Belleville Connections

The railway came to Belleville in the 1850's. As the Intelligencer of the day put it:

"Belleville has at last been placed upon the great highway by the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway. The event is one of the utmost importance to us as a town. Merchants and tradesmen no longer will have to lay in a heavy six months' stock of supplies until the season arrives for navigation."

October 27, 1856, the day the first train passed through Belleville, was a gala occasion. Crowds lined the tracks long before the train, consisting of two wood-burning locomotives and ten passenger cars, was due to steam into the Grand Trunk depot on Station Street (now CN Station) on its initial Toronto-Montreal run. The mayor of Belleville was on hand to greet Grand Trunk officials and dignitaries aboard the history-making train.

Soon after regular service had been established over the line, the Grand Trunk Railway set up locomotive shops in Belleville. The city was made a divisional point in the system,and the railway became on of its largest employers. Just how busy a railway centre Belleville was in the hey day of the giant steam engines, is told by a report of the Intelligencer:

"Belleville is the service centre for large numbers of 'iron horses' and cars that roar daily across a continent. Indicative of this important phase of railroad work is the fact that over ninety engines were serviced here in twenty-four hours. In 1939 the Belleville branch of the railroad utilized one hundred and twenty-three million gallons of water."

Back in the 1870's Belleville railroaders made newspaper headlines around the country, when a Grand Trunk Railway strike developed into a five-day riot that eventually had to be put down by the local militia. Engineers, who were paid three dollars a day, walked off their jobs after the railway company had dismissed sixty-six enginemen two days before Christmas due to a general recession. Passengers were left stranded in the middle of a snowstorm near Cobourg. In Belleville strikers and sympathizers, some of them armed with pistols, gathered at the Grand Trunk station. The police were unable to cope with the ensuing riot and a detachment of the 49th Regiment was sent to restore order.

The mob continued to grow and overpowered the handful of militiamen. Another forty men from the 15th Battalion called in to help also failed to quell the riot. Finally, after three days of yelling, stone and brick throwing, two hundred soldiers of the Queen's Own Rifles arrived from Toronto. They advanced the rioters with fixed bayonets. Some rioters were wounded, and the soldiers suffered two casualties.

Railway tracks used to run through the centre of the city along Pinnacle Street. In the summer of 1964 the last regular train went over these tracks before they were lifted with great ceremony, thus ending a chapter in Belleville's own Grand Junction Railway, which ran from Belleville to Peterborough via Stirling, Campbellford, Hastings and Keene.

In 1879 the Grand Junction Railway acquired a road built by the Belleville and North Hastings Railway from Madoc Junction to Eldorado, site of the first gold mine in Ontario. The first regular train for Madoc left the Grand Junction Station below the market on Pinnacle Street in May of 1879, thus connecting the rich iron mines of North Hastings with the harbour of Belleville.

From Belleville, Friendly City by Nick and Helma Mika (Mika Publishing, Belleville, Ontario, 1973). In operation until the fall of 1995, Mika Publishers of Belleville was one of the most important genealogical publishers in Canada, publishing and reprinting a great variety of map folios and family histories.
Rev 2000-04-18 [Return to Diary]