railways


This small house on First Street in Deseronto looks to have an idyllic location nowadays: no immediate neighbours and a pleasant view of open fields behind it.

House on First Street (from Google Street View)

But over one hundred years ago, its location was considerably less ideal. You can see it at the bottom left of the photograph below. Immediately behind the house was the vast site of the Rathbun Company’s brick and terra cotta works, busy with railway cars transporting raw materials to the factory from the Rathbun Company’s sawmills (sawdust was a key ingredient in the production of terra cotta):

Brick and Terra Cotta works

The works was in operation from 1887 until 1898, when it was destroyed by fire. As the house was so close to the buildings of the terra cotta works, it was fortunate to survive the blaze itself.

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Bob Almey, 1918, 2011.18 (9)

J. Robert (Bob) Almey (1895-1989) was one of the last group of pilots to be trained at Camp Mohawk, one of the two Royal Flying Corps establishments near Deseronto in the First World War. The photo here shows Bob in his Royal Flying Corps uniform. It was brought into the Archives for scanning a few weeks ago by Bob’s grandson, Rob Woodward.

The war ended before Bob Almey was posted to Europe, which was fortunate for him, given the short life expectancy of pilots on the front line in those days. Bob returned to his studies at the Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph) and completed his degree in horticulture. In 1921 he was appointed as Manitoba’s first ever provincial horticulturalist.

He went on in 1928 to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway as their Chief Horticulturalist. In this role, Bob was responsible for landscaping the surroundings of 2,000 railway stations across the West of Canada, giving new immigrants and visitors a favourable first impression of the region. By the 1940s, 11,000 packets of seeds were being distributed to stations each year, while CPR greenhouses across the Prairies and British Columbia grew 600,000 plants a year, of up to 125 varieties.

Gladiolus mortonius from Sericea on Flickr

Bob Almey knew each station so well that he could “recite from memory their layouts, the variety of flowers they grew and the amounts needed”. He retired in 1960 but continued to be active in the Manitoba horticultural community (being particularly famous for his gladioli) until his death in 1988.

In the summer of 1907 Harold McMurrich Rathburn took a trip across Canada from Deseronto to Edmonton. He took his camera with him and Deseronto Archives holds the negatives that Harold made. Luckily, the negatives were kept in two albums which were indexed by their owner, giving us useful information about the subjects of each shot. His journey took him first by steamer from Owen Sound to Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay). Below is the view of the American Soo Canal that he shot from the deck of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steamship Alberta near Sault Ste. Marie.

"Entering American Soo Canal"

"Entering American Soo Canal"

Harold and his companion, Harry Jones, seem to have made some business-related visits while in Port Arthur. The picture below shows them standing with another man in front of an elevator which belonged to the Canadian Northern Railway. At this time, the Rathbun Company ran the Bay of Quinte Railway in Deseronto and surrounding areas, so this visit might have been related to the company’s railway interests.

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. [Canadian Northern Railway] Elevator"

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. Elevator"


The two men continued their journey on the Canadian Northern Railway which had reached Edmonton two years previously. Harold took photographs of a number of buildings in Winnipeg and Edmonton and also several snapshots at Warman Junction in Saskatchewan, including this charming photograph of a group of men watching a boy with a gopher.

"Boy with gophir"

"Boy with gophir at Warman Jct."

We are gradually digitizing all of the Harold M. Rathbun negatives and many of them are now available on our Flickr pages.

Many archivists and local historians view their environments through an historical filter. We see what is there now, but there also is a strong awareness of what was there before. The view below is of the junction between Main Street and Mill Street in Deseronto as it appears today.

Main Street and Mill Street

Main Street and Mill Street

People with a strong awareness of the town’s past cannot help but look at this view and imagine how it looked with the buildings that were there 100 years ago:

Main and Mill Streets, c.1900

Main and Mill Streets, c.1900

One might think that this is just a quirk of historians and archivists, but recently, through our Flickr account, we became aware that other people have this habit of looking at townscapes with this past-filter in place. In this instance, the point of view is that of a railway enthusiast: one who has spent a lot of time imagining the town with its early twentieth century railways and industrial sites still functioning. Not just imagining, either: this particular enthusiast has re-created the town in this image, in the form of a railway simulation.

In his words:

Deseronto Spur- This is roughly 8 miles long and will be the first part of the route that I will finish. It will be modeled as a dilapidated branchline serving several industries in the town of Deseronto. …I have tried to make it as accurate as possible… Some of the industries here will include a frozen food cannery, a steel fabricaton plant, an agricultural co-op, team track, and a lumber yard.

This information has been taken from a publicly-available web forum, which is how we became aware of this work, as the author, Jason Sills, has used images from the Deseronto Archives Flickr account to assist him in his simulation. He has created this simulated railway with tremendous attention to detail and has shared many screenshots of the line on the forum. We don’t have a contact email for him, so if you are reading this, Jason, please get in touch and let us know whether you object to us sharing your work!  In the hope that Jason won’t mind us sharing his pictures here, we are using the image below to demonstrate what he has been doing:


This picture, showing a train heading east, imagines that the Bay of Quinte Railway line is still in existence on the south side of Main Street in Deseronto, with the present-day Centennial Park in the background, next to the waterfront. The Archives has a photograph of a steam locomotive heading west along the same stretch of track in the days when the Bay of Quinte Railway was still running:

Steam locomotive heading west

Steam locomotive heading west

Jason has shared a large number of screenshots on the Train-Sim forum and it is a really intriguing mixture of imagination, creativity and history. Particularly since Jason is 15 years old and having to cope with a fair amount of school work as well as this project. Thanks to Jason for sharing his simulation and for acknowledging the Archives as a source of useful information!

Deseronto Archives has started to make the photographs in its collections available on the Internet, via the popular photo-sharing website, Flickr. This is going to be a long-term project, given the small size of the Archives’ staff (in numbers, rather than stature, that is!), but it should significantly increase the availability of the photographs beyond the walls of the Archives room here in Deseronto. Today we made a start with photos from the Bay of Quinte Railway Company collection. These include this splendid shot of Engine #5 and its crew, about to leave Napanee for Deseronto, in the early years of the twentieth century:

BQR-06-14

We have no information about the men in this picture, so if you can help identify them, please leave a comment, either here or on the Flickr page for this picture.

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