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Thousand Islands Railway Reporting Mark: TIR

The Thousand Islands Railway, which ran for 111 years, has the unique distinction of being one of the smallest railways to ever operate in Canada.

Photo of TIR engine
TIR on the streets of Gananoque during the 1950s

The dream began in 1871 as the Gananoque & Rideau Railway. The plan was to build a small feeder line from the town of Gananoque to connect with the Grand Trunk Railway's (GTR) main line. Due to lack of financing, the project languished until 1883, when the Rathbun Company entered the picture.

Rathbun was a major industrial empire during the late 1800s with interests in lumbering, cement, brick yards, iron and railway car construction. They also owned a dockyard in Gananoque and needed both rail and water access to their various operations throughout eastern Ontario.

The GTR, also on the lookout for more business, took a mortgage on the railway in exchange for supplying the rails. But the biggest bonus came from the village of Gananoque which granted the railway both a cash bonus and tax exemption status.

The railway officially opened as the Thousand Island Railway in 1884. A swing bridge was constructed in 1894 to extend service to businesses on the east side of the Gananoque River. The line ran for approximately 8 kilometres and was never extended beyond that.

Following the bankruptcy of the GTR in 1923, control of Thousand Islands Railway was transferred to the Canadian National Railway (CN). CN continued operating the railway as a separate entity until 1958, when its tax exempt status ended. It was then merged into general CN operations. Passenger service lasted until 1962 and freight service until 1995, when CN was privatized. The railway was dismantled and the tracks lifted in 1997.

A few small remnants of the Thousand Island Railway continue to exist. A shelter and engine have been preserved in a small roadside park in Gananoque. The former Gananoque Junction station (now renamed Gananoque) has been renovated and remains in use by VIA Rail.