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1886 - The Start of Construction

Spring of 1886 was full of hope and optimism.  Thanks to the CPR, the Riel Rebellion had been quickly put down.  Two ribbons of steel joined the country from sea to sea.  For Canada, the future looked bright.  Railway fever was in the air.  The Brockville and Westport was no exception.
At the end of May, the Directors of the B&W met at Brockville and formally passed a resolution locating the line from Farmersville (Athens) to Westport.  The location of the line from Farmersville to Brockille was held in abeyance until after the vote on the bonus by-law in the front of Elizabethtown.  (Boy, what a stubborn bunch of voters!! - or were they just being prudent?)  By comparison, Rear Yonge and Escott  passed a by-law to exempt  the B&W from property taxes for a period of 21 years - provided the railway built a passenger and freight depot within Farmersville.
During the week of June 9, contracts for grading and masonry were awarded for a large portion of the roadbed from Brockville to Westport.  Mitchell & Robinson secured the contract for the 3 first sections extending from Brockville to near Farmersville.  (More on the location of this part of the line later on.)  These 3 contracts called for 800 men and 100 teams - quite a large crew.  Sections 4 & 5 extending from a point a little east of Farmersville to Delta Creek - a distance of 12¼ miles - was awarded to R&P Mitchell & Co of Ottawa.  Section 6 from Delta north about 6 miles was let to P.C. Swaathworth & Co of New York.  Boarding shanties were built by the New York contractor at Phillipsville and 20 teams left immediately on this section to bring 300 navvies to different points along the line.  Everything was pointing to an immediate commencement of work along the entire line between Brockville and Westport. 
No major construction work can be undertaken without an official sod turning ceremony.  The B&W had 3 ceremonies.  On Monday, January 11, 1886, Mrs. R.H. Preston, wife of the Vice-President of the BW&SSM, turned the first sod at Newboro, while Mrs. W.H. Fredenburgh, wife of one of the BW&SSM directors, did the honours at Westport.
Six months later, on Thursday, June 17, 1886 the third sod turning ceremony took place to signal the start of construction at Farmersville (Athens).  At about one o'clock, a large crowd gathered to witness the ceremonies.  Mr. R. Mitchell, of the firm of R&P Mitchell & Co, the contractor for this part of the line, with twenty men, armed with spades, called upon Dr. A.K. Addison of Farmersville to turn the first sod.  After the usual speeches, in spite of a threatening shower, the men then got down to work starting to grade the roadbed.  The Scott Act had just been passed which dried up Ontario so that the workmen wouldn't be distracted by the demon liquor.
By the beginning of August, the work on the Farmersville section was progressing very rapidly.  The rock cut on the Delta road had been done about as fast as any men could do in rock.  About 1,000 cubic yards of rock had been excavated in 18 days, with an average of about 20 men.  A large number of Italian workmen were expected on this section shortly to supplement the workforce.
However, by the middle of August, trouble started to raise its head.  At Glen Buell and Glen Elbe, a number of men and teams were laid off as the the right of way had not been paid for.  For the August 15 payroll, the contractors couldn't get their money from the B&W promoters until the Friday and Saturday.  They then paid the men less than 10% of their wages in cash.  All along the line the workers were very upset insisting on full payment in cash.  Fights broke out.  One Italian sub-contractor pulled out a revolver and pointed it at a worker.  As a compromise, the workers agreed to accept due bills (in effect IOU's) for the balance of their wages. 
By the middle of October, work on the railroad had come to a standstill due to the failure of the company to pay for the right of way.  During the week of November 17, a number of Italians laborers who couldn't get their pay, reached Brockville in destitute condition.  Being in dire straits, they were loud in their denunciations of the B&W.  They made threats to raise an Italian regiment in New York, return  and clean out this country. 
 What had started out as hope and promise for a speedy construction of the B&W ended up as disappointment and a sullied reputation with the onset of winter.  The unpaid debts to the contractors, suppliers and labourers would haunt the Brockville, Westport & Sault Ste Marie Railway and its successors for the next 20 years - even forcing it into receivership. 


Brockville, Westport & Northwestern 4-4-0 #65 at either Athens, Delta, or Westport, Ont (we don't know which) circa 1903.  Originally built in 1883 by Manchester Locomotive Works (Builders #1131) as Midland Railway of Canada #41, it became GTR #641 when the GTR absorbed the Midland in 1882 (a "6" was simply added to the front of the Midland number). 
It was re-numbered GTR #633 when GTR #633 (ex-Midland 4-4-0 #33) was retired in October 1884.  It was re-numbered again as GTR #374 in 1898 with the second GTR general re-numbering of its locomotive roster. 
The Brockville, Westport & Northwestern bought the locomotive in March 1903 for $4,500.  The BW&NW was taken over by the Canadian Northern in 1910 but the railway line still retained its identity until 1913.  BW&NW #65 was to become CNoR #52.  However, it is unlikely this number was ever applied to the locomotive.  For the previous two years, the locomotive had been kept in storage and was scrapped in 1913. Photo courtesy National Archives of Canada PA-203414
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