Railroads in Canada played a
significant role in the development of the nation in the 19th century. They
formed a physical link between the widespread territories of the new country and
they helped to bring "progress" and "prosperity" to many parts of Ontario.
These early railroads were embraced enthusiastically by individuals and
governments alike and it was commonly held that any town that hoped to
prosper had to be served by a least one of the competing rail lines.
As the 19th century progressed, the
enthusiasm that accompanied the development of steam railroads carried
over to a mode of rail transportation made possible by the advent of
commercially available electricity -- the urban and interurban electric
The first application of electricity
as a power source for trains occurred about 1885 and progressed so
rapidly that by 1900 it was said to have displaced all other systems
of city and suburban traffic where electricity was available. As with
the steam railroads before them, the electric railways came to be seen
as a fair indication of the progressiveness of the municipality they
Electric rail transportation in Cambridge
can trace its origins to 1890 when Galt and Preston Street Railway
(G & P) was organized for the expressed purpose of providing a frequent
and low fare passenger and freight service to meet the increasing social
and business exchange between the inhabitants of Galt and Preston. At
the time this was a most unusual concept, since urban rail traffic was
generally restricted to the transport of heavy freight.
The concept appeared to have considerable
merit but even apparently good ideas can produce opposition. In this
case the opposition came from Preston merchants who felt that the
electric rail project would cause them to lose considerable business to
their larger neighbour. The project was delayed for about two years and
it wasn't until 1893 that Preston Council was prepared to discuss the
project. Even then they would discuss it only on their own terms. First
of all they rejected a G & P request for a right of way along King Street,
offering instead the less used Queen Street (now Queenston Road). This
offer was unsatisfactory to the company. After some negotiations, council
agreed to the King Street route but only on the condition that the company
pay for the opening and grading of a part of Queen Street which at the time
was partly closed.
In addition, council required that
Preston manufacturers be on a equal footing with Galt manufacturers,
that the power house, machine shops and car barns be located in
Preston, and that the G & P schedule trains from Preston to connect
with all Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) trains arriving in Galt.
The company agreed, and in 1894 building on the railway began.
Tracks were laid from the Grand Trunk Railway Station in Galt
north to Hunter's Corner (now the Delta intersection at Highways
8 & 24) and then west along what is now Coronation Blvd. to Preston.
The arrival of the first electric rail
cars to Galt generated considerable local excitement and, according
to contemporary accounts, "quite a large crowd repaired to the C.P.R.
Station in the evening to await the arrival of the train with the
cars. The cars are well equipped and made after the most modern
style. Number 23 is a 40 foot car, containing a baggage compartment
which takes up 10 feet of space. The seats are finely upholstered;
beveled glass windows decorate the ends and the car contains four
electric heaters. Fourteen incandescent electric lights with very
pretty globes hang from the ceiling and the car has a seating capacity
for about 30 passengers. Car number 22 is about 18 feet long,
also has four heaters and has seats running lengthwise".
The opening of the electric railway
was delayed somewhat because of the C.P.R. overpass on Water Street
North had to be rebuilt to allow the electric trains to pass
underneath. However, trial trips were begun on July 21, 1894
and the line officially opened five days later thus becoming
one the earliest interurban electric trains in Canada and the
first in America to offer both freight and passenger service.
The promoters of the G & P, who
included Thomas Todd of Galt, the company's first president, were
not content with this line alone. In 1895 two additional cars
were purchased and construction began on a line running
northeast from Preston along the Speed River to Hespeler.
This line reached Hespeler in January 1896 and to reflect
the change in the company's service, its name was changed
to the Galt, Preston and Hespeler Street Railway (G, P, & H).
By 1896, the company was carrying
about 35,000 passengers and 1,000 tons of freight each month.
It is said that the revenues generated by the freight traffic
alone entirely paid for operating the line. The freight traffic
ran only at night, pulled by steam locomotive, to allow the
generating station to shut down and consisted primarily of coal
obtained by undercutting the rates of the Grand Trunk Railway.
In 1894 with the completion of the
Galt-Preston line, a charter to build an electric rail line between
Preston and Berlin (Kitchener) was granted to Thomas Todd of Galt
(President of the G & P), Fred Clare of Preston and J.A. Fennel
of Kitchener. For various reasons, the Preston and Berlin Street
Railway lay dormant until 1900 when it was reorganized.
Construction on the new line began in 1901 at the G, P & H
connection at east Preston. From there it followed the G, P & H
line to Preston Junction at the entrance to Riverside Park.
From there it traveled through Freeport and on to Berlin where
it connected with the Berlin and Waterloo Street Railway. The
laying of the track was completed by 1902 but initial passenger
service on the line was delayed until February 5, 1903. The
official opening of the line occurred on August 21, 1903 with
normal service in place five days later.
Although the Galt, Preston and
Hespeler Street Railway and the Preston and Berlin Street Railway
operated officially as separate companies, they were in fact
closely connected and were formally amalgamated in 1908 to form
the Galt, Preston and Hespeler and Preston and Berlin Street
Railway (G, P & H and P & B).
Shortly before this amalgamation,
on December 4, 1906, the large main car barn in Preston was
completely gutted by fire. Much of the rolling stock, including
six passenger cars and two freight cars were lost. Only two
passenger cars and some freight cars escaped the flames but with
cars borrowed from other electric rail companies, service was
back to normal within a few days.
In 1908 the close relationship
between the G, P & H and P & B and the C.P.R. was formalized
when the latter railway leased the street railways' lines for
99 years. The C.P.R. and the G, P & H and P & B were closely
connected with another interurban electric rail line called
the Lake Erie and Northern Railway (L E & N). This line
originally resulted from a desire for a rail link between
Brantford and the Lake Erie town of Port Dover. This line
incorporated in 1911, was leased to the C.P.R. in 1913 and
was extended from Brantford to Galt in 1916. Although not
officially linked, the G, P & H and P & B and the L E & N
railways were closely connected, sharing members of the same
In 1914, the Galt, Preston
and Hespeler and Preston and Berlin Street Railway, perhaps
finding the corporate name somewhat cumbersome, became the
more streamlined Grand River Railway (G R R). The name
change certainly did not hurt business and interurban
electric rail service remained profitable for quite some time.
The 1940's saw total freight service at a level that was higher
than at any time in the line's history, with 85 cars per day
traveling in some areas over track originally intended to
accommodate only 42 cars per day. At the same time the L E & N
offered 12 scheduled trips from Galt to Port Dover daily with a
one way fare set at $1.60.
However, the other modes of
transportation began to make inroads into the rail passenger
traffic and in April 1950 the Grand River Railway requested
permission from the Board of Transport Commissioners to
discontinue passenger service. As a result of local protests,
the request was refused but business did not improve. In
1955 the company renewed its request to discontinue passenger
rail service and this time the request was granted. On April
14, 1955, electric rail passenger service in Cambridge came
to an end. Electric freight service continued for a few more
years but the end of the local electric rail service same on
October 1, 1961 when diesels took over the local freight traffic.
Any discussion of electric rail
traffic in Cambridge would not be complete without reference to
the Preston Car and Coach Co. This company operated on a site
now occupied by the Kanmet Ltd. plant on Margaret Street. From
1908 to 1923 they built electric rail cars reputed to be the
equal of any produced by the larger more well known companies.
Preston Car and Coach products were made to order to the
specifications of the customer and at one time could be found
from coast to coast in Canada.
In addition to the electric
rail cars which formed the bulk of its business, the company
also built a small amount of steam railway equipment and as
early as 1914 became one of the early manufacturers of motor
buses by building bus bodies on truck chassis.
In 1921 Preston Car and Coach
was purchased by American interests and was renamed the
Canadian Brill Co. The U.S. parent company was looking to
build cars for the Toronto Transportation Commission.
Brill required a Canadian presence since the TTC restricted
its purchases to Canadian built equipment. The tactic
worked and the company secured an order for fifty cars,
the largest single order ever built in Preston. Then,
abruptly, for reasons that will probably never be clear,
the Preston plant closed in 1923.
Now only a handful of
Preston Car and Coach products remain on view. Even the
majority of the company's product photos have vanished,
leaving little evidence of a quite remarkable and efficient,
though short lived, company.