Kingston Bypassed: Railways

1830-1892
Map of Wolfe Island showing the canal from the illustrated Atlas of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (1878). Source: The Canadian County Atlas Project, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library.Pinterest
Map of Wolfe Island showing the canal from the illustrated Atlas of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (1878). Source: The Canadian County Atlas Project, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library.

Another challenge to Kingston’s lake/river transhipment function was a new technology: rail. “Rail-fever” hit Kingston in the 1830s with news of developments in Great Britain and the United States and the prospect of local projects. As the local Chronicle and Gazette put it in reaction to news of investment opportunities, “let us make rail roads and the rail roads will make us” (1846). Initial projects focussed on such established shipping links south of the border as Cape Vincent, Sackett’s Harbour, Oswego, Rochester, etc. to intercept trade with Montreal and direct it to New York This prompted some Kingstonians to promote a canal, the “Long Island Canal,” to cross Wolfe Island to a railroad planned for Cape Vincent (1835). In 1837, directors of the proposed Watertown & Cape Vincent Railroad visited Kinston seeking local investors. The Wolfe Island, Kingston & Toronto Railway Company (1845) was another project and the problem of the intervening river was to be overcome by the construction of the Wolfe Island Canal (1852) and the launching of the John Counter “railway steamer” (1853). The canal was deepened from 4ft to 7ft in 1868-70 but it had fallen into disuse by 1892. These north south initiatives had been challenged by the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856 and subsequent east-west rail and shipping developments.