If travelling to the Bay of Quinte region by train, VIA Rail makes daily stops at three historic train stations.
At Belleville, a modern passenger station has been constructed beside the original Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) station dating from 1856.
To the east the original Romanesque designed Napanee station has been in use for over 160 years. At the western end of the Bay of Quinte, VIA Rail stops at the historic Trenton Junction in Trenton, where the GTR and Central Ontario Railway (COR) once met. The original station boasted the area’s first elevator, transporting passengers from the GTR tracks above to the COR’s tracks below.
Currently there are three railroads that operate in the Quinte area, Canadian National Railways (CNR), Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) and VIA Rail. In the past 160 years though, there have been thirteen railways operating in the region. The dates below indicate arrival of the railway in the Quinte Area. Many of the branch lines continued in operation until the 1960’s with some operating into the 1990’s. The figure below shows the extensive rail lines, of which many were converted into trails.
Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), 1856.
Prince Edward County Railway (PECR) 1873, Picton to Trenton.
Belleville and North Hastings Railway (B&NHR) 1875, Madoc to Eldorado.
Napanee, Tamworth and Quebec Railway Company (NT&QR) 1879, Napanee to Tweed.
The Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa Railway (IB&O) 1879, Irondale to Bancroft.
The Grand Junction Railway (GJR) 1880, Belleville to Peterborough, took over B&NHR.
Central Ontario Railway (COR) 1882, Picton to Lake St. Peter, took over PECR.
Bay of Quinte Railway (BQR) 1884, Napanee to Bannockburn, took over NT&QR.
Canadian Northern Railway (CNOR) 1911, took over BQR, COR, GJR & IB&O.
Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) 1914.
Canadian Government Railways (CGR) 1917, took over CNOR.
Canadian National Railway (CNR) 1923, took over CGR and GTR.
VIA Rail (VIA) 1977, took over passenger service from CPR & CNR.
These days, several of these retired track beds have been preserved as trails for walking, hiking and bicycling, while others allow ATV’s and snowmobiles.
Easily accessible from many areas, the trails can be explored in sections during a leisurely walk – or for the more ambitious, a 200 km trek from the shores of Picton Bay to Bancroft.
Many of the historic railroad sites have been preserved throughout the Quinte region, from the rails to the original roundhouses. One of the last surviving roundhouses can be found at the south end of Dufferin St in Trenton, built by the CNOR in 1911, today it is home to several businesses. The GJR passenger station in Stirling is located off of North St. and is one of the last stations still in existence from this railway, now serving as a museum. In Bancroft the COR station has been preserved and is the Visitors Centre and Mineral Museum, showcasing over 400 specimens of minerals from the region. It was the mining industry that spurred the building of the railway to the area.
Another unique station is located in Brighton beside the CNR and CPR lines off Monck St. Originally built by the GTR in 1857, the restored station is now home to the Memory Junction Railway Museum, boasting a preserved steam engine, various rolling stock and cabooses.
For the modern rail fan there are several viewing locations to safely observe and take stunning photos of Canada’s railways at work. In addition to the stations in Brighton, Trenton Junction, Belleville and Napanee, there are wonderful park locations along the CNR and CPR tracks across the Bay of Quinte Region.
One of the most picturesque locations is in the heart of Napanee, the original stone and steel GTR Bridge spans the Napanee River. Exceptional photos of CNR and VIA trains can be taken from the beautiful Springside Park below the bridge off Dundas St. E.
The region’s railroad history is kept alive by model railroad clubs located in Belleville, Picton and Brighton. Each club hosts open houses throughout the year and are always welcoming new members.
Two of the best Train and Model Railroad shows in Eastern Ontario are held annually by Picton in September and Belleville in December, attracting many visitors to the region.
Over 160 years of railway operations in the Quinte Region have brought economic stimulation, industry and jobs and also spawned an outdoor adventurer’s playground and a treasure trove for explorers of a bygone era.
Roger Litwiller is an author/historian/lecturer of local history and Canada’s proud Naval heritage. He enjoys exploration through travel & photography. Roger has worked as a Paramedic for 33 yrs in Hastings County. “I am a storyteller, who can save your life!” You can find more of Roger’s writing on his website, rogerlitwiller.com, or send him a tweet at @RLitwiller
Unless otherwise stated, photos in this blog post are courtesy of Roger Litwiller.