The RailTrail – 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 trail builders/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.

The Song :
The Night Train for Southampton

The night train for Southampton stands panting at the station.
Waiting for connections From the east and the west.
The wind and the rain beat hard against the windows.
And the coal in the tender was all soaking wet.

The engineer looked at his watch, And said, “it’s time to go!”
The fireman grabbed the shovel, and shoveled in the coal.
The conductor gave the signal, the conductor gave the signal
That all were aboard, and the train pulled out of Palmerston for the Lake Huron shore.

The headlight on the engine cut a pathway through the sight
And the city lights of Pamerston faded out of sight.
With one more mile to go, the whistle it did sound, but the water in the ditches had washed away the ground.

Now the lights of Southampton glowed in the stormy night, as the city of Port Elgin faded out of sight.
With one more mile to go, the whistle it did sound, but the water in the ditches had washed away the ground.

Now the night train for Southampton lays over on its side, and the engineer and fireman, they are trapped inside.
The hot steam from the boiler filled the engine cab.
And the night was full of sadness as she lay there on her side.

With one more mile to go the whistle it did sound, but the water in the ditches had washed away the ground.
And the wind and the rain beat hard against the windows.
And the lights of Southampton faded out of sight.

(words and music by Peter C. Bart (1926-2000) – October 15, 1954 train wreck in Southampton. In memory of Bart’s colleagues, Engineer Gordon McCallum and Fireman Stewart Nicholson who both died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.

Trains ‘n Trails

PAUSE a moment as you cycle or walk the Saugeen RailTrail and listen for the sounds of history.  For close to one hundred years the trains of the Canadian National Railway, formerly the Wellington Grey and Bruce Railway/Grand Trunk Railway transported locally manufactured goods and farm produce destined for distant markets.  In addition to freight there were also mail and passenger cars.

In the mid 1800s the citizens of Bruce County were well aware of the need for a railroad and set about to get one.  Initially there were competing bids for the new rail line.  One would end in Kincardine while the other would end in Southampton.  After a narrow victory, of close to 300 votes and allegations of vote fixing, a contract was awarded to the Wellington Grey and Bruce Railway to complete a rail line within three years through to Southampton.  To support this endeavour Bruce County Council, through a debenture, posted a bonus of $250,000.00 for the completion of the rail line. The line was completed in December 1872.

The economic benefit to the area was quickly realized when an excellent grain crop of over 200,000 bushels, at a price of $1.15 per bushel, was shipped over the new line the first year.

The rail line was not only for the shipping and receiving of raw materials and manufactured goods.  The passenger service provided the opportunity for people to travel within the County and it gave much easier access to the rest of the world.  It also proved an excellent means for people from the cities to access our local beaches and facilities.  One home coming reunion in 1907 had 800 people arrive by train. This gave rise to more resort facilities becoming available in the area.

The initial service to the area included both freight and passenger trains but by 1931 they were combined into ‘mixed trains’.  Further cutbacks saw mail delivery stopped in 1957 and freight service discontinued by 1959.  The ‘day liner’, a self propelled rail car that was designed to offer rapid transit to Toronto in approximately five hours continued to serve the area until 1970.  With no freight or passenger services remaining the track was decommissioned in 1980 and the tracks were removed in 1984.  The removal of the local tracks coincided with similar actions across North America.  This gave rise to the ‘Rails to Trails’ movement across North America which endeavoured to use abandoned rail beds for multi use activity trails.  In our community of Saugeen Shores the local government came through by providing financial support to the volunteers in the community who wanted to develop the abandoned rail bed between the communities of Southampton, Saugeen Township and Port Elgin as a walking and bicycling trail.  Today we know and enjoy it as the Saugeen Railtrail.

Reference material  from the archives of the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre.

JC Hemming




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