At about 7 p.m. on November 14, 1872, the first locomotive rolled into Meaford along the newly-laid rail line between Collingwood and Meaford – built by the North Grey Railway Company. Until then, the village had shipped and received goods via ships and along the primitive roads of the time, and while various interests petitioned for a railway, it looked unlikely. According to Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages, it was Gooderham & Worts, the Toronto distillery, which may have finally spurred the development of the line.
The Northern Railway, which operated in Simcoe County, wasn’t convinced of the value in extending a line along the southern shore of Georgian Bay. But Gooderham & Worts had recently underwritten the construction of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway – arrowing northwest to Owen Sound to bring back the distillery’s primary supplies: firewood and wheat. To compete, the Northern gave authority to North Grey Railway, formed by politicians and business interests from Meaford, Collingwood and nearby communities, to build the line – with the ultimate goal of extending it to Owen Sound.
The first station stood on the west side of Sykes Street, near the top of “Station Hill”. (A small parkette now fronts the road here, with the rail yard long gone and a subdivision taking its place.) By the turn of the century, a new spur line to the harbour and a new station allowed more efficient access to industry and shipping. For years the railway served Meaford’s economy, brought in holiday visitors, and carried soldiers from the Meaford base overseas to the war in Europe, welcoming those that returned. But regular passenger service ended in 1960, and by then freight service had dropped to a train a day. The old station fell to the wrecker’s ball in 1965.
For two decades the line was essentially abandoned, but in a time when a growing “rail to trail” movement was converting abandoned rail lines across Ontario and North America, local residents showed considerable interest in turning the 32-kilometre line into something that could continue to benefit the towns along the way. The Georgian Trail would offer hiking, jogging, cycling, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing to residents and visitors alike, whether they were touring a local leg or venturing the length of the trail. But the Georgian Cycle and Ski Trail Association had its work cut out for it. The rail line passed through two counties, two townships and three municipalities, and creating the trail would require considerable fund raising and volunteer time. But the group persevered, and within a mere three years the Georgian Trail officially opened. (As with the original North Grey Railway line, the section down to Meaford harbour took a little longer to complete – when your faithful blogger arrived in town back in 1992, you needed to venture up St. Vincent Street to access the trail across from Knights of Meaford.)
Next up, a tour of the trail.