Vintage views of McKinnon Industries

Thanks to posters on The Vintage St. Catharines group on Facebook, I now have two period views of McKinnon Industries on Ontario Street in St. Catharines. This is one of the places on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway that speaks most strongly to me, as I spent my high school years living near the plant and encountering the CNR switch job that served it on an almost daily basis.

First, a photo taken in 1955:

McKinnon - 1955 Strike

This image was shot for The St. Catharines Standard newspaper during a major strike by General Motors employees in 1955. The building is on the east side of Ontario Street, and the photographer is looking roughly north: The foundry on the west side of Ontario at Carleton Street can be seen on the left edge of the photo in the distance.

According to several online sources, the union called this strike over frustration with the pace at which General Motors was implementing the terms of a five-year agreement negotiated in 1950. It was a long strike – lasting five months and involving 17,000 GM employees at several plants in southern Ontario. At the end, the workers received what they sought: A pay raise, more secure working conditions, and a health plan.

For me, this photo answers a couple of important questions. First, I know that I won’t be modelling this particular era – I’m sure the NS&T did not make any deliveries to GM on Ontario Street while a strike was going on. More importantly, though, I know that while GM acquired McKinnon Industries in 1929, the McKinnon name remained in use through the mid-1950s. I love this sign, because on a layout it would tell everybody, immediately, what they’re looking at.

Here’s another photo of McKinnon, taken in 1938:

McKinnon Industries - 1938 - Brock U

This one, from the Brock University collection, looks north up Ontario Street and shows the facilities on the west side of the street, including the foundry in the distance. What I like about this one is it clearly shows the location of the track along the west side of the street (in the 1980s when I saw this area first-hand, it had been relocated to the middle), plus the pole line that carries municipal power, power for the NS&T, and lighting for the sidewalk. It’s worth comparing this image to others that I’ve shared on this website in a post called “The Magic of McKinnon on Ontario.

NS&T 17: Houtby’s Siding

The photograph below is a pretty exciting one for me. It changes how I’m thinking about my potential model railway, based on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway.

NS&T 17 - Houtby's

NS&T 17 at Houtby’s Siding. Photographer and date unknown.

This photo is courtesy of the Niagara Railway Museum, which recently acquired a large collection of photographs. I’m grateful to Aaron White for giving me permission to share it here.

Number 17 and its short freight are in the hole at Houtby’s – at Milepost 2.33 on the Port Dalhousie line. It’s facing north, but it’s likely waiting to back south along the west side of 12 Mile Creek to serve customer(s) at Welland Vale.

To the left of the freight motor, one can see the bridge over 12 Mile Creek and – to the left of that, up the hill – the back of the McKinnon Industries complex on Ontario Street.

Aerial photo - 12 Mile Creek bridge and environs

1955 aerial photo showing McKinnon Industries, Welland Vale and Houtby’s Siding, from the Brock University online collection.

I’m thrilled to have seen this photo because it provides me with an example of the traffic that was hauled across the creek to the west bank. I am very keen on modelling the operations along Ontario Street, but was worried that McKinnon Industries would dominate the freight movements. This photo gave me reason to explore more of the freight workings on the Port Dalhousie division – perhaps I could add Welland Vale to a layout to boost the switching opportunities?

My reprint of the 1945 Employee Time Table includes a list of tracks outside yard limits on the Port Dalhousie Division, which is helpful in determining switching opportunities on this line:

NST - Port Dalhousie track list

(Note the mileage is measured from Port Dalhousie in this time table, so the MP given for Houtby’s is different.)

I like that the line also includes a couple of team tracks and canneries. (I wrote about the Canadian Canners spur at MP 0.86 and the Cannery Siding at MP 0.99 in an earlier post on Port Dalhousie and Lakeside Park.) Looking at the sidings chart above – and keeping in mind that the Port Dalhousie Division was a busy passenger line until about 1950 – has given me a lot more to think about.

Thanks again, Aaron!

NS&T – the bridge at 12 Mile Creek

Holiday-makers headed to Port Dalhousie for a day at the beach left from downtown St. Catharines, took the Louisa Street cut-off to Woodruffs siding, then slipped downgrade behind the McKinnon Industries plant to cross 12 Mile Creek – so named because the mouth of this waterway on Lake Ontario is located approximately 12 miles west of the Niagara River.

Here are some photos of the bridge over 12 Mile Creek – from the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt:

NS&T 83 - 12 Mile Creek

NS&T 83 – St. Catharines. Photographer and date unknown

NS&T 83 - 12 Mile Creek

NS&T 83 – St. Catharines. Photographer and date unknown

These two views were likely taken on the same day, during an enthusiast fan trip. While I can’t confirm the date, the revised book by John Mills includes several photos of Car 83 taken on September 8, 1957 – including a Robert Sandusky picture at this bridge. (In fact, it’s quite possible the top photo is his picture, as there’s a shot in the Mills book that appears to be this photo, but cropped.)

NS&T 83 is outbound in these photos, headed towards the photographers and towards Port Dalhousie. The white flags show it’s running as an extra movement – not on the schedule – which supports the theory that this is a fan trip.

The line to Port Dalhousie was built in 1901 – so presumably, this is when the bridge was constructed.

Aerial photo - 12 Mile Creek bridge and environs

1955 aerial photo showing the 12 Mile Creek bridge, from the Brock University online collection.

When the line to Port Dalhousie was built, 12 Mile Creek was no longer part of the Welland Canal: As part of the construction of the Third Welland Canal in the 1880s, the route was changed to cut diagonally southeast from Port Dalhousie. But there must’ve been traffic upstream of this bridge – or at least, the potential for it – because it was built as a swing bridge.

NS&T 620 - 12 Mile Creek

NS&T 620 – St. Catharines. Photographer and date unknown

This photo is a good illustration of the method used for supporting the overhead wire where the swing bridge meets the approach.

NS&T Bridge - 12 Mile Creek

NS&T Bridge at 12 Mile Creek – St. Catharines. Photographer and date unknown

This image provides a good look at the central pier, and the rollers upon which the bridge would’ve turned. The abutment on the far (east) bank features a stone column to the right of the steelwork that would prevent the bridge from rotating clockwise. Based on this, the bridge would’ve rotated counter-clockwise to clear the river for traffic. However, it hadn’t been opened for many years by the time these photos were taken.

I’m not sure when the bridge was removed, although it was gone when I lived in St. Catharines in the 1980s. However, the central pier is still in place – a reminder of the days when St. Catharines visited the beach under wire…

12 Mile Creek - NS&T bridge - GSV

Central pier, NS&T bridge over 12 Mile Creek. Google Satellite View – 2018

(Today, 12 Mile Creek is a fast flowing, dangerous river with undertows and turbulent currents. Over the years, many people have drowned trying to shoot the rapids in this area.)

On the west side of the creek, the line climbed a hill to reach Martindale Road.

NST - Looking east towards 12 Mile Creek bridge from Martindale Road

NS&T Port Dalhousie Line – Martindale Road

In the above image, the photographer on the west side of 12 Mile Creek. He’s standing at the top of the grade, looking southeast down the grade towards the bridge. At the bottom fo the grade, just before the bridge, a spur left the main track and headed south along the west side of the water to Welland Vale. The roadbed from here to Welland Vale is now a recreational trail.

There was another bridge on the line to Port Dalhousie that was popular with railfan photographers – and I’ll share some photos of that bridge in a future post.

NS&T passenger service at Woodruffs

When I was in high school, and living near the General Motors plant on Ontario Street in St. Catharines, the remains of the NS&T were still active as part of the CNR system – but, of course, only as a freight line. The CNR would deliver boxcars to two locations in the plant – and that’s it. It was wonderful to live so close (but not too close) to full-size railroading in the streets, but it sure didn’t provide variety.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, back in the NS&T days this plant had more trackage, and received a greater variety of equipment. There were also other customers in the area, all fed off a small passing siding located between Ontario and Louisa Street and known as Woodruffs.

At one time, this area also saw frequent passenger service, as Louisa and Woodruffs were part of the route used by NS&T cars to reach Port Dalhousie. I found several examples of this in the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt:

NST 310 Crossing Ontario Street

NST 310 crossing Ontario Street, St. Catharines – Photographer and date unknown.

This car is headed inbound from Port Dalhousie. Once it crosses the street, it will enter Woodruffs. There are lots of neat details in this photograph.

The small structure at right is an NS&T passenger shelter. It appears similar to one that was frequently photographed at Dainsville – on the Welland Division, just north of Port Colborne.

The building behind the 310 is WS Tyler – which was a customer of the railway in the 1950s. Not seen, but also in this area, are two spurs headed to the right to serve McKinnon Industries and McKinnon Columbus Chain.

The curved track in the lower right is the line entering Ontario Street from Woodruffs. It heads north to serve west plant of McKinnon Industries, and then curves east alongside Carleton Avenue to reach the back of McKinnon’s east plant.

If the photographer backed up about 600 feet and shot another photo, it would look something like this:

NST 312 at Woodruffs

NS&T 312 at Woodruffs, St. Catharines – Photographer and date unknown.

This car is also inbound to St. Catharines from Port Dalhousie. It’s on the main track at Woodruffs – a siding approximately 600 feet long tucked on an angle between Ontario and Thomas Streets. The track to the right is the siding, which then curves onto Ontario Street and runs north as previously described. There’s another switch, beyond the crossover, which heads to through the bushes to the right to serve the RM Stokes coal dealer, which was tucked in a triangle of land between Woodruffs, Lowell Avenue, and Thomas Street.

NS&T 312 is the omega car in the 301-312 series. These cars were built in 1926 by the Cincinnati Car Company, as kits – then shipped to the NS&T to be assembled. In this way, the railway avoided a punishing duty for cross-border shopping. These 31′-6″ cars each seated 44 passengers and weighed 32,700 pounds. Unfortunately, the steel parts were not treated to protect the cars from corrosion and several were scrapped in 1948. According to the revised John Mills book, the remainder were retrofitted with 14-foot poles and trolley bridges (the little platforms on the roofs to allow the poles on shorter cars to reach the wire) and otherwise retrofitted for service on the Port Dalhousie line. Since the cars in these photos are so equipped, these photos were taken after 1948. Buses replaced the trolleys to Port Dalhousie on March 1st, 1950. All Cincinnati cars were eventually scrapped.

Note the city bus running on Ontario Street, directly ahead of the siding.

Port Dalhousie was a popular destination. It featured a nice beach, a dance pavilion, and other attractions. The line could be quite busy in the nice weather – as this final look at Woodruffs attests:

NST 80 plus 300-series cars - Woodruffs

NS&T 80 plus two Cincinnati cars at Woodruffs – Photographer and date unknown.

This photo was shot from Ontario Street, looking the opposite direction from the previous two. Car 80 is taking the crossover out of the siding and back onto the main to continue onto Port Dalhousie. It’s likely the unidentified Cincinnati car behind it will follow along. Just barely visible at the extreme right of the photo is the reason for their wait in the hole: another NS&T car – likely a Cincinnati model – headed inbound to downtown St. Catharines.

Car 80 was a one-off. The second car to carry this number on the NS&T, it was built in 1915 by Kuhlman. The 57′-6″ car weighed 69,740 pounds and could accommodate 64 passengers. The car was originally a combine, but was rebuilt in 1939 to remove the baggage compartment. It was further rebuilt in 1941 after a collision with Car 82, into the configuration seen here.

The track to the right of 82 is the spur into RM Stokes.

While short, the Woodruffs siding was important as a run-around track into the CNR era. I remember watching CNR crews in the 1980s use these two tracks as a small yard to store cars for one GM plant while working the other one. It must’ve been even busier when freights needed to keep out of the way of the traffic to and from Port Dalhousie.

Here’s a photo to help make sense of all of this:

NST - McKinnons - Aerial Photo

1955 aerial photo showing Ontario Street and Woodruffs, from the Brock University online collection

The magic of McKinnon on Ontario

If there’s any part of the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway that speaks most strongly to me, it’s the operations on Ontario Street in St. Catharines.

I spent my formative teenaged years living just a couple of blocks south of the General Motors plant on Ontario Street, and I would regularly see CNR switch crews working the complex. GM spanned the street, with plants to the east and west.

CNR on Ontario Street, 1993

CNR on Ontario Street – 1993, author’s photo.

In the distance, a CNR crew with an SW1200RS is returning from switching the east plant of General Motors on Ontario Street. The trains and tracks would disappear in a year or two.

Auto traffic was regularly stopped for in-plant carts and workers on foot. And, at shift change time, by an end-cab switcher shuffling boxcars up and down the street. While locals knew this, and might seek an alternate route, there was always some driver on Ontario Street who would be surprised by a few hundred tons of metal taking over their lane, complete with ringing bell and squealing flanges. For a train-mad teenager, it was delightful.

And for decades it had the same effect on the kids of previous generations – like the one in this view:

NST - switching McKinnon on Ontario Street

NS&T train, Ontario Street – 1951, C.N. Riehl photo.

That kid? Look just ahead of the two cars parked on the curb. He’s on a bike, and I know exactly how he feels – because in 25-30 years, that would be me.

There’s so much to explore in this image. McKinnon can be seen on the right, above the second-last gondola. On the east (right) side of the street, a number of small businesses are ready to serve hungry plant workers.

The McKinnon foundry is the tall dark building ahead of the locomotive (over the dark auto that’s driving towards the photographer). Here’s a closer look:

NST - switching McKinnon on Ontario Street

NS&T 14, Ontario Street just south of Carleton Street – 1951, C.N. Riehl photo

One thing I notice in comparing the two NS&T images to my own photo is that by the time I encountered the CNR on Ontario Street, the track had been relocated from the west side of to the centre. I suspect that was to prevent the additional chaos of having two-way traffic all squeezed into the northbound lanes. A train makes a very effective lane divider.

This large factory has an interesting history, which you can read about on the Vintage Machinery website. Unfortunately, this company – the major employer in St. Catharines for decades – is a shadow of its former self. Here’s what the area looks like today:

Ontario Street - Google Streetview

Ontario Street, north at Beech Street – 2014, Google Streetview

The Family Recreation Centre at right is the building with the Coca-Cola sign in the first Riehl photo. And of course, there are no tracks in the street anymore. Also, no wide-eyed kids on bicycles…

What I did not appreciate when I grew up near the plant was how much busier this area was for the railway back in the NS&T days. The above photos provide some clue to this: I only ever remember seeing boxcars for General Motors, yet here are tanks and gondolas. Consulting various sources, I’ve learned there were more spurs for the GM plant, plus other rail-served industries such as WS Tyler, a coal dealer, and – across 12 Mile Creek – the Welland Vale Company:

McKinnon aerial photo - 1955

1955 aerial photo showing McKinnon on Ontario Street, from the Brock University online collection

The NS&T line to McKinnon was part of the Port Dalhousie division. It left the terminal area downtown and headed west along Welland Avenue before jogging over to Louisa Street. (I’ll write more about the terminal and about Louisa Street in future posts.) At the Parnell & Garnett coal dealer, the NS&T swung northwest, slipping between houses at an angle to reach Ontario Street. There was a run-around track here called Woodruffs, where passenger trains to and from Port Dalhousie could meet. There was also a spur to the RM Stokes coal dealer.

The main track crossed Ontario Street and slipped behind the west plant of McKinnon. Spurs snuck in behind this plant, and over to WS Tyler. Meantime, the main track dropped downgrade and crossed the creek before continuing on to Port Dalhousie. On the far side of the creek, a switchback paralleled the water to reach Welland Vale.

Back at Woodruffs, a switch took the track into Ontario Street and up to the foundry at Carleton. Zooming in on the original aerial photo shows a spur swinging back into the McKinnon building on the east side of Ontario Street (in the middle of the large structure just above Pleasant Avenue). At Ontario Street, spurs pointing north and west crossed each other to serve the foundry. Meantime, the line turned east, along the south side of Carleton Street and then south alongside Haig Street to a couple of spurs at the back of the east plant.

And if you look just south of my label for Ontario Street, the arrow points to the house I grew up in.

Between the two plants at McKinnon, two coal dealers, WS Tyler, and Welland Vale, there’s a lot of switching potential here. (If I model the era in which passenger service still ran up Ontario Street – crossing the Port Dalhousie line with a level crossing at Woodruffs to join the spur to Carleton – then I could also model the passenger extra trains that delivered and picked up workers. Because yes, McKinnon was large enough to warrant its own, daily, special movements.)

This area is very high on my list of places to model – providing I can fit everything in. The challenge will be, I know the area so well that I may have trouble selectively compressing it. But that’s an exercise for another day. For now, I can enjoy thinking about the possibilities of switching an auto plant – under wire!

St. Catharines: CNR track maps (1980s)

I grew up in St. Catharines in the 1980s, and that’s the era I remember on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. Of course, by that time the trolley wire had been gone for a couple of decades – it came down in 1960 – and much else had changed. Customers disappeared, and new customers were added. Trackage was rearranged – often with new connections made. And so on.

Still, any knowledge of “what was there” can only be a good thing. Years ago, I collected a set of CNR track maps – including associated indexes that identify each track. Here’s what I have. Note how each zone map includes the links to adjacent zones.

Zone MM
This 1983 map covers the transfer yard at Merritton, where the NS&T interchanged with the CNR.

Zone MM - Map

Zone MM - Index

Zone MG
Moving north from Merritton Yard, the line’s hub of operations was the Eastchester Yard area. This map is from 1985.

Zone MG - Map

Zone MG - Index

Zone ML
This map, from 1981, covers the area east of Eastchester Yard and up to Port Weller on the Welland Canal.

Zone ML - Map

Zone ML - Index

Zone MP
This map, from 1983, covers the track along Louisa Street and up Ontario Street to serve McKinnon’s (General Motors).

Zone MP - Map

Zone MP - Index

I’m grateful that I have these. I can compare them to other sources – such as the 1923 Fire Maps I recently found online – to develop a better picture of the NS&T in the electric era.

St. Catharines: 1923 fire maps

My virtual visit to Brock University’s collection of photos and maps is already paying off with more knowledge about the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. In the university’s extensive online collection of historic maps, I found a set of 1923 fire insurance maps for downtown St. Catharines. These have already answered many questions. Here’s some of what I’ve found:

NS&T Geneva Street terminal and Niagara Street Yard:
Terminal-Eastchester Yard

Based on CNR track maps from the 1980s and other sources, this is a pretty good representation of the trackage in and around the terminal and freight house. Even better, though, this map clearly lists a number of industries served by the railway. There are coal sheds, lumber yards, and more. I can compare this to the siding turnout list in the 1938 Employee Time Table to get a better picture of a major traffic generating location on the line.

Welland Avenue car barns:
Welland Avenue Car Barns

I have plenty of photos taken in this area, but this is the first time I’ve seen a map of what was there. I know that these maps can be unreliable when depicting track arrabngements, but comparing the map to photos tells me that generally, this is correct. Furthermore, it’s the first resource to show the actual location of the car barns on the site. (As an aside, the car barns were torn down in the 1960s and the site converted into the Midtown Plaza strip mall.)

Ontario Street – Woodruff’s Siding – Louisa Street:


These two maps (from 1923 and 1913) show an area of particular interest to me – the location of McKinnon’s (later, General Motors) on Ontario Street. I’ve added a few legends to the maps as follows:
A – Woodruff’s Siding. This area was also the site of a coal dealer: RM Stokes Coal Co. I did not know that.
B – Weston Bakery. Again, I didn’t know that.
C – Another coal dealer – Parnell & Garland. This is now the site of a low-rise apartment building.
D – Spurs serving McKinnons and WS Tyler.
E – At one time, Warren Axe & Tool was located here, and had rail service. Later, this area became a parking lot for General Motors, which has plants on both sides of Ontario Street.
F – Welland Vale Manufacturing Company, also rail served.

Thanks to the university’s digitization project, I’m developing a much better picture of what existed, back in the day…

Why the NS&T?

That’s an excellent place to start…

I have a long history and fascination with railways that run under wires – including the Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto Railway.

I grew up in Toronto, and my first exposure to full-size railroading was the Toronto Transit Commission’s extensive streetcar lines and its (at the time) two-route subway system. The TTC really was “The Better Way”, as its slogan says – so much so that my parents both stopped driving before I was born.

We lived in several places in Toronto, but always near transit – in fact, always a quick walk or bus ride to a subway station – so that my father could easily get to and from work. Growing up, my mother and I would take transit everywhere: to the downtown department stores… the museums, galleries, and other attractions… the Canadian National Exhibition… St. Lawrence Market and other shopping… Centre Island, the Beach, High Park… and, of course, hobby shops such as George’s Trains. In short, everywhere. Transit was a way of life.

For the most part, these journeys involved a subway. Like many Toronto kids, I lobbied to sit at the front of the subway train so I could look out the window to see where we were headed. An empty front seat meant a dark adventure ahead and the twists, turns, rises and falls of the track were as familiar to me as they would be to any TTC subway driver. (If the front seat was occupied by another rider, my transit adventure was positively ruined.)

TTC Davisville - 1960s
(Certain stations were highlights. Davisville was one: it’s above ground, and the location of a subway maintenance yard.)

Buses were just another road vehicle. They were a means to get to the subway, and that was it. No rails. The less said about buses, the better.

Less often, our journeys would involve a ride on the streetcar. Growing up, that meant the iconic Presidents Conference Car (PCC):


I loved the way we would stop traffic to walk into the middle of the street to board. I loved the open windows in the summer, complete with dire warnings about sticking heads or arms out of the vehicle. I loved the sound of the traction motors, and the sparks from the overhead. I loved the dashed lines on station platforms that showed you how the ends of the car would swing out over the tracks as they rounded curves: step inside that line, and you’re going to be hit. I loved the flange squeal.

Today, my wife and I live in a neighbourhood bounded on three sides by streetcar lines. The fourth side is defined by the subway. (As a consequence, our vehicle spends most of its time in the garage.) I’m a passionate strap-hanger: Transit is still my preferred way to get around. And while the subway is the most efficient, it’s the streetcar that holds the most appeal for me. I love to grab a window seat in warm weather and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city passing by…

When I was 12, my parents decided to move out of the city. I hated the thought – and when we ended up in the St. Catharines without a car, I discovered just how good the TTC had been. Now, it took most of a day to get anywhere – and the only transit option was a bus.

But, it wasn’t all bad. For starters, back in the 1970s and 1980s, St. Catharines had the most amazing model train store I’d ever seen. Niagara Central Hobbies was nirvana for a railway modeller. And I could walk (or, in good weather, bike) to it from home.

Also – and this was really cool – the Canadian National Railway had a spur line to a General Motors plant just a couple of blocks north of our house:

CNR at GM Ontario Street - 1993
(While visiting my parents a few years after university, I snapped this photo of the CNR passing between the GM plants on Ontario Street. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw a train on this line…)

Despite living in Toronto, I didn’t often see real railroads at work. They tended to be in places we weren’t. So this was my first real exposure to real-life railroading – and what an eye-opener! The CNR would haul boxcars along tracks in the street, right up the road from me. When I attended high school, I would walk to school along Louisa Street – and my path would frequently cross that of a switch job headed to GM. I soon learned that these were tracks once worked under wire by the Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto Railway. I spent lots of free time on my bicycle, riding through the city to follow these tracks down through the Eastchester Yards and eventually to Merritton Yard, where the CNR’s Grantham Sub (as the NS&T lines were known) connected with the Grimsby Sub mainline.

CNR Grantham Sub - Merritton
(The ex-NS&T yard at Merritton, Ontario – in the southeast corner of St. Catharines)

Between the TTC and the NS&T, electrics became a strong influence in my hobby. But I’ve never modelled them – for various reasons that I’ll detail in a future post.