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Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway Reporting mark: PADW

The Port Arthur Duluth and Western Railway (PAD&W) was a short-line that operated in Northwest Ontario and a small area of Northern Minnesota.

Picture of PD engine
A foresters' picnic along the PD during the 1890s.
Photo: G.H. Lovelady, Source: Thunder Bay Public Library

The PAD&W was first conceived back in 1872. After being thwarted in their attempts to get a federal charter, the promoters finally managed to obtain a provincial charter in 1883 under the name Thunder Bay Colonization Railway.

The promoters hoped to bring in revenue from the numerous silver mines popping up in the district and also from the iron deposits at Gunflint Lake. Equally important, construction on the Duluth and Iron Range Railway had begun in the US. The investors, mainly Port Arthur industrialists, hoped this would offer a direct connection to Duluth from the PAD&W.

In 1887 the railway got a new name, the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway. Construction finally began in the fall of 1889. The railway reached its Canadian terminus at Gunflint Lake in December 1892.

Affectionately dubbed the "PD" or the "PeeDee" Railway, the PAD&W was plagued with bad luck throughout its short life. Before the railway even opened, a fire in 1891 destroyed the company's engine house resulting in $10 thousand damage to two engines. That was a major loss for a company already operating on a shoestring budget that had yet to see a dime in earnings. A six-mile (9.6 km) branch was built in the state of Minnesota to connect with the American line. This was to provide access to the Paulson Mine near Gunflint Lake on the Canadian side. Unfortunately in 1892, shortly before the railway opened, the iron mine closed and the silver market collapsed, wiping out two major sources of potential revenue.

The railway's official opening on June 1, 1893 was its only moment of glory. The following year, the US branch line was severely damaged by a forest fire and the iron market collapsed. Although the railway did see some modest expansion over the next few years, it was running on empty with nothing to replace the lost earnings from the depressed iron and silver markets.

In 1898 the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) mercifully put the PeeDee out of its misery. Described by CN historian, G.R. Stevens, as a "derelict," the railway was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. The CNoR picked it up for a mere $250 thousand. Although the silver and iron markets later recovered, it seems likely the CNoR was more interested in using the 19 miles (30.5 km) of track for entry into Port Arthur. Once the silver mines began reopening, the line was profitable for a number of years until 1909 when the section to the US was severed following another forest fire.

The PeeDee was gradually abandoned in bits and pieces. By 1915, everything west of North Lake had been removed. At that point the CNoR was faring no better. Hit hard financially by an overly rapid expansion and borrowing restrictions during the war, it was taken over by the federal government in 1917 to become part of the newly created Canadian National Railway (CN).

By then the writing was on the wall. Under CN, the PeeDee's abandonment continued. When a large trestle west of Mackies Siding was destroyed by a forest fire, CN found a convenient excuse to shut down that section of line.

Miraculously, against all odds, the PeeDee managed to survive 45 years. However its days were clearly numbered. In March 1938, CN applied to abandon whatever remained of the line. It was losing money plus it required extensive rehabilitation. CN could no longer justify the expenditures, particularly during the depression. The end came swiftly. In October 1938, the PeeDee officially ceased to exist.