Saturday, February 13, 2021

Harrowsmith, ON Part 1 - The Early Years

Harrowsmith station, 1910
Harrowsmith, Ontario is a village north of Kingston. The sign off Highway 401 directs drivers 16 kilometres up Highway 38. At the hub of roads linking Verona to the north, Sydenham to the east, Wilton and Yarker to the west and Kingston to the south, the village was a crossroads community. The top photo shows a westbound train passing the town's station in 1910. It's probably fair to say that trains photographed in Harrowsmith, 19 rail miles north of Kingston, were only there because they were on their way to someplace else. But Harrowsmith's unique location led to the village hosting a unique railway connection. One that I'm struggling to contain in anything less than a five-post series, the links to which will reside here as they're posted:
B of Q - NT&Q - K&NW then CN

The Rathbuns' Bay of Quinte (B of Q) Railway & Navigation Company was granted a charter in 1879 to build a line to connect Deseronto with the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) at Napanee. The line entered service in 1881. 

The Napanee, Tamworth & Quebec Railway (NT&Q) was chartered the same year, coming under Rathbun control in 1883. It commenced operations from Napanee to Tamworth in 1884. Only the Grand Trunk connected the two lines at Napanee. Here are schedules of the B of Q and NT&Q from a 1887 Official Travelers Guide:
Notice all the Rathbun family members in B of Q and NT&Q management!
The NT&Q became the Kingston, Napanee & Western Railway (KN&W) and leased to the B of Q on September 24, 1891. With running rights over the GTR, through service from Deseronto, plus NT&Q extensions from Tamworth to Tweed, and Yarker to Harrowsmith completed in 1889, these lines were connected to Kingston by running rights over the Kingston & Pembroke (K&P), also in 1889, until 1913. So, there were 60 aggregate miles under Rathbun control, plus an additional 24 miles of running rights. 

The KN&W was merged with the B of Q, forming the Bay of Quinte Railway Company on January 1, 1897. An original 1893 plan for Harrowsmith proposed a KN&W extension that would cross the K&P at Harrowsmith via a diamond. But a curving line into the village meant a more optimal through-connection sharing a short section of the K&P line, not a diamond. This junction was controlled by a manned interlocking installed by the KN&W. The said crossing to be protected by derails and two distant semaphores, on the Kingston, Napanee & Western Ry. one in either direction, placed in such position, in addition to distant signals on the Kingston & Pembroke Ry. The said derails to be kept locked open during the night - the key (there must not be more than one) locking and unlocking the said derails, to be held in the custody of the Stationmaster at the Harrowsmith Station who will be responsible that they are so kept locked open at night.  All at the cost of the Kingston, Napanee & Western Ry. A 1902 proposed plan for signals at a diamond crossing of K&P/B of Q:
The B of Q passed into the hands of Mackenzie and Mann in 1909, then under full control of the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) in 1914. The CNoR built a through-connection at Yarker, west of Harrowsmith, in 1912-13. This more effectively linked the two segments of the B of Q on the CNoR's way from Toronto-Ottawa (opened in 1912), thence Montreal in 1914, without previous cumbersome switching moves. The rebuilt connection included a new, longer bridge at Yarker in a now-uninterrupted east-west flow of traffic. CNoR was taken over by Canadian Government Railways in 1917, thence CN. The CNoR remained a paper railway, its corporate existence coming to an end in 1954. The K&P dark-lined map below, before what would become the CN line extended east of Sydenham and Harrowsmith, shows Harrowsmith during the running rights era. Once the connection between Ottawa and Napanee was completed, CN and CP trackage  mapped at Harrowsmith would show that 'X' marked the spot.


Survey crews under Thomas Nash mapped out a route for the Kingston & Pembroke, from Kingston to Sharbot Lake. The construction contract was let to G.B. Phelps & Company of Watertown, N.Y., coincidentally one of nine Watertown investors. The official sod-turning for the K&P took place at Kingston on June 17, 1872 near the site of the Davis Tannery. Rail was 50 pounds per yard as far as Sharbot Lake, thereafter 56 or 60 pound rail further north. Of the line’s 103 miles of main line, the track was only level for 38 of them, and only tangent for 65 miles. Curves accounted for more than 35 miles. Harrowsmith and trackage as far as Godfrey was completed on June 17, 1875; Sharbot Lake on October 25, 1875 and opened for use on May 8, 1876. An excerpt from Engineering, Vol. 39 on the completion of the K&P, Jan-June 1885:
Here is the K&P schedule, also taken from the 1887 Official Travelers Guide, showing trains heading from Kingston to Sharbot Lake and Renfrew. From Harrowsmith with connections to...Vancouver!
The K & P line was in receivership in 1894. But it reorganized four years later and in 1903 passed to the CP. The Bay of Quinte Railway enjoyed trackage rights over the Kingston line until 1913. Before the First World War the Kingston service consisted of a daily passenger and mixed train each way with an extra mixed service as far as Sharbot Lake. The Canadian Locomotive Co. built the Kingston company's 11 locomotives. Records show the line's inventory when the CP took over included seven passenger cars, 50 flat cars and 20 box cars.  CP gained full operational control of the K&P in 1913, though it would remain a paper railway. 

In 1909, K&P train times at "Harrowsmith Junction" (shown as 24-hour clock here) with times at Kingston 45-60 minutes different, Northbounds/Southbounds:
  • 1242 No 1 Kingston-Sharbot Lake Psgr Daily Ex.Sun/No 2 1512
  • 1755 No 3 Kingston-Sharbot Lake Mixed Daily Ex.Sun./No 4 0710
  • 0835 No 5 Mixed thrice weekly/No 6 1242
In 1909, B of Q train times at Harrowsmith Junction:
  • 1655 No 11 Third Class Mixed Daily Ex.Sun./0910 No 12
K&P Harrowsmith Yard Limits in 1909 extended from South Semaphore to North Semaphore. Harrowsmith was a register and bulletin point, with day telegraph office symbol 'SD'.

In 1915, daily CP train times at "Harrowsmith Junction" Northbounds/Southbounds:
  • 1158 No 619 Kingston-Renfrew/ 1445 No 620
  • 1805 No 623 Kingston-Sharbot Lake/ 0655 No 624
  • 2045 No 621 Kingston-Renfrew/ 1325 No 622
In 1914, daily Canadian Northern train times at Harrowsmith, with times at Kingston 50 minutes different:

  • 1720 No 75 from Kingston to Tweed via Yarker daily ex.Sun. northbound
  • 0920 No 76 from Tweed to Kingston daily ex.Sun. southbound
Above - Various Kingston British Daily Whig newspaper advertisements for BofQ (1912 small), K&P (1911) and GTR (1911 and 1917) and all three (1911). Click for a larger version.

Below - A 1938 CP plan showing arrangement for interchange tracks and a (CN or predecessor) wye south of the trackage in Harrowsmith, west of the current Highway 38. The interlocking tower is shown as 22 feet square at the joint section. Also, a reference to a collision which occurred on September 29, 1917 appears therein. 
Sightlines noted at Wilton Road crossing just west of station. (Plans via Colin Churcher/Ottawa Railway History Circle)
Some station vintage views:
1912 looking east

1915 looking west

Maps illustrate Harrowsmith's transportation importance to us as rail enthusiasts. It would not be until 1985 that I would get to know Harrowsmith in another more personal way. My future wife, and her family lived in the area! In fact, right beside the Canadian Northern line between Harrowsmith and Sydenham.

In the next post in this five-part series, we'll look at Harrowsmith operations in the steam era and eventually farther east to Sydenham!

Running extra...

Harrowsmith Fun Fact: The same-named magazine, first conceived in 1976, was initially published in Camden East, not Harrowsmith! For homesteaders earth-mothers, and those who wanted to live on their own.

What social isolation? Over the past week, I enjoyed opportunities to:

  • watch inimitable Fallowfield Effect live-action HO Galt Sub. switching
  • hear Bob Fallowfield discuss how to blend 'That Car' into a realistic fleet
  • join the Toronto Railway Supper Club for two hours of Hanley Spur discussion
  • enjoy an Associated Railroaders of Kingston Zoom presentation by Bill Linley
  • keep up on the blogs in my sidebar - varied prototype and model subjects
  • enjoy the True North (all-Canada, above) February 2020 issue of Railfan & Railroad, leading to a discussion  with editor Steve Barry about Quebec place-naming conventions!
  • 'see' CN freights with IC Heritage and BCOL cowl units, the latter repeatedly showing up Toronto-Belleville trains 516/517


Mike Galt said...

This is going to be a neat series. Thanks

Eric said...

I share your enthusiasm, Mike. Though many text-sketches of the K&P have been made, I find there has not been that much published or online that has been presented in a systematic nature. So, I'm doing something to change that, and I continue to add more text, information and photo pieces to the puzzle every day!

It's good to have you along for the ride.

Steven Manders said...

I am very impressed with the details there that I have never seen before. Thanks a lot. The Kingston Napanee and Western Railway was financed with a $75,000 bonus from the City of Kingston join Harrowsmith with Yarker, and Tamworth with Tweed so that a person or freight could then pick up the CPR in Tweed to Toronto avoiding excessively high Grand Trunk Rates. That was when Kingston had a population of 15,000 people and a labourer earned a dollar a day. it was a big deal. They had to run one train into the K&P station every morning, and one train out in the afternoon to keep their bonus. Rates had to be competitive with other systems, and they could not compete with the K&P on its line for freight. I have seen the hand written notes of Kingston City Council laying out the contract, and the final type written copy. In the end, the revenue was not sufficient, the service ended and the Kingston City Council sought compensation and all that was left was one building in Napanee which still stands. I would be happy to share those with anyone interested. The originals are in the Queen's Archives.

Eric said...

Glad you're finding out something new, Steven, as I'm finding this topic turning into a series and it's a real historical rabbit-hole. And I find blogging is a good way to present and revise the information.

Thanks for your comment,

Unknown said...

Eric, I am coordinating "The GHOST TRAIN Bike Ride" Sept 25,2021 10-3 from Strathcona through to Sydenham. Each of the 6 'Stations' will display some aspects of local community and railway history, and have a 'Station Agent' to punch tickets - and just be helpful and informative. I am planning to have standup displays with some of the History in pictures and bullet points of the stories behind them. I am hoping to arrange some sound effects for a 'distant train' and 2 play a bit of Gordon Lightfoot's Railway Trilogy. I am still looking for the best 'Ghost' element to follow this theme. >>If you would like to participate in any way, this would be very much appreciated. This event is concert with the Friends of the Cataraqui Trail and will include support from Steve Manders and his portable museum at Harrowsmith. Thank You, Ross C.