One hundred and twenty years ago tomorrow, the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad (G&LS) was incorporated in the State of Minnesota. Owned by the Pigeon River Lumber Company, a Wisconsin business headquartered in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ontario, the logging line was built to harvest timber along the southwest shore of Gunflint Lake and adjacent areas in the northeast part of the state.
The G&LS was in operation between 1902 and 1909 and branched off the Canadian Northern Railway Duluth Extension (originally the Port Arthur, Duluth & Western) at Milepost 79. It was likely the most unusual railroad in all of North America as it was an American line, but had no terminus in the US and its only access was via Canada. All the timber harvested in Minnesota was shipped to the company’s mill in Port Arthur for processing.
Today there are vestiges of the line still visible, but they are rapidly disappearing. The photos, taken between 1997 and 2016, along with the map (which shows the area in 1911), covers the initial few miles of the line as passes from Ontario across the international boundary into Minnesota. Corduroyed logs, some rails and even a line shaft from a Shay locomotive litter the route. The most amazing remnant of the line was a massive corduroyed log trestle on the south shore of the lake beside the Crab River, which helped it climb the massive ridges in the area. Unfortunately the trestle was burned in a 2007 fire and the following winter the Forest Service was forced to dynamite it to extinguish the smoldering embers inside.
Then and now photos featuring Iron Range Hill west of Thunder Bay, ON. In the first photo, a 2-6-0 Mogul of the Canadian Northern Railway (either 107 or 108), is stuck in the snow on the hill sometime in late 1915 or early 1916. The railway was built as the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western in 1893, but at the time was known as the Canadian Northern Railway North Lake Subdivision.
Iron Range Hill, located between Mileposts 59 and 60.5, was the steepest grade on the line at nearly 2 percent. It can be found southwest of Thunder Bay between Sandstone Lake (known as Sand Lake at the time) and Iron Range Lake. Brakeman Jack Lalonde leans against the stack, while passenger J.T. Greer is the middle of the three men standing beside the boiler. Greer is headed to the station at North Lake (MP 71), from where he will proceed to his logging operation further west on the lake.
Today the hill is much quieter (photo taken March 2020). The North Lake Subdivision eventually became part of the Canadian National Railways network and in 1923 this section of line (Mackies to North Lake) was take out of service. The rest of the subdivision was abandoned by CNR in October 1938 and the rails pulled up in 1939.
An unidentified Canadian National Railways locomotive, possibly 1059, moves somewhere on the North Lake Subdivision likely during the 1930s. Originally built as the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway and opened for traffic in 1893, the line later became part of Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) network. In late 1918, CNoR was merged into the Canadian National Railways (CNR).
Locomotive 1059, a 4-6-0 engine (G-10-b classification), was one of 25 built for CNoR in 1903 by the Canadian Locomotive Company. She likely began running on the North Lake line in the late 1920s until it was abandoned in 1938.
William Rees Brock, president of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway when it officially opened in June 1893. Born in Eramosa Township, Upper Canada in 1836, Brock was a well known and well connected businessman in Toronto at the time. His company, W.R. Brock Company Limited, was one of the largest dry goods retailers in the city.
It is unknown how Brock became associated with the PAD&W as his name does appear in any railway records or newspaper reports until his election as president. It is assumed that his position on the Board of Directors of the Toronto General Trusts Company (which was managing the estate of a deceased investor) and his connections to the Bank Commerce (which had loaned the company a considerable amount of money) was the catalyst for his election, with those companies attempting to secure their interests in the line. Brock remained the president until the company was dissolved following its purchase by Mackenzie, Mann and Company and later incorporation into the Canadian Northern Railway Company.
Extra Credit is video series that examines topics related to history in the Thunder Bay District and exploring that history.
This episode is a follow up to our first video on the Pee Dee Railway (a link to which you can find below). We venture outdoors to visit remains of the railway a short distance west of Thunder Bay in Rosslyn, ON. You will see some rails that are still in place (not original though) and a few spots where significant points were once located.
Removing the rails on the Pee Dee. This photo, taken circa 1939, shows crews in an unknown location removing the remaining 35 miles of what was the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway.
The PAD&W was constructed from 1889 and 1893 to provide a link between Port Arthur, ON and Duluth, MN as well as tap nearby iron deposits. Eighty-five miles of rail were laid to the international boundary and six miles into Minnesota to the Paulson Iron Mine, but unfortunately the iron enterprise collapsed just as it was supposed to open. The planned connection to Duluth was never built (despite many later attempts to complete it) which left the line with no real terminus.
It was abandoned in sections, with the last trains running in March 1938. The line’s owner at the time, Canadian National Railways, petitioned the federal government to completely abandon the North Lake Subdivision as it was called which was granted in October 1938.
Archives & Digital Collections at Lakehead University Library
A circa 1907 photograph of what is described as Sand Lake (today known as Sandstone Lake). If correct, Sand Lake was created as a stop on the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway in 1893 (Milepost 57). It was home to a siding, water tank (visible on the extreme right of the photo) and a section house. The PAD&W was laid with 56 pound rails and those in the photo do appear quite light.
At the time of the photo, the line was part of the Canadian Northern Railway network and known as the Duluth Section or Duluth Extension. The locomotive in the photo, #30, was a 4-4-0 (Class A-10-a) built in 1871 by the Rhode Island Locomotive Works for the Quebec & Lake St. John Railway. She was scrapped in 1912.
A construction scene on the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway (PAD&W) circa 1892. The exact location is unknown, but the end of track was near North Lake at the time (Milepost 71).
A locomotive, pushing a flat car and coach sit on a siding. It is not possible to identify the engine (likely #2 or #3), but her tender is piled high with wood instead of coal. The occupants of the coach appear to be well-to-do and include what appears to be one youth and a woman, suggesting a possible special excursion. In August 1892 PAD&W Vice President D.F. Burk did visit the area as far as Gunflint Lake with his family.
“Candie” sends her love from the cab of Canadian National Railways locomotive 1050 at Mackies Siding on the North Lake Subdivision circa 1931. Mackies, Milepost 47.1/35.5, was the terminus at the time of this small branch line which began its life at the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway.
Number 1050 was 4-6-0 (Class G-10-a) engine built by the Canadian Locomotive Company in 1902 for the Canadian Northern Railway. Thunder Bay Public Library