On October 16, 1869 an official ‘sod turning’ ceremony was held in Cannington for the TNR.  Laidlaw insisted on a narrow-gauge railway in order to reduce construction costs.  He ultimately envisioned building this line as far as Nipissing, in order to connect with the trans-continental railway, but ran out of money and the line never went further north Coboconk.  The first passenger train arrived in Cannington in 1871, heralding the start of a major economic boom in town.  Farm products and firewood could now be transported daily to the large market of Toronto, and passengers could now get to the city in a day by train as opposed to days by horse.  

The station was supplemented by the caboose, which was purchased and moved to Cannington in 1978.  Both structures have undergone many restorations to maintain their current state – most recently in 2023 when the society re-enacted the original sod-turning ceremony held way back in 1869.  

Goods could also be shipped to town that were either too expensive or too cumbersome to ship before – everything from the latest fashions to pre-fabricated homes were now available to the local townsfolk.  A station was built on the south eastern edge of Cannington, along with houses and outbuildings for those who worked on the railway.  A creamery was built opposite the railyard, permitting dairy farmers to expand their market as far away as Toronto – that building is now an apartment building on Shedden Street. That street is named after John Shedden – 3rd President of the TNR who was killed in a fluke accident at the railway station in Cannington in May of 1873.  

The ill fated 'Shedden' Locomotive

Like many pioneer railways, the TNR struggled under the burden of debt, and was bought by the Midland Railway Company in 1880 and was quick to consolidate many of the first-generation rail lines into something bigger.  This called for expanding the gauge of the TNR to the standard gauge of 4’8” in order to permit the new railway company’s rolling stock to move on all lines.  Further consolidation saw the lines run by the Grand Trunk Railway.

Cannington Railway Station

John Shedden

Like hundreds of other towns across Canada, Cannington’s future and fortunes were radically altered with the arrival of the railway.  In the case of our town, the railway was the inspiration of George Laidlaw who wanted to find a cheap and effective way to transport grain from the rich farmland north and east of Toronto to feed the demand for grain at the Gooderham Distillery.  Laidlaw laid the ground work for the construction of the first narrow gauge railway in North America – the Toronto Nipissing Railway (TNR). 

Mount Albert Station

1869 Sod turning ceremony

George Laidlaw

Cannington boomed – hotels, banks and local industry were built and thrived due to this new technology.  The arrival of the telegraph that came with the railway revolutionized the speed at which people could communicate with towns ‘down the line’ – if they were willing to pay to do so.  Mail could also move much faster from Cannington to other places – speeding up communication within the province. By 1873 the TNR had 12 locomotives, including a Fairlie-patent double boiler locomotive named in honour of Shedden.  Like its namesake, however, this locomotive met with a tragic end when it exploded – killing all five railwaymen aboard. 

Society re-enactment of the sod turning ceremony, 2023

Similar to many local rail lines, this one become financially tenuous over time.  Trains that used to ship stone from Kirkfield ended when the quarry closed in 1961.  The last ‘mixed’ train ran on March 25, 1955 – the last freight train on March 30, 1965.  The last indignity to this once great part of Cannington happened in 1968 when the railway station was burned to the ground by an arsonist.  

Railway Station

In 1978 the historical society seized an opportunity to purchase, and then move the Mount Albert railway station.  This station was originally built in 1878, and was slated for demolition before the historical society got their hands on it.  It was moved to its current site, and although it was not part of the TNR system, it is representative of the time period and it is a great venue to display a range of artifacts used by pioneer rail and telegraph systems.