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The Brockville, Westport & Northwestern RailwayReporting mark: BW&NW

The Brockville & Westport Railway (B&W) first came to life in 1871. It was begun not by residents in Brockville but by a group in the tiny hamlet of Farmersville (now Athens) about 20 km northwest of Brockville. The plans called for a 40-mile (around 65 km) road running from Brockville northwest to the hamlet of Westport.

Brockville Westport Brochure
1903 Tourist Brochure
Source: Brockville Museum

The charter included authority to negotiate a right of way with the Grand Trunk in order to enter Brockville. There was also room to negotiate with the Brockville & Ottawa Railway (later Canadian Pacific). In 1873, before the railway could get started, the world fell under the grip of a severe economic depression. All railway construction and expansion was put on hold for the foreseeable future. The project languished and the charter expired.

The B&W charter may have expired but it wasn't forgotten. In 1884 it was revived by Robert G. Hervey under the name of The Brockville, Westport and Sault Ste. Marie Railway Company (BW&SSM). Hervey's plans were far more ambitious and included a proposal to build as far as Sault Ste. Marie, a distance of some 880 km, where a new steel plant was said to be in the works.

With improved economic conditions and railway fever in the air, Hervey began hustling for money. There was strong local support from all the communities along the line. Construction began in 1886. The first stretch from Westport to Lyn Junction (just west of Brockville) opened in 1888. The construction bonds were held by the Knickerbocker Trust Co. in New York, which had a reputation for investing in startups and higher risk projects. The trust company acted as trustee for the bondholders.

Gaining access to Brockville turned into a major headache and expense. The BW&SSM had hoped to negotiate running rights over the GTR. Had the GTR had been smart, they would have come to some kind of agreement in order to capitalize on the interchange traffic. Unfortunately the GTR didn't like to play nice with small fry unless they had their eyes on a potential takeover.

To solve the problem, the BW&SSM ended up building a parallel line which connected with a newly constructed CPR loop line in Brockville. This provided the BW&SSM with interchange connections to the CPR and access to the Brockville waterfront. The remainder of the project was scaled back. Neither the federal or provincial governments saw any need in extending to Sault Ste. Marie and refused to grant subsidies.

The BW&SSM served a vital need during the 1880s and 90s. It covered an area that was largely agricultural and farmers quickly grew dependent on having railway access to get their goods to the market. There were 16 stations along the road. Cheese was a particularly big commodity. Unfortunately, despite strong support from the farming communities, there was not enough revenue to keep the railway out of financial trouble. In 1894 it was placed into receivership.

The railway remained in operation under the receiver. To make the railway more attractive to potential buyers, the receiver made a number of much needed improvements. These included a new engine-house, new locomotive shed, an extra locomotive and two passenger coaches. In 1903 it was sold for $160,000 to an American syndicate headed by Messrs King, Gerkin, Holm and Schmitt (Smyth). Later that year it was reincorporated as the Brockville, Westport & Northwestern Railway (BW&NW). The expansion plans went nowhere but the railway was rehabilitated and held its own for the next seven years.

By 1910 the American owners had grown tired of the railway and Mackenzie and Mann saw an opening. They gained majority control in June of that year. Full ownership did not come until four years later, following a number of questionable financial maneuvers. This particular transaction was examined closely during the Canadian Northern Railway arbitration hearings four years later.

Following bankruptcy, the CNoR was nationalized and became part of the newly-formed Canadian National Railway (CN) in 1918. The GTR followed in 1920, after CN took over management control.

Under CN ownership, portions of the BW&NW were abandoned as quickly as possible. CN was under a strict policy of shutting down duplications and parallel lines. The first section to go was the line from Centre St. in Brockville to Lyn Junction in 1921. It was followed in 1925 with the dismantlement of the line from "Phillips Cable" to Lyn Junction.

At its height, the BW&NW carried business people, weekend vacationers and high school students. Regular users could buy a monthly pass for $5. The railway was a particular benefit to rural students who traveled daily to Brockville to complete their high school education.

On the downside, travel was slow. The 40-mile journey (approximately 65 km) from Brockville to Westport, with all the frequent stops, took about two hours to complete. In the end the railway could no longer compete with the automobile. In June 1951, CN submitted an application to abandon the line. In August 1952, the BW&NW ceased to exist.