So I got to the end of the property and decided, what the heck, I’d walk a little bit farther. Raven, who has more energy packed into her little 45-pound frame than can possibly originate from a few cups of dry kibble, would have been happy to hike to Perth and back. Me, not so much. It was cold, and I had stuff to get back to. But I thought going down to the bridge that I had seen from the highway when I drive by would be a manageable distance.
The “trail” is a retired railway bed, and as such it’s broad and flat. In the summer it’s loosely covered in gravel; in the winter it’s loosely covered in snow. I don’t think it ever gets plowed, I suspect they count on snowmobiles to pack the snow down, if they worry about snow maintenance at all. When we stepped out onto it the trail stretched out ahead of us pristine and clear of tracks. I don’t know how much use the trail actually gets. I’ve walked along it a few times, and only ever seen one other person on it, an ATVer back in the fall. I’d gotten so used to the trail being empty, the ATVer rather startled me.
Curious about the history of the trail, I called my dad, who readers of my mom’s blog will know as Railguy. He gave me a bunch of leads that helped get me started on a Google search for more information. Turns out, the rail bed itself was built in 1884 as the main through line from Perth to Toronto of the Ontario & Quebec Railway (incidentally, the OQR was acquired through perpetual lease by Canadian Pacific Railway, CPR, that same year, so it never got a chance to operate as an independent OQR line). The route starts just west of Perth in the hamlet of Glen Tay, where it branches from another CPR line, and runs west through several small Ontario towns to Peterborough, and then southwest to Toronto. The rail line was essentially completed May 5 of 1884, but the first train didn’t travel the line until August 11, due to delays caused by a sinkhole some 60 kilometers (38 miles) west of here near Kaladar.
Less than 15 years after opening, the Perth-Toronto line had become so well-traveled that there was discussion about widening the bed and laying down a second, parallel track. Surveys were completed in 1898 to assess feasibility and cost in straightening the line and reducing the grade (built at 1.1%, they wanted to reduce it to 0.8%). Some 17 locations totaling half of the length of the line would require fixing, and the decision was made instead to build further south, paralleling the shore of Lake Ontario, which had a better grade and didn’t require crossing the Canadian Shield (ie., could be built much straighter).
As passenger travel gave way from trains to automobiles, service along this line would likely have become primarily freight, and then even that eventually mostly shifted down to the lakeshore line, since the easier grade allowed trains to move faster and haul more. Finally, in July 1971, 87 years after it was laid, the track between Glen Tay and the small town of Tweed was retired from service. Sixteen years later, in 1987, the second half of that line “subdivision”, from Tweed to Havelock, was discontinued.
Most of that information came from this website on “Old Time Trains”. It doesn’t provide any indication on when the rails would have been pulled up. I don’t know who owns the land now, whether it still belongs to CPR or if it’s been bought or leased by another company (I thought I might have seen something about Bell Canada having right-of-way?) or organization (for instance the Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance – do they lease land?)
I searched and searched looking for any indication that this section was part of a formal trail system, but was unable to find anything. Some 25 kilometers (16 miles) west of here, the retired line from Sharbot Lake west to Kaladar has been incorporated into the Trans Canada Trail. At Sharbot Lake, instead of continuing east along the line, the TCT jogs southward and actually passes near our old house, going through the south of Frontenac Provincial Park. It then returns north, ending up 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of here, in Smiths Falls. I’m not sure why they didn’t just run the trail straight through. It’s not even listed as an “alternate route” as some trail systems sometimes offer.
The only spot I could find this section of rail bed formally recognized as a recreational trail was on the website of the Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance. They provide a map on their website which shows trails throughout Shield Country. They mark this section of the rail bed in purple. Unfortunately, the resolution of the map is too small for me to be able to determine what purple means. I suspect they represent things like multi-use, pedestrian, ATV/snowmobile, etc. It’s different from the yellow and green trails, though, whatever it is.
East from our house the rail bed largely parallels the highway. A short distance west it starts to turn south away from the highway and cuts through the bush more. I would be interested in following it west at some point. I don’t think I’d be much inclined to go far in the winter, but perhaps in the summer I might bike for a ways. That would require obtaining a bike first, I suppose…