Quebec and Lake St. John Railway Reporting mark: unknown
The Lake St. John area, north of Quebec City was both pristine and beautiful. Richly endowed with farmlands to the northwest, it was also barely accessible. The rough journey up Lake St. John was a major deterrent to settlement. As late as 1895, there were only 3,000 residents in the area, half of whom lived in the community of Roberval.
Travel Brochure, 1903
By the 1880s, a railway was considered to be of the utmost necessity. Actively supported by the Church, the Legislative Assembly and local residents, construction began in 1885 under contractor H.J. Beemer. As construction progressed, the railway began to operate in bits and pieces. The railway finally reached Roberval in 1888. An extension to Chicoutimi was opened in 1892. Upon completion the railway covered an area of 300 miles (about 485 km).
Governments at all levels were strongly supportive of the railway. The railway received substantial grants from both the federal and provincial governments for a total of $8,700 per mile. There was an addition $2,500 per mile from the City of Quebec, which also invested $125,000 in the company's common stock. The province threw in generous land grants amounting to 1,871,950 acres, some of which was sold back to the government. There were also bonuses from the province for fixed installation.
For the first eight years, the railway boasted a steady profit. Between 1892 and 1900, revenue more than doubled, passenger traffic doubled and freight traffic tripled. Unfortunately the railway was hit with a series of capital expenditures which badly affected its credit. By the mid 1890s, the railway was in serious financial trouble. The federal government came through with some assistance but it was never enough.
In the meantime, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, owners of the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), were on the prowl, sniffing around for bargains. The two partners had managed to build a major railway, in part from picking up small lines that were in financial distress, and finding ways to integrate them into their network. They smelled an opportunity in the QLSJR, one which was likely overlooked by the owners.
Construction of the National Transcontinental Railway, about 40 miles west of the QLSJR, began in 1904. Mackenzie and Mann reckoned the contractors would need a supply line. They gained control of the QLSJR around 1906 and by 1907 had built a 40-mile extension from Linton Junction to La Tuque.
The supply line was immensely profitable for the short time it was in use. However Mackenzie and Mann seemed to have little other use for the QLSJR. A couple of small branch lines were added and large amounts of acreage were sold off for far less than their value, which led to conflicts with the local residents.
By 1917 the CNoR had fallen on hard times and was nationalized by the federal government. In 1918 the QLSJR became part of the newly formed Canadian National Railways (CN). Portions of the line remain in operation by CN.