36 – THE GOLDEN AGE OF RAILWAYS

This week I am finishing up my screenplay “Johnny Reb in Montreal” about the manhunt across the province of Quebec of Lt Bennett Young and his Confederate soldier friends. This is the story of the St. Albans, Vermont raid and the trial in Montreal of the Confederate raiders. After being released from the Pied-du-Courant prison in Montreal in December 1864, the lieutenant and his men were re-arrested just before Christmas on the border with New Brunswick.

Take a look at this map of the Central Vermont Railroad in 1879. It’s quite amazing the rail network that existed in Quebec at the time thanks to the Grand Trunk Railway Company. For instance, you could travel from Portland, Maine through Montreal all the way to Sarnia, Ontario in the 1860s. The Portland track was built to give Montreal access to a seaport during the long winter months when the St. Lawrence River was frozen up. You could take a train from just about anywhere in the Eastern Townships to Montreal and east to Rivière-du-Loup and south through Vermont to New York or Boston or west to Buffalo. Of course, there was no railway to Quebec City or on to Halifax until much later. These were mainly narrow track railways and the number of rail companies is amazing.

While I was doing my research for the screenplay, I had to take into account all the travel possibilities available to the lieutenant at the time. One author describes George Brown, the owner of the Globe Newspaper and one of the fathers of the Canadian Confederation, returning to Toronto from London after meeting with British Prime Minister Palmerston. After a two-week transatlantic voyage, Brown arrived in New York City and the following day was back in Toronto. I asked myself whether this was possible at the time. Today, it would not be possible by train, but only by air. In 1865, Brown could have taken the train from New York to the top of the state and then gone west to Buffalo which was connected to Windsor and Toronto. Or he could have chosen to go north through Montreal and then west. The Victoria Bridge in Montreal had been built in 1859 to carry the passenger trains across the river.

When you ponder public transportation in and around Montreal today, there has been little or no improvement since 1860. Remember they had horsecars (horse-drawn tramways) in Montreal at the time which were precursors of the motorized streetcars that came later. You could travel just about anywhere by train. It is not surprising that Quebeckers fell in love with the Maine seaside since you could take a train to Portland and on to Old Orchard and other seaside ports, travelling through the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Have a nice week.

See photo of a Toronto horsecar below:

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