Oshawa and Electric Rail

By Adam A., Summer Student

Hello once again! While working of the Discover Historic Oshawa website I learned many new details about the city. One particularly surprising detail being that the City of Oshawa has a surprisingly long history with electric rail.

The Oshawa Railway, incorporated in 1887, used electricity to power its street cars and the “shunters” which pulled freight around between factories and the major rail systems. For most of its history, the OR was entirely electric. The only exceptions being early on when some, as of yet unelectrified, sections were handled by small steam engines and after June of 1964 when all electrified operations of the OR ceased.

A998.13.10

Oshawa’s next flirtation with electric rail came in 1923, when the Toronto Eastern Railway came to town and promptly died. The Toronto Eastern Railway was a subsidiary of by the industrialist William Mackenzie’s Canadian Northern Railway. It was to be a “high speed” electric railway intended by Mackenzie to better connect Ontario’s urban centres. It was incorporated in 1910, but the outbreak of the First World War delayed construction, a fact not helped by the parent company defaulting on its debts and being acquired by the federal government in 1917. The line would only be built out to Oshawa in 1923 and was abandoned the following year due to lack of funding.

Oshawa Railway Line Map, 1920

Oshawa had another near brush with an electric line in the 1980s. The Government of Ontario set its hopes on expanding GO service out to Oshawa by means of an express light rail between downtown Oshawa and the Pickering GO Station. These were to be electric vehicles travelling at an average of 70km/h. In the mid-1980s, changes in federally legislated rail right of way and difficulties developing the ALRT vehicle, prompted the Government of Ontario to abandon the project in favour of extending conventional GO service out to Oshawa.

Will electric rail come to Oshawa again? Will it even be proposed again? Well, there’s no way to know for sure, but some sort of zero carbon emission mass transit system is probably going to be proposed at some point, perhaps as a new transportation project, or perhaps as a modification of the existing passenger rail infrastructure.

Memories of Mr. Joseph Wood

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Throughout the summer months the museum has been very busy with research and writing for our latest publication on Robinson House.  I was writing a small part about the collection and exhibits at Robinson House throughout the years and I wanted to highlight past exhibits that had been on display from 1970 to today.  Summer staff member Caitlin and myself were trying to determine what exhibitions were displayed at Robinson House so we decided to go through the old Oshawa Historical Society newsletters in the archives – we were not only successful at finding out about past exhibitions but we also found other interesting stories such as this one about the Oshawa Street Railway.   This little excerpt is from an interview with Mr. Joseph Wood that took place with Norah Herd the archivist at the Oshawa Community Archives in the 1960s.

Mr. Wood retired from the Board of Works in 1964 this interview took place after his retirement.

Before the turn of the century, Oshawa’s main streets were evil-smelling mud holes filled with water after every rain.  Simcoe and King Streets were unsafe to drive over because they were full of deep ruts.  Large stoned were used to fill them in but traffic would displace them.  Driving to the railway station from the centre of town without mishap was almost impossible.  A wagon taking a load of trunks to the station might lose one or two of them enroute. 

The Commercial Hotel, from the Oshawa Community Archives
The Commercial Hotel, from the Oshawa Community Archives

 

In 1920, the streetcars operated on Simcoe Street from Rossland Road to the Lake, and the fare was five cents.  At that time also, the Oshawa Railway tracks ran along King Street for a block each way from Simcoe Street.  The motorman would alight and switch the streetcar east on King Street and travel the one block to the Post Office where he would pick up the mail to be taken to the railway station.  This was the old Post Office at King and Wellington, which later became known as Ontario Street.  Then he would drive to the Commercial Hotel, one block west of Simcoe.  This hotel was the biggest and best one at the time.  Then the streetcar backed up to the Four Corners, switched again to Simcoe Street and then continued south the C.N.R. Station where passengers and mail were deposited, then south again to the Lake.  Quite a ride for a five cent fare.