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Midland Railway of Canada Reporting mark: MRC

The Midland Railway of Canada (not to be confused with the Midland Railway of Manitoba) was one of several small, but well developed railways that dotted central Ontario in the late 1800s. First chartered in 1846 as the Peterborough and Port Hope Railway Company, it was re-chartered in 1854 as the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway (PHL&B). Construction began in 1856 and by 1857 it was operating between Port Hope to Lindsay. The next few years were shrouded in controversy.

Photo of Adolph Hugel
Adolph Hugel
President, 1871-76
Photo: William Notman, Montreal Source: McCord Museum

Rivalry between the two communities of Port Hope and Cobourg was bitter and intense. Separated by only a few kilometres, competition for business was cutthroat. The arrival of the railways made things worse. A jointly planned railway that would benefit both communities was simply not an option.

Cobourg reached Peterborough first with the opening of the Cobourg and Peterborough Railway (C&P) in December 1854. The C&P was a troubled enterprise from the very start. Plans called for the railway to run across a bridge over Rice Lake, rather than take the longer route around it. The bridge was poorly constructed and unreliable leading to frequent service shutdowns.

By 1857 the PHL&B was ready to move in for the kill. Advertising itself as "the reliable route to Peterborough," the railway opened to Lindsay in 1857, followed by a branch line from Millbrook to Peterborough in 1858. With their competitor still struggling, the following piece of duplicity hardly seemed necessary.

D'Arcy Boulton Jr. had been an early promoter of the C&P. He was ousted following the opening of the PHL&B's Peterborough extension. Boulton simply hopped over to the PHL&B where he, along with two partners Henry Covert and John Fowler, took out the operations lease on the new Millbrook Branch. Like Boulton, Fowler had previously been associated with the C&P where he had worked as a subcontractor. The stipulation was they build the branch line to Peterborough.

Once completed, the trio set their sights on the C&P and gained control in 1859. They then proceeded to ransack their competitor, transferring equipment and components over to the PHL&B. The final act of treachery came when they sabotaged the bridge, leading to its final collapse in 1861.

The PHL&B was profitable from the get-go, a pattern that continued for the next 15 years. In 1864 the railway purchased the Port Hope Harbour Company. In 1869 its name was changed to the Midland Railway of Canada. Expansion, which had been at a standstill for the previous decade, then began to pick up. The section to Beaverton was finally opened in 1871, as well as a 9.5 mile spur between Peterborough and Lakefield.

The timing of the Midland's expansion plans couldn't have been worse. In 1871 Adolf Hugel who arrived from Pittsburgh began to take control, followed by the active operation of the railway. The following year the world was hit with a severe economic downturn that crippled the entire railway industry. Between 1872 and 1874 freight receipts fell by 30 per cent. Hugel battled to keep the railway solvent and at the same time continue on a modest plan of upgrades and expansions. One of the biggest upgrades was the conversion from broad to standard gauge which involved scrapping 10 locomotives. Costly endeavours such as this were vital to the long-term survival of the railway.

The British bondholders recognized and respected Hugel's efforts. In order to help, they agreed in 1874 to lower the rate of interest and to forego their interest coupons. The railway continued to expand gradually reaching Orillia in 1873, Waubashene in 1875 and Midland in 1879.

Unfortunately Hugel's work had been in vain. After 1875 the Midland was insolvent and ownership passed to the bondholders. Chairman of the bondholder's committee just happened to be Sir Henry Tyler, President of the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). In addition to Tyler, there was heavy GTR representation throughout the committee. In 1878 George Albertus Cox, an insurance agent and former politician, was appointed President. His commitment was to return the Midland to profitability.

Cox was a dynamic individual whose past career included seven terms as mayor of Peterborough. He began with a series of mergers designed to enlarge and consolidate the Midland into a larger regional rail system. These included the Grand Junction Railway (Belleville to Peterborough), the Whitby and Port Perry Railway, the Toronto & Nipissing Railway (T&R), the Victoria Railway (Lindsay to Haliburton) and a paper railway, the Toronto & Ottawa Railway. This was completed in 1881-82.

The railway's annual report from 1881 is positive and upbeat. The railway boasted 25 telegraph stations, 19 flag stations, seven engine houses, five repair shops, nine turntables, a 24-stall roundhouse in Port Hope, along with numerous other facilities, structures and sidings. Passenger and freight earnings had grown by 21 per cent over the previous year.

The big prize was the narrow gauge T&R which gave the Midland direct access to Toronto. During negotiations, the Midland began laying a third rail from Midland Junction to Scarborough Junction. The merger received official approval on April 1, 1882. That very day the Midland was ready to roll into Toronto.

Cox used the Toronto & Ottawa Railway to build four "missing links" to connect the railways together. The Medonte Tramway (a lumbering line) was added in 1883. By the time everything was completed, the Midland had more than tripled its trackage from 145 to 452 miles.

Cox's relationship with the GTR was both questionable and unclear. The GTR, nervous about the impending arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was attempting to solidify its hold on Ontario. Many suspected Cox was hired to act as an intermediary to bring the Midland under GTR control.

By 1881 the Midland and GTR had established a number of cooperative arrangements. At the beginning of 1884 the GTR leased the Midland and gained full control. The Midland disappeared forever in 1893 when the GTR took full ownership and consolidated all its branch lines.

In 1923 the GTR was absorbed into the Canadian National Railway (CN). Service cuts began in the early 1950s when CN cancelled passenger service. Full scale abandonment took place during the 1970s. A large portion of the Midland Railway has been converted to a rail trail which now forms part of the Ganaraska Hiking Trail.