One hundred and sixty years of railroad history has come and gone. And with it goes “MacDonald’s Dream” as one of the original lines of the Canadian Pacific Railroad is literally being torn up before our very eyes here in the Ottawa Valley.
In late July of this year the Smiths Falls to Chalk River section (180 Kilometers) began to be dismantled by employees of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR). Many sad faces just stood and stared in disbelief as countless flatbeds carrying rail lines passed through Carleton Place one early August morning. People were literally stopping their cars and pulling to the side of the road as this enormous moving wall of steel passed before their very eyes. “I can’t believe it!” Said one older gentleman wistfully. “This is destruction!” remarked another visibly shaken young woman. “It’s like watching the effects of an earthquake or a hurricane! It’s downright creepy!”
“Creepy” or not, it’s happening. While all through Europe they are laying down track as fast as they can these days, here in Canada they are tearing them up equally as fast it would seem. “It’s just business” one CPR official was quoted recently as saying. “It’s just nonsense” many local folks and area politicians have replied.
Local politicians from the effected communities along the line held several meetings within the past year or so. Efforts were made to possibly have these municipalities band together and purchase the line but in the end this did not materialize.
The Smiths Falls to Chalk River section was laid during the 1850’s and became the life for the communities in which it ran through. Carleton Place, Almonte, Pakenham, Arnprior, Renfrew, Pembroke, Petawawa, Chalk River and all places in between owe much of their existence to this line. Lumber, minerals, products and people plus; hope, dreams, promise and tomorrow rode on these rails. Sweat, blood, boldness and determination built it. As did broken limbs, broken backs, death and ruin. But in the end it all came down to hope and the dream of a better tomorrow that caused it to succeed. The opening of a new country and the “promise that IS Canada” is the foundation upon which it was built. And now they tear it up as if none of this ever mattered.
In 1990 the line that ran between Carleton Place and Ottawa was torn up after the last VIA passenger train had made its way through. “You would almost think that the section men were standing at attention when the last train passed so they could start tearing it all up immediately” said long time CPR engineer Paul Perkins. “Now they are repeating history as they tear up this very important piece of track.”
Perkins points out that the Canadian Military is severely handicapped by this decision as CFB Petawawa and Camp Borden now have to “backtrack” nearly 300 kilometers to move their equipment by rail. he believes that many of the towns and communities along the line now have their economic future jeopardized by the loss of the rail line. he says also that for years now he and his fellow railroad buddies could see it all coming. “At first it was like the CPR was trying to do all that it could to discourage passenger travel. And once they succeeded at that, they went after small industries in small towns until they too were severely frustrated and discouraged.” He added. And what was the reasoning for this attitude and business model Mr. Perkins? “Because the CPR wanted to obtain the Southern Junction (heading to Mexico) as the “real money” lies in going north and south as opposed to going east and west.”
He explained. “So when they (CPR) were successful in doing that, the writing was on the wall so to speak.” Mr. Perkins also brings up this very important point. “For every ONE ‘container train’ heading from Detroit to Montreal you eliminate 270 trucks.” In this day of “environmental concern” and “global warming” outcries, one might wonder why this fact is not being raised or discussed by environmental proponents?
During the 1920’s there were 17 passenger trains a day that passed through Carleton Place alone. Add numerous freight trains to that total and you have and you are talking one busy rail line. Imagine the commuter possibilities that could exist today if the Carleton Place to Ottawa line was still in place? Include the Chalk River to Carleton Place line and the line which runs from Brockville to Smiths Falls to Carleton Place (which includes a connection to the CPR’s main trans-Canada line that runs in through Perth) and you would have one very fine commuter service. However, many say that this would just make “too much sense!” So instead they are tearing up the tracks. Can the railroad make money if they continued to operate these lines? According to Paul Perkins the answer is yes. “Certainly they can make money” he says. “It’s just that they got too greedy because they get it (the money) every which way. Trucking, oil stocks, airline stocks, and what have you. Why run trains when you don’t have to?”
As for the rail line, the communities along the way, the people, the history and the future itself? Who knows? One thing is certain. The end of the line will mean the end of many things. for change is inevitable. Change is often a good thing. But when change occurs without any soul then it is not a good thing at all. And the loss of this rail line rips the heart and soul out of us all.