. Although it was granted powers to extend in all directions, they were never exercised. The equipment was never modernized and it remained one of the few railways still running on broad gauge to the end of its existence.

The railway puttered along until 1905 when Charles Newhouse Armstrong, a railway contractor, promoter, and owner of the Ottawa River Railway Company (ORRC), entered the picture. He had the ORRC renamed to the Central Railway of Canada which he then used to pick up the Ottawa River Navigation Company and the Carillon and Grenville Railway.

By 1910 there were three rail routes between Montreal and Ottawa. Steamer traffic had fallen into a steep decline and took the Carillon and Grenville Railway down with it. The railway closed forever at the end of the 1910 shipping season and was dismantled the following year.

Even though it was the end of the line for the Carillon and Grenville Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) was interested in the right-of-way. In 1907 the CNoR acquired the Great Northern Railway of Canada, another property where Armstrong was involved. It became part of several other properties that formed the Canadian Northern Quebec Railway. With the completion of an Ottawa to Hawkesbury line in 1909, the right-of-way became an important link in the CNoR's plan to gain access to Montreal.

Wrestling the railway away from Armstrong proved to be a much bigger problem. Armstrong was well-connected and influential, both politically and socially. On the downside, despite a lifelong involvement in the railway industry, his reputation was less than stellar. He had control over a confusing maze of railway companies and charters that he hoped to string together into a single trunk line. In 1912, he attempted to merge them all under the Central Railway of Canada. The project never got off the ground and was later determined to be illegal.

It took another two years for the CNoR to get their hands on the Carillon and Grenville. Only a small portion of the right-of-way was eventually used. The CNoR became part of the Canadian National Railways (CN) in 1918. CN continued to use the right-of-way until 1939, when the section was abandoned.