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Victoria Railway Reporting mark: VRY

For a small community, Lindsay was exceptionally well served by railways. It began in 1857 with the arrival of the Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Railway (PHLB). The Victoria Railway followed in 1875. The Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Railway opened in 1877. Bringing up the rear was a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) branch line in 1890.

Photo of George Laidlaw
George Laidlaw
President, 1871-76
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Victoria Railway was promoted by George Laidlaw, a wheat buyer, well known for his involvement in short lines.

For this line, Laidlaw latched onto a colonization scheme to recruit immigrants to work on the railway until it was completed. According to the terms of payment, one third of the worker's pay would be held back for the purchase of land along the railway once it was up and running. For obvious reasons, Laidlaw was unable to attract government interest in the plan.

The railway finally began operating in 1871 as the Fenelon Falls Railway. Then it was renamed the Lindsay, Fenelon Falls & Ottawa River Valley Railway. Laidlaw finally got rid of that mouthful and settled on the regal choice of the Victoria Railway in 1873, presumably in the hope that it would improve the railway's marketability.

Another method Laidlaw used to raise cash was to request a bonus from settlers in the proposed area. The settlers in this case were more than willing to pay the $55,000 bonus but Peterborough County refused to allow them to tax themselves to the required degree. Undaunted the settlers approached the provincial government requesting separation from Peterborough and the formation of their own county. Thus the provisional county of Haliburton came into being in 1874.

Photo of George Laidlaw historical plaque
George Laidlaw Historical Plaque
Anglican Cemetery, Balsam Lake
© Jeri Danyleyko, 2017

Construction began in 1874 and was completed in 1878. The railway was 55.5 miles long (89.3 km) and had 12 stops from Lindsay to Haliburton. These included prosperous milling communities like Fenelon Falls, Kinmount and Gelert. By then the immigration scheme had been replaced with a new plan to exploit iron-ore and minerals which were rumoured to exist in Haliburton County.

The Victoria Railway connected with the Midland Railway in Lindsay at a location known as Victoria Junction (also Midland Junction). That was followed in 1877 with a right-of-way into downtown Lindsay to connect with the new Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Railway. Lindsay now had rail access to all the major communities to both the north and the south. An attractive downtown station, similar in style to the early Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) stations, was built in 1879 to serve both railways.

The Victoria Railway was not profitable. Over time bonus repayments to the new county of Haliburton trickled dry, leading to severe financial difficulties for the young jurisdiction. It took a number of years for the county to get the financial situation under control.

The Victoria Railway's existence was short-lived. In 1883 it was acquired by the Midland Railway, followed by the GTR which took over the Midland in 1884. In 1923 the bankrupt GTR was absorbed by Canadian National Railways (CN). The line remained in use by CN until the 1970s. It was abandoned in the early 1980s.