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Abandoned railway trestle now part of a rail trail in Paisley

June 2020

In Paisley, Ontario, a small town in Bruce County, has given new life to an abandoned railway trestle that stretches across the Teeswater River.

This steel and wood trestle once carried trains belonging to the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway (WG&BR), a historical railway that ran a distance of just over 100 miles from Guelph to the Lake Huron port town of Southampton.

During the 1800s, railways aided greatly in the development and settlement of Canada. While the Canadian Pacific Railway, and later the Canadian National Railway, crossed Canada from coast to coast, many other smaller railway companies were formed in each province.

These smaller railways connected towns and villages across the province with the bigger cities, allowing people and goods to travel further and faster than could be carried by horse-drawn wagons, and where water transportation was unavailable.

Today, many of these smaller railways have disappeared from the landscape; some of them swallowed up by the bigger railway companies, while others went bankrupt.

Left behind are many of the old train stations, trestles and the abandoned rail rights-of-way.

Some of the abandoned railway rights-of-way have been turned into rail-trails for use by walkers, runners, cyclists, horseback riders, ATVs and in the winter, snowmobiles and cross-county skiers.

The WG&BR line saw its first train arrive on 7 June 1872, with passenger service beginning two months later on 28 August.

The trestle was originally almost 800 feet long and as it was originally a timber trestle, it was rather weak by modern bridge standards. When the heavier locomotives and freight became the norm, reinforcement of the trestle became necessary. Fill was added at the west end of the trestle as part of strengthening measures, which resulted in the length being shortened to around 607 feet long.

The trestle consists of three different construction styles, likely the result of the various modifications done over the years, including a wooden portion and a section of welded together I-beams. The main span is a large steel girder, on concrete pillars.

A significant aspect of the trestle is the remnants of the previous bridge that crossed the Teeswater River, which features wrought iron Phoenix columns. Manufactured by the Phoenix Bridge Company in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, these beams are now extremely rare in the United States and almost non-existent in Canada. Only two or three bridges remain in Canada with Phoenix columns, making them very historically significant.

The Phoenix columns under this bridge are abandoned under the bridge and forgotten, and the majority of them appear to be buried in dirt.

The WG&BR would eventually be absorbed by the Grant Trunk Railway in the 1880s, who were in turn were taken over by the Canadian National Railway in 1923, after declaring bankruptcy.

By 1983, rail lines throughout Grey, Bruce, Huron and Wellington Counties were being abandoned by both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. The last sections of the Southampton branch from Harriston to Southampton, which included Paisley, were abandoned in 1988. Eventually, many sections of these abandoned rail rights-of-way were turned into rail trails.

The Teeswater trestle, along with the Willow Creek trestle a little to the west, were refurbished in the fall of 2009. Both of the trestles give trail users an excellent viewing platform of the rivers and valleys surrounding Paisley.

Sources: https://historicbridges.org/ontario/paisleyrail/New%20folder/Bridge%201.html, Paisley Advocate, 23 October 1969, http://matt.wandel.ca/ghost_railways/paisley2/index.html (Willow Creek Trestle Bridge – 2nd bridge to check out), https://historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=ontario/paisleyrail, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wellington,_Grey_and_Bruce_Railway, https://railwaypages.com/grey-and-bruce-counties (Photos of former railway stations), https://paisleyvillage.ca/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/pdc_her_bro_0609.pdf

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/abandoned-railway-trestle-now-part-of-a-rail-trail-in-paisley/

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