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Ghosts of Cache Lake – The long-vanished Highland Inn and the Grand Trunk Railway

November 2020

Algonquin Provincial Park in the Nipissing District of Ontario is the oldest provincial park in Canada, having been established in 1893. The almost 3,000 square mile park is one of the best places in Canada for canoeing, with hundreds of navigable lakes and rivers forming a 1,200 mile long interconnected system of canoe routes.

While some limited logging is permitted in the park, it’s mostly a paradise for camping, hiking and canoeing amongst a pristine natural environment.

Prior to the advent of modern automobiles and roadways, the best way to get people and goods in and out of Algonquin Park was by railway. With the railways, also came some hotels operated by the railways. The land for the hotels and summer camps were leased to the operators, with the purpose of attracting vacationers to the park.

The Highland Inn was opened in 1908 by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) on the shores of Cache Lake, its first hotel in Algonquin Park. It was a two-story hotel with a covered verandah across the front, providing a scenic view of the lake. It was an immediate success.

Built along the rail line they had taken over from Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound (OA&PS) Railway three years earlier, a line that ran from Depot Harbour in the west, through Ottawa in the east and on to Albrugh Junction in Vermont.

Guests arriving at the very popular hotel would walk up a stairway from the station platform to the main entrance of the hotel.

The hotel was expanded in 1913, with the addition of a west wing, a three-story central tower and an addition on the east side of the hotel. Originally, only 11 of the rooms featured an ensuite bath, with the other 61 without.

Although it operated year-round, only the original section of the hotel was winterized. A large water tower at the rear of the hotel supplied the water to the building and the steam locomotives.

Activities for the guests included canoe and rowboat rentals, a covered dance floor above the boathouse, tennis, lawn bowling and billiards for the gentlemen.

Canadian National Railway (CNR) took over both the rail line and the hotel after the GTR went bankrupt in 1923, but after only nine years, CNR shut down the Highland Inn. However, the hotel wouldn’t stay shuttered long and in 1937, Ed and Norman Paget of Huntsville re-opened it.

Rail traffic along the CNR line had been somewhat curtailed in 1933 due to the abandonment of a steel trestle 2 miles east of the hotel, between Cache Lake and Lake of Two Rivers, which was damaged in a flood. Costs to repair this trestle, along with other wooden trestles in the area proved too expensive. As a result, CN abandoned the section from Depot Harbour to Algonquin, but the western end remained in use, with the Cache Lake area becoming a terminal point.

Things looked positive for the long-term survival of the Highland Inn when Highway 60 through the park was completed in 1936, passing right by the hotel. However, this new highway cut into the passenger rail service, and by the late 1940s, only a small number were passenger trains serving Algonquin Park.

A decision by the park management in 1954 to return the a more natural state, including the elimination of all rail lines and hotels in the park, including the Highland Inn.

The Ontario Government bought the Highland Inn from then-owner Ruth Paget in 1956 and demolished it the following year.

The CN Rail line running east from the Cache Lake area to the Town of Whitney, just outside Algonquin’s eastern boundary, was torn up in 1959.

Today, all that remains of the Highland Inn are parts of the retaining wall at track level, a crumbling concrete staircase leading up to the hotel area from the train station, the concrete edge of the station platform, the footings for the water tower, along with an old fire hydrant and a standpipe in the former hotel area.

A short trail takes visitors from the train station location, up the concrete stairs to the hotel location, with historical plaques along the way that tell the story of the hotel and the railway. Red oak trees were planted in place of the inn.

CN Railway removed all their tracks through Algonquin Park, leaving the old rail beds as cycling and hiking trails. A small section of track was laid in front of where the station once stood to represent the rail line that once ran along that spot.

It’s also noteworthy that famed Canadian painter Tom Thomson drowned in Canoe Lake, around 10 miles to the west of the Highland Inn location, 8 July 1917.

Sources: http://naturelover.ca/a-little-history-at-cache-lake-algonquin-park, https://hikingthegta.com/2016/07/18/cache-lake-trestle-algonquin-park, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depot_Harbour,_Ontario, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Inn, https://www.ontarioabandonedplaces.com/ontario/algonquin-park/highland-inn-remains/highland-inn-ruins, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algonquin_Provincial_Park, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Thomson.

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/ghosts-of-cache-lake-the-long-vanished-highland-inn-and-the-grand-trunk-railway/

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