Canadian Northern Railway

The story of this railway is tightly intertwined with that of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western.

William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, who would go on to form the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), purchased the PAD&W in 1899. Known initially as the Duluth Extension and later the North Lake Branch, the PAD&W was one of the first pieces in the construction of their transcontinental line. Starting at Stanley (MP 19), construction had begun on a link to Winnipeg and beyond even before the purchase was finalized. They would use the charter of the recent acquired Ontario and Rainy River Railway, which would eventually take the line to Rainy River, into the United States at Baudette, Minnesota and back into Canada at Buffalo Point FN, Manitoba. The line was completed in late December 1901 and opened to traffic in mid-1902.

Part of this line was re-routed in 1911. The grade between Stanley and Kakabeka was particularly bad, so in 1909, CNoR decided to build a new section of line from Rosslyn to Kakabeka. The new route was shorter and the grades much easier. The new junction point became Twin City (MP 11.8) and the 3.7 miles of track from Stanley to Kakebeka was abandoned. Because of its incline, the old route was known as “High Track.”

One of the final pieces in CNoR’s transcontinental line was built between Ruel, Ontario and Port Arthur by Foley, Welch and Stewart Contractors starting in 1911. Construction progressed rapidly on the over 400 mile section, the last spike driven on January 1, 1914. This allowed passenger and freight traffic to flow from Toronto to Winnipeg via Port Arthur. Not long after though, in 1917, CNoR began to have financial trouble. The company was taken over by the Canadian Government and in December 1918 was ordered to merge with the Canadian Government Railways (CGR) to form Canadian National Railways (CNR-CN). The formal merger did not take place until 1923.

Eastern Line

The portion of line from the east to Port Arthur eventually became known as the CNoR-Nipigon Subdivision. It began in Jellicoe, Ontario and wound its way 148 miles westwardly to the Lakehead. Some of the notable locations on the line:

Milepost Station, Siding or Point Elevation (ft.)
0 Jellicoe 1086
25.6 Warneford 975
37.1 Macdiarmid/Macdiarmid Tunnel 910
37.6 Postagoni River Bridge 903
41.3 Orient Bay 863
58.4 Cash Creek Trestle 775
60 Hogarth 792
64.8 Cronyn/MacAskill 744
66.1 Cameron Falls 720
70.5 Nipigon River Bridge 642
77.9 Nipigon 616
88.5 Black Sturgeon River Bridge 661
120.6 Pass Lake 834
123.4 Blende River Viaduct 792
147.9 Port Arthur 615

Click here more photos of this line.

Western Line

Milepost Station, Siding or Point Elevation (ft.)
3 (436) Fort William 613
11.8 (427.2) Twin City Junction 723
19 (420) Stanley 720
19-23.4 (420-415.6) High Track 915

Only one of these lines, from Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) to Winnipeg still operates. The portion from Thunder Bay to Atikokan, Ontario is known as the CN-Kashabowie Subdivision. The eastern line from Port Arthur to Longlac, Ontario, known as the CN-Dorion/Kinghorn Subdivision, last saw traffic in 2005 and the rails were removed from the entire line by 2010. While the right-of-way is still owned by CN, efforts have been underway for a number of years to transform parts of it into a rail trail.

For more information and photos, please read the following great articles:

The Driving of the Last Spikes on the Canadian Northern Railway in New Ontario by John Todd (Canadian Rail Magazine, October 1979)

The Driving of the Last Spike on the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway by John Todd (Canadian Rail Magazine, November 1979)

The Nipigon Tramway by John Todd (Canadian Rail Magazine, October 1977)

Link to 1921, 1925, 1928, 1929 & 1931 maps. Link to some of the timecards.

There are numerous videos of the remains of the Kinghorn/Dorion SD in the YouTube playlist below, as well as several of High Track.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: