150 Years of History in the Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the April 19, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.

This is the eighth in a continuing series of photo essays celebrating our Gatineau Valley history and heritage during Canada's sesquicentennial year. The series was created by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, in collaboration with The Low Down to Hull and Back News. All photographs are courtesy of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, with known donors noted.

Up and down the line by rail

The construction of a train line through the Gatineau Valley in the late 19th century was critical to the economic development of the region. Until that point, the rigours of travel on poor, or even non-existent, roads dictated the very slow pace for travellers

150 Years of History in the Hills
Heading up the Gatineau near Kirk's Ferry, circa 1920.

By 1892, the train line to Wakefield was complete and regular passenger service started. Construction continued north of Wakefield and the first passenger train arrived in Maniwaki in early 1904.

During the first ten years of operation, most trains had both freight and passenger cars. Following CPR takeover, separate freight and passenger services were offered. By 1914, there were two trains a day each way, except Sundays.

Service was expanded in the 1920s to include an additional passenger train for commuter service between Alcove (the next station north of Wakefield) and Ottawa. In 1927, a Friday express passenger service was operated during the summer with the first northbound stop at Kazabazua. The return express on Sunday made its last stop at Kazabazua before continuing to Ottawa.

During the Depression, passenger service was trimmed substantially. From that time to the end of passenger operations in January 1963, service consisted of a daily train except Sunday, when the Saturday northbound train returned to Ottawa in late afternoon

Steam-powered passenger trains were in operation until the latter part of the 1950s when, to cut losses (the mail contract having been lost in 1957), CP introduced gas electrics (self-propelled passenger cars) and finally Budd RDC 'Dayliners'. Records are sketchy, but it appears that the last steam-powered passenger train to head north was on Jan. 1, 1960, returning on Jan. 3.

From the 1960s, there was steadily declining activity and regular freight service ceased in the mid-1970s. During the 1970s and early '80s, the NCC and the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) ran twice-weekly steam trains to Wakefield using ex-CP locomotive 1201. Following abandonment of the line north of Wakefield, a tourist steam train ran daily during the summer between Hull and Wakefield, but ceased operations in 2011 after trackbed washouts on the Mile Hill.

Adapted from articles in Up the Gatineau! with permission of contributor Bruce Ballantyne.

150 Years of History in the Hills
Having fun on the switch stand beside the CPR railway track, in front of the Alcove store, 1938. The switch stand was used to switch a train onto another track. Left to right, Claire Cameron, Aileen Rankin, and Thelma Craft, whose father, Harold Craft, was the station agent in Alcove for many years. Photo donated by Dennis Ryan.
150 Years of History in the Hills
Waiting for the train? A group amassed at the Kirk's Ferry train station, circa 1910. Photo donated by Harold Reid.
150 Years of History in the Hills
Who owns all that luggage? Gracefield railway station, 1920.

150 Years of History in the Hills
Michael Daly clearing logs during a flood of the Gatineau River at Wakefield, 1910.

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