The CPR railway line through Almonte was picturesque, historic, tragic and eventually redundant.
Begun as the Brockville and Ottawa Railway, it reached Almonte by 1859 and was used by the Prince and Princess of Wales to get down to the St. Lawrence as part of their 1860 tour of Upper Canada.
Eventually it was taken over by Canadian Pacific and for most of the 20th century was part of its Transcontinental line, connecting Montreal and Ottawa with Northern Ontario and points west.
In 1942, the Almonte station was the scene of a terrible disaster – a rear end collision involving a poky Ottawa local and a fast troop train. Close to 50 people were killed and many more were injured.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the line was a secondary freight connection and was leased to a short line operator. The Great Recession made it unnecessary, and it was rusty and crumbling when CP decided to abandon it and pull up the rails in 2010.
The crossings and sidings disappeared, the ties and telegraph poles were removed, and the right of way was purchased by a number of Eastern Ontario counties. It became a mixed-use trail for ATVs bikes and pedestrians in summer, and snowmobiles in winter.
Many folks in Almonte were concerned about having motorized traffic blasting past the downtown condos and the old Town Hall, but it has turned out OK. I was on the trail the other day and any ATV riders I saw were polite, respectful of pedestrian traffic, law-abiding and friendly.
There are two bridges which are on the trail that runs through downtown. One was to give grade separation between the railway and Little Bridge street. This relatively minor structure might be removed in future – when the Little Bridge area is redeveloped.
The second bridge – a beefy river span built in the 1860s, is there to stay. It has been fitted out with a new concrete deck and guard rails and gives a great new view of the river, plus pedestrian access to the other side.
You would never get a photo of the river from this angle back when it was dangerous to venture out onto the railway bridge.
When the plan to remove the railway through the Valley was announced, I was saddened to think about the end of 150 years of history. But in retrospect, it was probably all for the best. The line would have been of limited use as a heritage railway, it served no use as a public transport corridor, and no industry in Almonte was using it either. The siding served to stash some old rusty freight cars, and any train on the line just rumbled through.
If the line were still there, I believe there would be strong temptation to use it as a crude oil pathway in lieu of a pipeline to Eastern Canada. The prospect of a derailment on the bridge destroying the Mississippi River ecology or leading to a Lac Megantic style torching of Downtown Almonte leaves me cold. Better to have a sleepy recreational trail and some nice views of the Almonte Falls. One disaster every century and a half is plenty. That’s how I see it anyway