The Rail Trail – A key to our History
Built in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s the Wellington Grey Bruce Railway served the communities of Southampton and Port Elgin by transporting local products and people to other Ontario cities. Later, it was taken over by the Canadian National Railway and the main line and newer spur lines continued rail service for well over 100 years.
In 1954, Hurricane Hazel caused a horrific accident near the south end of Southampton. The washed out creek and rail bed resulted in the engine jumping the tracks and plowing into the riverbank. Two trainmen lost their lives that day. The ’54 historical crash site, was restored in 2008 with funding partners…Ontario Trillium Foundation, Bruce Power Workers Union, Society of Professional Engineers, South Port Horticulture, Town of Saugeen Shores, and Friends of the Gardens. A viewing platform was established at the site.
Eventually, the decline in the rail service led the CN to begin decommissioning rail lines and selling them off. A dedicated group of volunteers founded the Saugeen RailTrail Association in 1990, and it was with the SRT prompting that Port Elgin (1992) and Saugeen Township (1993) acquired their sections of the then unused rail bed. A plan was put in place that opened up the Saugeen RailTrail officially on July 5, 1995. After further negotiation Southampton purchased their section of the rail bed in 1997. The three municipalities amalgamated in 1999 to become the Town of Saugeen Shores.
In the process of developing a land and playground inventory, the Town’s newly appointed Director of Community Services (2002), discovered some ‘neat parcels’ of land/trail linkages, which then led to council’s 10 year “Parks and Trails Master Plan“. Because of the Saugeen RailTrail’s proven track record and partnership over the years as rail trail trustees, it became advantageous that SRT become the Town’s trailbuilders/maintainers/managers while the Town’s “Parks and Trails Committee” became the policy setters. Other partners came ‘aboard’ with the developing of the parallel trail at the 6th to the 2nd concession allowing non-motorized and motorized to coexist. Since then, other town trails have been developed, creating a network of trails from MacGregor Park to Southampton and beyond. The town trails connect to County rail trails which go as far as Paisley and Kincardine.