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…

Aerial Photography of the NS&T

This morning, I had the idea that vintage aerial photography might help me trace the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto – and I found an excellent resource online at Brock University.

Niagara Air Photo Index
(Click on the image to visit the university library online)

The Niagara Air Photo Index includes photography of St. Catharines, Thorold, Welland, and Port Colborne, and covers multiple eras dating back to 1921.

I note the university library also has a number of vintage maps online, so there’s plenty to explore…

NS&T 1938 Employee Time Table

As I ponder a layout based on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, I have been reviewing my various source materials (four books and a video) about the line.

And this one has turned out to be a real gold mine of information:


Like many railway references, the 2008 edition of the book by John M Mills includes a lot of data that one tends to skip over in favour of photos and captions when simply reading for pleasure. But since I’m reading for specific information this time through, I’m paying much more attention to it. So, I’ve been reading through the appendixes … which include a copy of NS&T Employee Time Table 52 – dated April 3, 1938.

In amongst the schedules and special instructions, there’s something I’ve never before encountered in an Employee Time Table: a complete list of sidings and turnouts for each division, presented in order with their mileage marker. This is spectacular information for the layout designer, because many of the sidings are identified by the customer they serve. Essentially, I now have a list of online customers, and where they were located in relation to each other.

For example, here are a few entries for the line out of Port Dalhousie:

Graham & Son Coal Company – MP 0.04
Yard Switch – MP 0.13
Johnson Coal Company Siding – MP 0.20
Dominion Canners Siding – MP 0.63
Lake Street Team Track – MP 1.02
Imperial Oil Company Siding – MP 2.21
Lincoln Canning Company Siding – MP 2.23
Cloney & Winton Siding – MP 2.33

… and so on.

The descriptions also include things like passing siding locations and lengths (e.g.: Thorold Passing Siding, 345 feet long), railway trackage (e.g.: Thorold scale track siding, 452 feet long; beginning of double track; South Wye Switch), and more.

It’s not perfect – a track map would be even better. I have track maps from the mid-1980s, but I know that a fair bit of the trackage in St. Catharines was rearranged in the post-electric era. For example, passenger service trackage in the downtown was lifted or paved over, and in some cases trackage moved to better serve industries or to get trains out of the streets. In other cases, customers disappeared – there weren’t many retail coal dealers in the 1980s – and tracks were removed. (A good example of this is the list of industries I’ve included above: the line to Port Dalhousie was cut back to McKinnon’s on Ontario Street by the era represented by my track maps. It was miles away from Port Dalhousie at that point.)

But, this list is an excellent start. If nothing else, it will help me determine what segments of the NS&T will be most interesting to operate. And it’ll give me names to put to industries, which should help in researching them. I’m really pleased!

Thanks to John M. Mills for including this important piece of background information in his book.

NS&T: Four books and a video

Those wishing to learn more about the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway can draw on a number of resources. While there are website and groups online, I find myself returning time and again to the following traditional media, presented in order of publication…

“The Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway” by John M. Mills


The first book I know of on the NS&T, this 118-page softcover volume was jointly published by the Upper Canada Railway Society and the Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association. I’m not sure of the publication date, although my copy has a handwritten note on the title page that says simply “December – 4 – 1971”. There’s no ISBN. It covers the history of the NS&T, its predecessors, and its various components – including the interurban operation, city car lines, navigation company, and bus services.

“NS&T” by Andrew Panko and Peter Bowen


This 48-page softcover book of photos and captions was published by NiagaRail Publications in 1983, for the Niagara Division of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association. 1,000 copies were printed. There’s no ISBN. It contains a number of full-page pictures, and several not published elsewhere.

“Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Electric Railway in Pictures” by Andrew Panko and Peter Bowen


A follow-up to their earlier collaboration, this 144-page hardcover was published by NiagaRail Publications in 1984 (ISBN 0-920184-02-6.) The book features a painting by Anton Akkerman on the cover, and 2,000 were printed. It continues the Panko-Bowen exploration of the NS&T via well-captioned photos – and like their first volume, it includes many large photos of subjects not found elsewhere.

“Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway: a Canadian National Electric Railways Subsidiary” by John M. Mills


This is a revised and expanded edition of the author’s earlier book – and well worth adding to one’s library. It was published in hardcover and softcover by Railfare / DC Books in 2008 (ISBN: 978-1-897190-28-9 for hardcover and 978-1-897190-27-2 for the paperback.) At the time of this writing, it’s the only book in this list that’s still in print. (I’ve included a link on the home page of this blog, under “Resources”.)

As with the first Mills book, this one covers the history of the NS&T, its predecessors, and its various components – including the interurban operation, city car lines, navigation company, and bus services. But at 256 pages, it includes much more – including some 300 photos (50 in colour), maps, histories, rosters, drawings of select pieces of equipment, and so on. If you’re only casually interested in the NS&T or Ontario railway history, this is the one for you. (If you’re a student of the line, you’ll want all four of course!)

(I frequently refer to this book as “the revised book by John Mills” elsewhere on this blog.)

“Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto Railway – The Little System That Could” (DVD)


This 60-minute DVD – published in 2010 – is narrated by Ray Neilson and includes interviews with author John Mills, as well as a number of rail fans who experienced the NS&T first-hand and captured it on film. It also includes interesting footage of the boats from Toronto, Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie, and other goodies courtesy of the St. Catharines Museum. My DVD player has trouble playing this video sometimes – it jumps from chapter to chapter – but it’s well worth the agro. Still in publication, and available from GPS Video. (I’ve included a link on the home page of this blog, under “Resources”.)

NS&T 18: Hang on…

… I don’t own a NorthWest Short Line “Riveter”…

NST 18 - The Riveter

Two days of searching through storage containers under the layout turned up this box. I do have a rivet-making tool – but it’s by GW Models (a manufacturer in the UK). So what’s in the box?

NST 18 - hiding in the box

As I suspected, it’s the frets and other parts for NST 18. Phew!

I was keen to find this, because I’m building shopping lists for detail parts to finish each of the freight motor kits I have collected. If I’m going to be buying bells, horns, re-rail frogs, etc., I want to be able to do it in one order – not two or three.

I have now put my hands on all of the NS&T projects, so the inventory can begin.

When I opened the NSWL Riveter box, I exclaimed, “Found it! I can stop sorting and cleaning down here.” From upstairs, my wife promptly responded, “No you can’t!”

I laughed, but she’s right. The sorting and clearing will continue!

NS&T 18: It’s here somewhere…

NST 18 - prototype photo

A couple of years ago, while attending the annual S Scale Social organized by my friend Jim Martin, I purchased this collection from another friend, David Clubine:

Baldwin-Westinghouse Class D kit

It’s just about everything I need to build a model of Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto 18 in 1:64.

The three frets on the right are from Model Railroad Warehouse, and build into a basic body for a Baldwin-Westinghouse Class D freight motor. The parts on the left are from my friend William Flatt, and are most of what’s needed to finish the unit. (William has built one and it ends up being a very nice model.)

Now… if only I could find it.

I spent the morning tearing through my storage tubs under my layout, and so far I’ve turned up nothing. I’m pretty sure it was in a box, but it might have been in an envelope – in which case I’m going to have to do a complete re-sort of the Home Hobby Shop to figure out where it has gone.

It’s only 1:40pm as I type this, but TV is looking pretty good right about now…

Why haven’t you modelled electrics before?

That’s another good question. As I’ve already noted, traction railroading is in my blood. But I’ve never tried my hand at a traction layout.

I’ve owned a fair number of traction models over the years.

Back in the early 1980s, I attempted to scratch-build an O scale freight motor following an article by Bob Hegge. I got the basic frame built, but other priorities in life put the project on the back burner and I eventually disposed of the parts.

Hegge - Box Motor
(Hegge scratchbuilds a box motor: Marshall tries, but doesn’t)

In the late 1980s, I owned a Suydam (HO scale) model of an Illinois Terminal Class C.

Suydam ITS Class C
(I loved watching this model snake through crossovers, and with all-wheel-drive it could pull the plaster off the walls. But the spring belt drive meant it sounded like a coffee grinder.)

Today, I have a collection of Suydam (HO) Pacific Electric equipment, as well as various brass models in O scale. Unfortunately, The HO equipment generally runs really poorly. I know people who have remotored Suydam models with some success, but that’s never been a priority for me – in part because I don’t have an emotional connection to the PE. (Sometimes, when it’s all that’s available, you go with it…)

Some of the O scale equipment came motorized, and runs better. Other pieces were imported without drive trains: It’s up to the modeller to fit a power truck. All of the O scale equipment is huge. Regardless of scale, the equipment I’ve collected spoke to me strongly as pieces but never strongly as the subject for a layout.

The notable exception is a pair of O scale Sacramento Northern GE steeple cabs:
SN Steeple Cabs in O
(I think these are wonderful)

However, whenever I tried designing a suitable Sacramento Northern layout that fit my space, I was never satisfied with the plans I developed. Curves in O scale are just such space eaters. This is even the case with O scale traction – because remember, the SN was a freight-hauling line so a layout would need to accommodate entire trains, not just passenger equipment with radial couplers.

I had never considered 1:64 as a scale for modelling traction – much less for modelling the NS&T. I have known for years that my friend William Flatt had produced S scale kits for some NS&T equipment.

I acquired my first example from William back in 2012 – a kit for a GE steeple cab with parts to build NS&T #20.

A couple of years later, I acquired a Model Railroad Warehouse kit for a Baldwin-Westinghouse Class D motor. This came from a friend who was downsizing – and again, William was implicated: He’d supplied all of the parts to build the kit as NS&T #18.

But these are flat, etched kits – and at the time I didn’t feel my soldering skills were up to the task. So, I acquired them as “someday” models.

More recently, a couple of things have happened that suggest “someday” might be sooner than I thought:

First, my friend Andy Malette and I have been working for more than a year now to brass-bash a pair of Overland brass USRA Light Mikados into CNR S-3-a class 2-8-2s:
CNR 3737
(CNR 3737 – in progress. Pushing my limits and learning new skills)

In the process, I’ve done more milling, turning, and resistance soldering in the past year than I’d done in a lifetime in the hobby before starting this project. I still have a lot to learn – that’s what the Mikado project is really about – but my skills are much better than before, and I feel I can finally tackle my etched traction kits with confidence.

Second, William had decided to downsize his collection of hobby material – including a number of NS&T kits and partially-built models. Earlier this month, I was able to acquire several examples – including freight motors 8, 15, 17, and 19 and passenger car 620.
Freight motors 15 and 19
(Partially-built models of NS&T freight motors)

Willam’s generosity has suddenly made my long-time interest in the NS&T a viable modelling option.

In future posts, I’ll look at each of the models in more detail – including what’s needed to finish them.

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.

Hoo-boy: It’s the NS&T!

That’s “Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto” – and it’s like kryptonite to me. I go weak at the knees for this stuff…


NS&T 8, Welland Avenue yard, St. Catharines – Date and photographer unknown

On this blog, I’m going to explore the NS&T as a potential modelling subject in S scale (1:64). My initial posts will cover my decisions on era, potential locations to model, equipment (including a number of items I already own), and other planning considerations. At some point, I’ll start doodling layout plans and sharing them here, too.

If all goes well – specifically, if my exploration evolves from theory to practice – this site will morph into a record of my model railway based on the CNR electric lines in the Niagara Peninsula. I hope you’ll follow along and enjoy the journey!

(If you want to follow along, one easy way to do that is to enter your email address in the box on the right side of the home page for this blog. You’ll then receive new posts directly in your inbox.)