CPR Railway: Auburn
CPR Came and went in Auburn in just 81 years
The haunting sound of a railroad engine’s whistle is no longer heard in Auburn since Canadian Pacific Railway service was discontinued in 1988 and the rails pulled up shortly thereafter.
Ironically, it was exactly 100 years since Auburn residents were among a delegation that attended a meeting in Listowel to encourage the Canadian Pacific Railway to extend its line from Guelph to Goderich, to provide service to the village, still called Manchester at that time.
It wasn’t until the building of the Guelph and Goderich Railway (which would be leased to Canadian Pacific Railway for 999 years) was announced in 1903 that Auburn could look forward to at last joining the railway age which had been transforming towns and villages across the province for a half-century. It wasn’t until July 1907 that the first passenger train arrived.
The station was located three-quarters of a mile southeast of the village proper. It was called Auburn station, though the village was still officially Manchester.
The railway changed more than just transportation. The mail arrived by train and the railway provided telegraph service, the most instant form of communications in those days before long-distance telephone calling became common.
The mail, express and freight were delivered to the post office and stores by horse and wagon by a series of local men including Joseph Lawson and Russell King.
Besides the station house there were a grain elevator where farmers could deliver their crops for easy shipment to distant markets; stock pens for receiving and shipping livestock in the days before dependable roads and large trucks; and a freight shed and a weigh scale.
From 1907 to 1930 the CPR ran four passenger trains a day, two in each direction along the line. Improving roads and the convenience of cars started cutting into the passenger business, however and service was at first cut to one train each way, then stopped altogether.
By April 1955 CPR passenger service was down to a bare minimum as The Blyth Standard of April 13 reported:
“Effective April 25, the present passenger service will be suspended and replaced with a mixed train that is expected to run daily, leaving Guelph at 8:30 a.m. and arriving at Goderich at 1:45, while the return train will leave Goderich at 10 a.m. and arrive at Guelph at 4:30 p.m.
“The train will be principally for freight and a check on the time-table will reveal that very few people wishing to make time will use the train service after April 25.”
The express freight service by train was also halted at this time with deliveries coming by truck. The mail was brought from Blyth by Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Bradnock.
In 1958 the station house was sold to a Mr. Little of Goderich for the sum of $150. He tore it down and the removed the materials.
In 1959 the wail of a diesel engine replaced the hoot of the steam engine as the railway modernized.
The depleted mixed-train passenger service continued until August 1961. After that the route was only used for freight.
Freight was always a big part of the operation with grain trains up to 100 cars long chugging along the line. Salt from the Goderich salt mine and road graders from Champion Road Machinery (now Volvo) would move through Auburn along with prairie wheat, dropped off by lake boats at the Goderich harbour, headed to the flour mill in Blyth.
But as highways improved and trucks got larger and expectations of speedy delivery of goods increased, even freight traffic declined.
In 1988 CP Rail applied to abandon the line claiming losses of $836,283 in 1984, $1,003,521 in 1985 and $1,104,384 in 1986.
And so on Dec. 1, 1988 permission to discontinue the railway line 30 days later was given by the National Transportation Agency.
For most people the last train came and went with no notice but train buff John R. Hardy, who grew up on a Colborne Twp. farm beside the Goderich-to-Guelph line, was there to record the last train on Dec. 16, 1988 as it passed through the farm of Adrian and Toni Vos, his in-laws, just west of Blyth. A photo of that train is contained in his book Rusty Rails: A Photographic Record of Branchline Railways in Midwestern Ontario 1961-1996.
The next year the rails and railway ties were torn up.
The portion of the line from south of Auburn to Goderich can still be travelled on foot on the Goderich to Auburn Rail Trail.