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Riding the Rails: The Railway Comes to Holland Landing (1853)

Nowadays, we are not surprised at how easy it is to get to Toronto from a place like Holland Landing. You can take the 404 Highway from Green Lane and be there in a little under an hour, except if the traffic is bad. However, in the early 19th century, it would have taken you much longer as you would have had to travel by road to get to York (as Toronto was then called). In an earlier blog post we examined how one might have had to travel by road in early Upper Canada; you can read it again here. Today, however, we will examine the rise and fall of the railway which came through Holland Landing in the 19th century.

By the 1830’s, large cities such as Toronto and New York were connected by railway lines. For many businesspeople, the time had come to connect the communities in the northern Great Lakes to Toronto itself. However, the idea was not discussed until a businessman and entrepreneur named Frederick Chase Capreol (1803 - 1886) decided that he was going to build a railway up to Georgian Bay, under the name of the Toronto, Simcoe, and Huron Union Railway Company. He planned to raise the money to build it using a $2 million lottery system, made easier by the fact that the Guarantee Act was passed in 1849. This meant that government funding would be made available if a railway track stretched more than 75 miles long.

Capreol worked hard to fund his passion project, pouring £12,000 of his own money into the project, and even got the Council of the City of Toronto to invest £50,000 worth of stock into it as well.[1] He hired a New York firm to survey the line and got an engineer from New York to build it. However, there were many difficulties during this period, including Capreol being fired from his position as manager of the railway by the board of directors. Despite these challenges, on October 15, 1851, the construction of the railway was officially begun in an elaborate ceremony, with Lady Elgin turning the sod with a silver spade at Front Street, in between Simcoe and John Streets.

By the spring of 1853, the railway was laid as far as Holland Landing. On the July 18th of that year, the railway reached Bradford, and the trains began to make trips twice a day between Toronto and Bradford. Gladys Rolling notes that the railway cut off the stagecoach teams up Yonge Street to Holland Landing “but the village still enjoyed the lake business. Then the Lake trade decreased when the railway pushed through to Barrie.”[2]

The station house on Holland Landing had been constructed on Concession 1, Lot 106; Henry Chapman had sold a portion of his land to the railway company. He was also the first station master when it came to the landing in 1853. Sadly, the train station no longer exists, as it was dismantled in 1925 due to lack of use and more people using cars to get around the area.

Figure 1: The Holland Landing Train station, pre-1925, before the train station was demolished. From the local history collection at the Holland Landing branch.

Does anyone recognize these young children in the photograph? If you do, please be sure to let us know in the comments section below!

[1] Baskerville, Peter (n.d.) “Frederick Chase Capreol”. In The Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved from [2] Rolling, Gladys, (1967). “East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century: A Centennial History of the Township of East Gwillimbury”. Toronto: Ryerson Press. 27.

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