Ever since man became
involved in the production of goods, he has sought the most
convenient and inexpensive method to get those goods to the market
place. In Upper Canada as elsewhere, canoes on rivers, packhorses on
trails, wagons on roadways and barges on canals where all used to
transport various types of commodities. By the 19th century a new
form of locomotion made possible by improvements to the steam engine
became available. This was the steam locomotive and it promised a
means of smooth, fast and efficient transportation of goods. The
railroad's major advantage was its capability to transport large
volumes of goods over long distances. Unlike canals which performed
the same task, the railroad could easily and relatively inexpensively
reach into all areas of the province.
For its early promoters the railroad
was the means by which the economy of Upper Canada would be pulled
into the forefront. All that was needed was men of vision, courage
and capital to bring the railroads where they were needed. The
railroads thus early on became equated with progress and economical
development. It was generally held that a town of any size or
ambition had to be served by at least one of the competing railroads
if it expected to proper. The choice appeared to be either attract a
rail line or suffer a certain economic decline.
CPR Bridge Then
CPR Bridge Now (1997)
Businessmen in Galt, Preston and
Hespeler were not lacking in ambition and in their eyes, the future
clearly belonged to the railroads and to those who built them.
Consequently there was no shortage of those who sought to bring the
railroad to their communities.
For a few heady months in the late
1840's it appeared that the mainline of the Great Western Railway Co.
(GWR) would run through Galt thus assuring the village a future
prosperity. When this hope failed to materialize, a group of Galt
businessmen, late in 1850 and early 1851, approached the GWR with a
proposal. The Galt men offered to purchase $25,000. worth of GWR
stock if the company would build and operate a branch line from
Hamilton to Galt. The company agreed and construction was slated to
begin in 1852.
The agreement was seen locally as
having a great significance for the economic development of Galt and
the town council was determined to mark the beginning of construction
with a major celebration. Extensive preparations were made for the
sod turning ceremony and several of the leading men of the province
were in attendance with Sir Allan McNab present to turn the first sod.
According to contemporary reports, Sir Allan "used his silver spade
amidst much cheering, the people being delighted with the prospect of
soon seeing the ironhorse snorting through the village".
A grand ball, which has been
described as "undoubtedly the grandest affair of the kind which ever
took place in Galt and vicinity", followed the sod turning
ceremonies. The ball was held in the Commercial Block which had
been built for Absalom Shade and which had only recently been
completed. Mr. Shade made available the three front rooms on the
second floor for the occasion. Two rooms were used for dancing
with the third set aside for the supper. In attendance were Sir
Allan McNab and his daughters, several of the chief officers of the
GWR along with many other distinguished visitors and the leading
citizens of Galt and neighbouring communities.
The main line of the GWR opened in
1854 and the Galt branch line was officially opened August 21, 1855.
This event too, was marked with great rejoicing and celebration.
The platform at the station was crowded at 8:30 in the morning when
the first train left Galt for Hamilton filled with prominent
Galtonians. Even larger crowds, headed by village reeve John
Davidson, were on hand to greet the train upon its return at
11:00 a.m. The dignitaries arriving in the train were escorted to
the Queen's Arms Hotel on Queen's Square (now the site of the
Cambridge Y.M.C.A.) where about 70 people sat down to lunch and
celebrated the historic opening of the Galt branch of the GWR
amidst toasts and speeches.
Following the 1851 agreement to
build the Galt branch line, another group of businessmen began to
lay plans to build a rail line from Galt to Guelph. This project
was to be built by the promoters with the intention of then leasing
the line to the GWR. On November 10, 1852 an Act incorporating the
Galt and Guelph Railway Co. was enacted. The company's promoters
included some of the wealthiest men in the area including Absalom
Shade, Andrew Elliott and William Dickson Jr. of Galt, along with
Money for the project was to be
raised by the sale of stock secured, primarily, by an agreement with
the GWR to lease the line once it was complete thereby guaranteeing
its profitability. However with many similar rail projects being
promoted, often with less than favourable results, investors were
initially reluctant to sign up for stock in the new company. Several
public meetings were held to encourage purchase of the stock and a
dispute quickly arose between merchants and millers in Galt and
Preston concerning the best route for this line. The Galt
businessmen wanted the line to run from Galt to Guelph through
Hespeler. The Preston businessmen, fearing an economic decline if
their village was not on the rail line, insisted on the somewhat
longer route from Galt to Preston and then on through Hespeler to
Guelph. Jacob Hespeler, though he had moved much of his business
activity New Hope, still retained considerable property in, and
economic ties to Preston and strongly supported the Preston route.
Since the other backers could see benefits for themselves resulting
from the Preston route, they tended to support Jacob Hespeler, thus
apparently assuring the victory of the Preston route.
It is not entirely clear why the
Galt businessmen were so opposed to the Preston route although
economic concerns would appear to be the most likely cause.
Certainly since it was longer than the route proposed, the line
would be more expensive to build. Of greater significance was the
increased economic competition that would be provided by Preston
goods entering the market place on the same railway cars that served
Galt businesses. A railway line that served Galt but not Preston
could provide Galt businessmen with an economic advantage that was
not easily or lightly given up. Galt merchants feared a loss of
business if the line ran through Preston and they were determined
to fight it.
Though determined, the Galt
merchants were unsure of their next move. When the stock books
were first opened, Galt businessmen declined to purchase any shares
in the rail line. However they soon realized that if the line was
built without Galt representation on the Board of Directors, it
would certainly go through Preston. Thus, at the last minute,
apparently after discovering the total stock purchased in all the
other communities, the Galt businessmen staged a coup by signing up
for three times the total stock already purchased, thereby assuring
themselves control of the Board of Directors.
Jacob Hespeler, with interests in
Preston and New Hope, was equal to the challenge. Upon hearing of
the Galt move he arranged for a Henry McCracken, a bar keeper at the
Royal Hotel in Hamilton, to sign up for almost twice the total of the
Galt controlled stock. With McCracken's proxy in hand, Jacob
Hespeler held enough votes to control the election of the Board of
Directors. In the end not one of the Galt stock holders was elected
to the none member board.
Having now lost the battle, the
Galt investors were faced with a serious problem. They were now
responsible to pay for the shares for which they had signed but they
had absolutely no influence on the decisions made by the company.
The Galt investors responded by launching a law suit that charged
that Jacob Hespeler's McCracken manoeuver was illegal. The suit was
dropped when the Galt investors were released from their obligation
to buy stock in the Galt and Guelph Railway Co. This left the
company short of funds but after considerable manoeuvering the
company was ready to proceed.
A contract to build the line was
awarded in January 1854 and the formal sod turning was held in
Preston on May 12, 1854. Even with the law suits out of the way
the project did not go well and encountered numerous financial
difficulties. In the spring of 1855 the GWR finally stepped in
and agreed to complete the line. In order to compete with the
Grand Trunk Railway, the GWR required a branch line to Berlin
(Kitchener) and this was not possible until the Galt-Preston line
was built. Thus with the GWR in charge of the construction, the
Preston line was opened in December 1856 with the line through
Hespeler to Guelph opened in September 1857.
Over the time the hard feelings
resulting from the dispute over the route were forgotten as the
fear of Galt businessmen about their economic decline proved
unwarranted. However the episode is an early example of the
rivalry and antagonism that have been an unfortunate aspect of
the relationship of Cambridge's founding municipalities. However,
it should be noted that it was a rivalry that grew out of the
similarities of the communities and which was based on the
competition for a larger share of the same finite market. If
the market for the communities' goods had been seen as infinite,
it is unlikely that the rivalry and resulting antagonism would
have developed. There would have been plenty for everyone.
However the available wealth was seen as both finite and severely
limited and it was commonly held that for one area to advance
economically another must decline. Each of the founding communities
was determined not to suffer a decline. The rivalry then was
based on a common desire to succeed and a common tendency to look
at business, industry and the railroads as the vehicles that would
bring prosperity. It was then a rivalry, built on similarities,