Thursday, March 14, 2024

Kingston & Pembroke Railway - Part 1

There were so many shortlines to be built and so little time...

Prospectors, entrepreneurs, city fathers, venture capitalists, boosters, hucksters and railroaders were eager to lay steel across much of North America during the railway boom. Kingston was no different. This is the first post in a four-part series, in which I'll profile the history of the K&P, its facilities in Kingston and its stations along the southern part of the line. Links to each post:

The urban growth of the late 19th-century required lumber, minerals, and wood for pulp. All were available north of Kingston, to be extracted and exploited by railway lines not yet built. As of 1846, there were several proposed railways promoted for the Kingston area: in 1846, the Wolfe Island, Kingston & Toronto Railway; in 1853, the Cataraqui & Peterborough Railway; in 1854, the Kingston & Smiths Falls Railway; in 1856 the Kingston & Newburgh Railway; in 1868, the Kingston & Frontenac Railway; in 1869, the Kingston & Madoc Railway.

Only one was successful – the Kingston & Pembroke (K&P) Railway. With a planned northern terminus on the Ottawa River and crossing two of its tributaries – the Mississippi and the Madawaska – all three rivers could bring forth lumber traffic. Development and settlement supplies could be shipped north, with agriculture and resource products shipped back south – to Kingston and beyond!

Later leased by Canadian Pacific, the line is still referred to in the local area as the K&P or in the vernacular, the Kick and Push. Both CP and K&P are used interchangeably here, and both refer to the same line. It was a lifeline connecting many small communities to a world that their inhabitants had little connection to, or interest in. A letter to the editor (one of a number of Kingston Whig-Standard and Kingston Daily News clippings in this post) published February 8, 1884 extols the area's conceptual commercial cornucopia:
Without the K&P and its southern terminus at Kingston, the city might have only had one railway reach its waterfront, not two.  In the early natural resource exploitation and transportation boom, a year-round timber supply not hampered by winter freeze-up, unlike river transport, was desirable. The K&P only reached Renfrew to the north, not its namesake city, though earlier promoters were keen to link Lake Ontario with the mighty Ottawa River. A jaundiced Renfrew Mercury opinion piece noted in 1915 that the K&P had no more to do with Pembroke than it did with Halifax! A connection to a transcontinental line was also desirable, potentially adding traffic and receiving a share of that traffic.


Early prospecting revealed iron, galena, phosphate and mica. The Lacey mica mine, east of Sydenham, was owned by the Loughborough Mining Company and was at one time the largest mica-producing site anywhere. And where there was potential, there would also be willing investors. Stock was subscribed to by local men of importance, with well-known surnames: Gildersleeve, Calvin, Cartwright, Campbell and Kirkpatrick. Even Sir John A. MacDonald had a behind-the-scenes interest in the K&P’s genesis, as well as representing the constituents of his riding, railway and business interests at various times. Eventually, three-quarters of the stock interests would be held by New York figures, two-thirds of whom also held stock in the Kingston & Pembroke Mining Company. The railway's board of directors, February 13, 1884:
After Confederation, the railway boom continued as it had before the American Civil War intervened. Between 1870 and 1890, total trackage in Ontario increased five-fold. By 1910, more than 115 railway charters had been granted in the province. Later that century, between 1970 to 1990, Ontario would lose three-quarters of its trackage.


Railway construction was made attractive by the Railway Aid Act of 1870. The act was designed to subsidize and thereby facilitate railway access to Crown lands, to further develop a burgeoning young nation which had just weathered an economic slump. The K&P was one of the first colonization railways to receive a government subsidy under the Act. The provincial government promised $2,000 per mile, or $3,000 per mile to the north where blasting was necessary, to a total of $400,000. Moneys were raised by communities along the line. Kingston contributed $300,000, Frontenac County $150,000, the County of Renfrew $400,000 (later reduced to $100,000) and the town of Pembroke $50,000. The cost of the line would top $3 million.

Chartered April 14, 1871 under the laws of the Dominion Government, the K&P received 30 acres of land for terminal facilities in the city of Kingston from the Dominion Government. Sixty additional acres under water were received for docks, at nominal figures. The company also owned 10 acres of land at Sharbot Lake and 18 acres at Renfrew. It was exempt from taxation in Kingston and Renfrew.

Survey crews under Thomas Nash mapped out a route 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 Calabogie-Renfrew contract was let to Chisholm, MacDonald and O’Brien. The official sod-turning for the K&P took place at Kingston on June 17, 1872 near the site of the Davis Tannery. Navvies toiled building the line for $1 a day.

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. The combination of gradient and curvature kept train speeds leisurely, and trains were short by necessity. It was simply easier for construction crews to skirt many of the granite outcrops they encountered, than to blast them apart. At Lake Ontario, the Canadian Shield rests 150 feet beneath limestone, rising to the surface on Cedar Island. It is next encountered, northward, at Sydenham and Verona. The Shield rock was a headache for construction crews, reduced to hand-drilling it. Combined with commodities offering only low freight rates, return on investment would be less than ideal.

Godfrey was reached on June 17, 1875; Sharbot Lake on October 25, 1875 and opened for use on May 8, 1876. The Mississippi River was reached in the fall of 1878. Construction finished at Renfrew on November 29, 1884. On September 20, 1884 the Superintendent met with a Canadian railway mogul:
Though the line started in Kingston, mileages were later reversed, with Renfrew becoming Mile 0 and Kingston sitting at Mile 103. The grade north from Kingston to Sharbot Lake was 1.5%, meaning a D10 steam locomotive could haul 910 tons; a smaller D4 580 tons. Heading south, a 1.1% grade meant 1070 and 680 tons respectively.

Stations were established, within Frontenac County: Kingston, Glenvale, Murvale, Harrowsmith, Sigsworth (flag stop), Hartington, Verona, Godfrey, Hinchinbrooke, Parham, Olden, Sharbot Lake, Oso, Clarendon, Mississippi and Snow Road. Watch for an upcoming post on these stations.


The first car of coal reached Kingston on March 14, 1884, carried across the St. Lawrence River from Morristown, NY to Brockville, thence Perth to Sharbot Lake and south on the K&P to Kingston. The first load of freight arrived from Toronto on July 18, 1884:
And the first load of freight north to Renfrew was sent north on November 21, 1884 (below) with another 20 loads sent by Christmas of that year.
The K&P connected to the Ontario and Quebec (O&Q) Railway line, hauling in supplies for its construction. The O&Q was in service by 1883, and its Tweed to Perth section would be abandoned in 1971. The K&P’s mainline connection would thereafter be only with CP’s Toronto-Montreal Belleville Subdivision at Tichborne, which was originally named Parham Junction, 8.5 miles from Sharbot Lake. This other CP line was completed fifty years later, and was the routing CP freight trains used to reach Kingston, originating in CP’s Smiths Falls yard. 

In 1883, the K&P carried 36,000 passengers (Above - December 13, 1884 advertisement for the "New Route", making reference to the station on Ontario Street, opposite the Tete d[e] Pont Barracks. This was the K&P's first station in Kingston). A telegraph office was established in Renfrew in November, 1884. An 1887 K&P passenger schedule shows eight trains per day – three each way between Kingston and Renfrew and one each way between Kingston and Sharbot Lake. Rail connections via Sharbot Lake were advertised for “all points east and west” and at Renfrew for all points west – Pembroke, Vancouver and even San Francisco! Steamer connections at Kingston were advertised for the St. Lawrence River Steamboat Company to Gananoque, Cape Vincent and Thousand Islands; Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company; and the Bay of Quinte steamers for Bay ports.

A 1915 K&P passenger schedule shows six trains a day – two each way between Kingston and Renfrew and one each way between Kingston and Sharbot Lake. Train 612 left Renfrew at 10:40 a.m., arriving at Kingston at 3:45 pm. Train 613 departed Kingston at 8:10 a.m., arriving at Renfrew at 4:20 p.m. By 1926, service was six days per week, meeting CP mainline trains at Sharbot Lake and at Tichborne. Passenger trains were limited to a leisurely maximum speed of 30 miles per hour in 1950.
Two-thirds of total freight tonnage carried by the K&P in 1890 was lumber, and it was being rapidly depleted. There was little fertile soil to produce successful crops. In the K&P era, Snow Road held the distinction of being the single station shipping the most maple syrup in the Dominion of Canada! Grain being shipped from Harrowsmith in the November 19, 1884 news item (above).

Mines produced apatite, lead, talc, feldspar, graphite and mica. Shipped to Kingston and forwarded by the James Richardson Company to markets in the United States and Europe, these mineral deposits were comparatively small. For instance, the Wilbur mine near Lavant, yielded 143,000 tons between 1886 and 1900. It was said that in 1903 there was hardly a prospector in Ontario who searched beyond Frontenac and Hastings counties. It was also said that a year later, there was not a prospector who would remain in the area! New and far-away prospecting fields that were now open beckoned.
In 1890, Sydenham’s Foxton Company sold mica for $200 per ton. By 1914, the price was set at only six cents per pound. Feldspar mining began after 1900. Richardson’s Kingston Feldspar & Mining Co. shipped sizeable quantities by rail from operations like the Card mine, two miles west of the K&P station in Verona, and the Reynolds mine in Portland Township. Mica was used for tile glazing with the opening of the Richardson Co.’s Frontenac Floor & Wall Tile Co. plant in Kingston. The Richardson quarries shipped 16,374 tons of feldspar in 1910. Some went to enamelware factories in New Jersey and Ohio.


In 1893, the K&P defaulted on bond interest payments. A receiver was appointed on October 15, 1894 and the company was reorganized four years later. Beginning in the 1880’s, the ‘upstart’ CP and the GTR engaged in an acquisition struggle, acquiring smaller Ontario railways to prevent the other from encroaching on their own company’s perceived railway fiefdom. By the turn of the century, CP had purchased 83% of the K&P’s capital stock. This move was perhaps intended to keep the K&P out of the hands of the competitor, the GTR. 

In the second post in this series: the post-K&P era and takeover by Canadian Pacific.


There are already a couple of books on the K&P, both out of print: In Search of the K&P and The Men and My Memories of the K&P. While both books tended to be on the colloquial, folksy side there is still the need for a good corporate history with a complete photo roster, photos of stations and scenes along the line, roster data, relevant dates and places profiled, and photos of the trains right up to the end of operations. 

Running extra...

Watching this video is just plain fun. My years of spending hours trackside seem to be over. Really, why bother when YouTubers are out there doing it? Dawn to dusk along CN's Kingston Sub, at various locations,  with CP action including one of the last H10 turns now that the Trenton mill is closing. The  day and many, many more trains await you here.

A nice-looking three-part Youtube series on Tom Linke's Jayville Terminal switching layout.


Derek Redmond said...

Thanks Eric. By the way, there are at least a couple of people working on new books about the K&P.

Eric said...

I know of two, too, Derek. One author's book was in progress back in 2016. That's eight years ago. Another author has told me more research in major provincial and national archives is pending. Decided to just jump the gun and throw some K&P up on the internet!

Thanks for your comment,

Mike said...

Very interesting topic. Whenever I am on the K&P trail, I wonder what it was like with trains running and being able to ride north out of Kingston. Certainly look forward to the upcoming posts!

Michael said...

I am looking forward to more on the old Kick and Push. It's well known far beyond Kingston. The one thing I always wondered about was why Snow Road got its name as a station stop. It seems like an odd choice. I always laughed when driving on the Highway 7 when I passed the sign for Snow Road. I'm sure the reason is quite simple, but still a strange choice.

Eric said...

Hi Mike and Michael,

We definitely need more K&P research and documentation, so if I can do my bit, I will. Snow Road is indeed an interesting name! Cars were the death-knell for much of Canada's rail passenger traffic!

Thanks for your comments,