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Carillon and Grenville Railway Reporting mark: CAGR

The Carillon and Grenville Railway was one of Canada's earliest railways. Completed in 1854, the 12-mile long portage railway operated along the Ottawa River between Carillon and Grenville. Its sole purpose was to transport passengers to and from the steamer that travelled along the Ottawa River between Montreal and Ottawa.

The railway began as part of an ambitious plan to create a rail line along the Ottawa River from Montreal to Hull. For working purposes the railway was known as the Montreal and Bytown Railway. With railways still in their infancy, the Ottawa River was a primary navigation route. A new railway along the river was considered essential.

Carillon & Grenville
"The oldest train in America"
Pub: Valentine & Sons, ca. 1907

Tragedy struck in 1855 after James Sykes, an Englishman who was the principal contractor and fundraiser, was lost at sea. Even worse, Sykes had been carrying with him £50,000 in cash that he had raised in England for completion of the railway. With the project now in dire financial difficulty, the Carillon and Grenville Railway's future remained uncertain for a number of years.

After several years of litigation, the Montreal and Bytown Railway (or what existed of it) was declared insolvent and placed on the auction block. John J.C. Abbott, a lawyer and future prime minister, was the lucky bidder, picking up the railway in 1858 for a little over $21.000. Under Abbott's ownership, the Carillon and Grenville Railway saw some modest improvements. Abbott hung on to the railway until 1864 when it was sold to the Ottawa River Navigation Company.

The Carillon and Grenville in operation, ca. 1900

Unlike most railways that found themselves in the grips of expansion fever, the Carillon and Grenville Railway never grew beyond its humble beginnings. For the entire 56-year duration of its existence, it remained nothing more than a seasonal portage railway. It made one return trip per day between Carillon and Grenville, timed for the arrival of each steamer. Although it was granted powers to extend in all directions, they were never exercised. The equipment was never modernized and it remained one of the few railways still running on broad gauge to the end of its existence.

The Carillon and Grenville puttered along until 1905 when Charles Newhouse Armstrong, a railway contractor and promoter entered the picture. Armstrong was also the owner of the Ottawa River Railway Company which had been incorporated two years earlier. In 1905 he had the Ottawa River Railway renamed to the Central Railway of Canada and then used that corporation to purchase the Ottawa River Navigation Company.

By 1910, there were three rail routes between Montreal and Ottawa. Steamer traffic had fallen into the steep decline and took the Carillon and Grenville Railway along with it. The railway closed forever at the end of the 1910 shipping season and was dismantled the following year.

Although it was the end of the line for the Carillon and Grenville Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) was interested in the right-of-way. In 1907 the CNoR acquired the Great Northern Railway of Canada. It became part of several other properties that formed the Canadian Northern Quebec Railway. With the completion of an Ottawa to Hawkesbury line in 1909, the right-of-way was an important link in the CNoR's plan to connect to Montreal.

Charles Newhouse Armstrong, owner of the Central Railway of Canada, was influential and well-connected, both socially and politically. Despite being involved in the railway industry all his life, his reputation was less than stellar. He had control over a confusing maze of railway companies and charters that he hoped to string together in a single trunk line. In 1912, he attempted to merge them all under the Central Railway of Canada. The project never got off the ground and was later determined to be illegal.

It took another two years for the CNoR to get their hands on the Carillon and Grenville. Only a small portion of the right-of-way was eventually used. The CNoR became part of the Canadian National Railways (CN) in 1918. CN continued to use the right-of-way until 1939, when the section was abandoned.