A look back at 120 years of railway history

BARRY’S BAY – Throughout the fall, the Madawaska Valley and Barry’s Bay in particular will be celebrating and commemorating 120 years since railways first came to the region.

In 1894, the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound (OA&PS) railway made its way to Barry’s Bay. Constructed by Canadian Lumber Baron John Rudolphus Booth, the line was designed to ship his lumber from Algonquin Park to Ottawa as well as expand his markets.

Booth began construction of the line as early as 1867, when he began buying up land. The initial purchase was a 250-acre track of land on the western side of Algonquin Park, sold by the estate of John Egan (lumber baron-turned-politician and founder of Eganville) following his death in 1854. Between 1867 and 1890, Booth continued to add to his holdings, eventually holding the title to over 7,000 acres of land.

Booth’s mill operations were based at Chaudiere Falls in Ottawa, and relied on the Ottawa River to get his lumber to the mills. Forced to move farther inland to access timber, Booth began looking at rail lines as a viable alternative.

In 1884, Booth built the Nosbonsing and Nipissing Railway that connected to the Ottawa River; in 1888, work began on the OA&PS line, and in 1897, it was merged with two other lines to create the Canada Atlantic Railway.

A divisional point was located in Madawaska, leading to the construction of a roundhouse; unfortunately, this building fell into disuses and was eventually torn down in 1994. No plaque marks its place.

Booth remained open to co-operating with competing lines and corporations, and was preoccupied with the development and maintenance of his rail lines. Perhaps he foresaw the need to sell as talk of national railways became more and more common. By 1901, Booth was already seriously contemplating a sale to a larger railway or corporation. 

Get your September 17, 2014 edition of The Valley Gazette to read more of this story.