|Point Edward Grand Trunk Railway Station|
I recently presented a talk at the Central Forum (a lecture series held at the Central United Church in Sarnia) entitled, “Passage to Point Edward: Survival of a Railway Town.” In this blog I will outline some of “Station Stories” associated with the Point Edward Grand Trunk Railway Station. If you are interested in a more detailed look at the rise and decline of the Grand Trunk Railway Station in Point Edward, you can access my research notes or download my PowerPoint slides from the Central Forum presentation.
|Horses moving a home from Point
Edward to Sarnia; a common site
in the 1890s.
The Grand Trunk arrived in Point Edward in November 1859. A grand station-hotel was built to mark the Canadian Terminus of the rail line, the grandest Grand Trunk structure west of Toronto. An impressive three-storey white brick building, the station-hotel was 200 feet long and approximately 40 feet tall. Features included first and second class waiting rooms, dining facilities, apartments for the stationmaster and his family, and overnight accommodations. The station stood on the waterfront on land that is now partially beneath the Blue Water Bridge and the west balcony featured a beautiful view of the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. The station was also complimented by its landscaping, including gardens, flower beds, and a fountain. Business boomed in Point Edward, spurred by the rail line and the connections it offered to the rest of North America. Unfortunately, the opening of the St. Clair Tunnel in 1891 marked the end of rail service in Point Edward. All rail focus shifted to Sarnia, leaving the grand Point Edward station deserted and forcing hundreds of local residents to follow their railway jobs to Sarnia (two thirds of the population left). Although it met a sad demise, the railway station had some interesting stories along the way.
|Workers at Point Edward station|
The station building was destroyed by fire in September 1871. The fire was discovered by stationmaster Mr. John McAvoy. The blaze started in a barrel of hot ashes in a shed at the north end of the building, and it was encouraged by a gusty wind off the lake; within half an hour, the whole hotel burned to the bare brick walls. The Sarnia Observer reported on September 15, 1871, “[Mr. McAvoy] lost all his personal belongings including $660 cash.” Apparently the cash was stuffed in the pocket of a vest he was unable to retrieve from the fire. Although he lost his money, McAvoy did escape with his life and the life of his family, also rousing the half-suffocated bartender from his bed before he could succumb to the smoke. The red brick telegraph and ticket office at the south end of the building were spared when firefighters tore up a section of the wooden station platform and soaked the wood to prevent further flames spreading. Soon after on September 22, the Sarnia Observer reported that the Grand Trunk would rebuilt the station-hotel in the spring; in fact, construction began on December 1 of that year. Construction continued in earnest throughout the chilly Canadian winter. On April 19, 1872 the Sarnia Observer announced “Grand Trunk Ry. station, at Point Edward nearly re-built after the fire.” The new station had many of the same features as the old, including a customs office, agent’s office, waiting room, ticket office, ladies waiting room, bar dining room, kitchen and pantry, with the agent’s private dining room on the second floor. The building had fifty apartments in total. It cost $20,000 for the reconstruction.
|Ulysses S. Grant|
|J.C. McArthur, “Icelanders Leaving the Railway Station at
Point Edward for the steamer ‘Ontario,’ on their Way to the
shores of Lake Manitoba.” Canadian Illustrated News,
November 13, 1875, vol. XII, no. 20, 309.
The sketch by J.C. MacArthur shows a large group of Icelandic settlers arriving in Point Edward on their way to settle on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, beyond the borders of Manitoba in the Northwest Territories, in October, 1875. 266 Icelandic immigrants were traveling together to the settlement. The eruptions of Mount Hecla had left hundreds homeless in Iceland, and the Canadian government sent agents there to provide government loans to families who would come and settle in Canada. Point Edward served as a point of call for these and other immigrant families settling across western Canada and the United States.