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CNR Park – Maintaining Palmerston’s railway heritage

April 2020

Like many towns in southern Ontario, the railways were once a vital transportation link for the movement of people and goods in the days before the automobile and paved roads.

The Township of Minto entered the railway age in the fall of 1871, when the Wellington Grey and Bruce Railway Company (WG&BR) constructed a line north from the Town of Guelph, a line that would eventually continue northward into Grey and Bruce Counties.

The WG&BR built a freight and passenger station at what is now the Town of Palmerston. John McDermott, a railway supporter and Reeve of the Village of Wallace, 9 miles to the south, chose the name of Palmerston for the new station stop in 1870, in honour of Henry John Temple, the third Viscount of Palmerston.

By the spring of 1873, repair shops, a tank and roundtable were added to the rail yard.

On 12 August 1882, the WG&BR was taken over by the Grant Trunk Railway (GTR), who later expanded the number of tracks to the yard.

By 1910, there were up to 40 trains a day travelling through Palmerston, and given the size of the yard, a pedestrian bridge was built by the GTR over the rail yard two years later to allow foot traffic from the station to the other side of the yard.

Unfortunately, 1912 was also the beginning of the end for the Grand Trunk Railway. The president of the GTR perished in the sinking of the Titanic and by 1923, the company was bankrupt.

Canadian National Railways (CNR) bought the assets of the GTR, including the Palmerston rail yard and facilities. Activities continued as usual, until 1959, when diesel-powered engines replaced the steam engines. As this reduced the need for the yard greatly, the roundtable and the coal sheds were removed.

As the 1960s progressed, highway improvements continued to the decline in rail traffic for the transportation of freight, including mail, as well as passenger traffic.

Passenger train service ended in 1970, but freight service continued in Palmerston until 1982, when CNR officially abandoned the rail line through the town and closed the station.

The tracks remained in place until 1996, when CNR tore up the tracks from Stratford to Harrison. The abandoned station, three work and storage sheds, and the pedestrian bridge were donated to the town, which was restored and currently operates as the Palmerston Railway Heritage Museum.

The yard was transformed into CNR Park, which combines a recreation (swimming pool and tennis courts) and passive walking areas that include interpretive signs around the park, telling the story of the Palmerston station and rail yard. A small section of the rail line running past the station was retained.

CNR donated steam engine #81, a 1910 2-6-0, the last steam engine to operate in the Palmerston yard, for a static display at the north end of the park, along with a box car and two cabooses that sit on rails beside the station.

Sources: https://palmerstonrailwaymuseum.ca, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmerston,_Ontario, Dundurn Railroad 6-Book Bundle, by Ron Brown.

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/cnr-park-maintaining-palmerstons-railway-heritage/

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