1000 Islands Railway

I originally wrote the content for this when I was in high school many years ago. I was a co-op student at the Gananoque Reporter at the time. This was hosted on Railfan.net for many years and then I shut it down. I plan to go back and fix some of the content later.

The Thousand Islands Railway Historical was North America’s shortest railway in history (6 km / 3.32 mi).

The Thousand Islands Railway was formed in 1884 by the Rathburn family, who controlled a large amount of the mining and logging interests in South-Eastern Ontario.

The line ran from Gananoque to Gananoque Jct, where it connected to the Grand Trunk Railway, mostly along the shore of the Gananoque River, to the St. Lawrence River.

In 1910, the Rathburns sold the TIR to the Grand Trunk Railway. Thirteen years later the Grand Trunk was merged into what is now Canadian National Railways.

From 1884 to 1962, the TIR remained a separate railway. Under Grand Trunk and Canadian National control, the railway operated as a separate subsiderary, with its own board of directors and President.

In 1958, the Town of Gananoque ended a 74 year tax exemption on the railway. This was started to ensure that the town always had rail service. Once the exemption was ended, the railway started to lose money. By 1962, daily passenger service ende and the Thousand Islands Railway was finally merged into the Canadian National.

Traffic ceased to travel the southern portion of the line, from the Stelco (now GFSI) Plant on River Street to the waterfront, in 1981. The rails for that line were removed in 1985.

Via passenger trains still stop at the Gananoque Jct. station, on each way per day.

The line was abandoned in 1996/7.

Stations

Gananoque Station

Gananoque Station – Gananoque Station was built in 1932 at the height of the depression. From 1932 to 1962, when passenger service ended, as many as eight passenger trains and eight freight trains visited the station.

It was closed in 1962 and then leased by the Gananoque Boat Lines (a local tourist operator) and turned into a restaurant/giftshop for the boat cruises that would depart from the new docks built in front of the station.

In October of 1991, three teenagers from Gananoque broke into the station, which was closed for the winter months and set it on fire.

In may of 1992, the property was sold to the Town of Gananoque for one dollar and now is the site of the Thousand Islands Historic Waterfront Village. On the exact site of the former station is the Arthur C. Child Muesum.

Umbrella Station – The station, located at the railway’s crossing of King Street, was started by a Mrs. Edna Strikefoot in 1893. She would sit at the crossing with her large umbrella and wait for the train. When she passed away in 1896, she left in her will money to build a shelter at the crossing. The shelter stands today, restored and beside it, the “Susie Push” TIR #500 stands parked as part of the Town Park.

Cheeseborough – From 1886 to 1938, there was a cheese factory just south of Gananoque Junction called Cheeseborough. TIR passenger trains would stop for passengers to go and buy some cheese and the railway also picked up cheese to be shipped to Kingston. After the cheese factory closed, the train still stopped to pick up people from the 12 houses grouped around the factory.

Gananoque Junction – The present station was built in 1901 by the Grand Trunk Railway. Originally it had rounded corners and a long platform. After the TIR was merged into Canadian National, service to the station was downgraded to two stops each way per day.

In 1986, Via Rail renovated the station, replacing the siding and windows. Also refurbishing the interior.

Two years later, Via cut service to its present one train each way per day.

In April of 1996, Via announced it was considering closing the station, however a public outcry caused the carrier to change it’s mind. The station remains open in 2021.

Locomotives

During the 1800’s and early 1900’s, the Thousand Islands Railway leased locomotives from either the Bay of Quinte Railway (also owned by the Rathburn family) or from the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1932, the TIR received its first locomotive, a gas-electric locomotive, purchased from the Canadian National.

The locomotive was built in 1931, by the Oshawa Railway (which was purchased later that year by CN). The locomotive was converted into a diesel-electric (which is what all railway locomotives are nowadays) in 1936.

During the 1800’s and early 1900’s, the Thousand Islands Railway leased locomotives from either the Bay of Quinte Railway (also owned by the Rathburn family) or from the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1932, the TIR received its first locomotive, a gas-electric locomotive, purchased from the Canadian National.

TIR Locomotive # 500, baking away in the June sun. This photo was taken at Gananoque Jct. in 1949.

The locomotive was built in 1931, by the Oshawa Railway (which was purchased later that year by CN). The locomotive was converted into a diesel-electric (which is what all railway locomotives are nowadays) in 1936.

Whenever repairs were needed to #500, it would be sent down to the Brockville Locomotive Shops (approximately 50 km east) and either a MLW (Montreal Locomotive Works) S-4 or a CLC (Canadian Locomotive Company of Kingston) H12-44 would be lent by CN to help untl #500 was returned.

The locomotive earned the name “Susie Push” in 1942, when a cow walked on to the tracks just north of town. The locomotive was only going 5 mi/h and stopped when the cow refused to move.

#500 crossing King Street by Gananoque Light & Power. Where the photographer was standing, now is where the “Susie Push” resides.

The engineer became frustrated when the farmer who owned the cow said that she would move when she was good and ready. The engineer pushed the throttle forward a bit and started to nudge the cow. The cow started to walk and ended up leading the train for the remaining one and a half miles to the Gananoque Jct. From then on the nickname stuck.

After the town ended the tax exemption in 1958, CN locomotives started to fill in for #500 most of the time. #500 was parked in Brockville in 1961 and moved to the Gananoque waterfront in 1962 and formally retired.

In 1985, as part of a redevelopment of the Gananoque waterfront, #500 was moved to its current site, beside the town library and park on King Street.

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