NS&T 83 – Niagara Street & QEW

I’m working my way through the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt – and I thought I’d share some of the images that speak strongly to me about the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. In yesterday’s post, I shared a photo of a railfan excursion. Here’s another railfan trip, with a different car:

NS&T 83 - Niagara Street at QEW

NS&T 83 on Niagara Street at the QEW, St. Catharines – date and photographer unknown.

There’s a good chance this image was taken July 29, 1956 – because there’s a black and white photo taken at roughly the same location in “Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Electric Railway in Pictures” by Andrew Panko and Peter Bowen – one of four books on the NS&T in my collection.

The car is returning from a railfan trip to Port Weller, at the Lake Ontario end of the Welland Canal. It has just come off the bridge over the Queen Elizabeth Way – the major highway between Toronto and the Niagara Region, and named after Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (better known as The Queen Mother). The railing on the highway bridge can be seen between the 83 and the automobile to the right of it.

The buildings in the background are at a three-way intersection of Niagara, Vine and Facer Streets – which is the location of Duff’s Pizzeria. I used to go there with friends from high school some 30 years ago. More recently, I’ve had lunch at Duff’s with my friend and fellow railway modeller, Bob Fallowfield, who lives nearby. The place has not changed. Not one bit.

NS&T 622 – Louisa at Catherine

I’m working my way through the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt – and I thought I’d share some of the images that speak strongly to me about the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. Here’s one:

NST 622 - Louisa at Catherine

NS&T 622 at Louisa Street in St. Catharines – Photographer and date unknown.

The 622 was a 50-seat interurban built by the Ottawa car company in 1930 and acquired from the Montreal & Southern Counties – another CNR electric operation – in 1956. This series were the most modern cars ever to grace the NS&T, and all were scrapped in 1959. It’s barely visible, but the 622 has a CNR Maple Leaf on its flank.

The train is headed westbound and while it’s not flying extra flags, I’m sure it’s in excursion service. It has just come off Welland Avenue and skirted through an S-curve that brings it to Louisa Street. The cross-street here is Catherine (with an “e”, unlike St. Catharines, with an “a”). Catherine Street is important to me because that’s the street on which my high school was located. I would walk Louisa Street twice a day, Monday to Friday, during the school year. I would often meet a train on my walk – although by the time I went to high school, this was a freight-only, CNR line servicing the General Motors plant on Ontario Street.

There’s not much space between the houses here. On a layout, it would be an ideal, and very prototypical, way to have trains exit the scene to staging…

NST 56 and 55 – St. Catharines Terminal

I’m working my way through the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt – and I thought I’d share some of the images that speak strongly to me about the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. In posts earlier this week, I shared some photos taken in the 1940s. Here’s one from an earlier time:

NST 56 and 55, St. Catharines Terminal

NS&T 56 and 55 rest under the trees at the St. Catharines terminal – Date and photographer unknown.

The NS&T had 10 open cars – numbered 50-59. They were built by Crossen in 1900.

The cars are on a track parallel to Welland Avenue at the terminal in St. Catharines. Geneva Street runs in front of the building. While I don’t have a date for this photo, I know the terminal opened in 1924 and these open cars were scrapped in 1933, so that narrows it down.

It has either recently rained, or the road has been watered to control dust. Did they do that in St. Catharines in the 1920s? I don’t know – but the wet road sure adds to the atmosphere of the photograph.

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!

NS&T 14: switching on St. Paul

I’m working my way through the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt – and I thought I’d share some of the images that speak strongly to me about the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. Here’s one:

NS&T freight - St. Paul Street

NS&T 14 with a cut of cars on St. Paul Street – Date and photographer unknown.

The photographer took this image just west of Geneva Street in St. Catharines. We’re looking northwest. (For those who know St. Catharines well, the white building behind the train is the building that’s now occupied by Herzog’s – the men’s clothing store. And behind the boxcar at the end of the train, you’re looking at the building that would later house Niagara Central Hobbies. One of the best model railway stores in North America at one time, it never made the transition to the online economy and closed a few years ago.)

I’m told the car in the foreground is a 1952-53 model, so it was taken after that.

I love this photo – it’s the sort of railroading that appeals to me. This is a switch crew, working a short cut of cars, under wire, on trackage up the middle of a city street. When I was growing up in St. Catharines, I saw similar (although diesel-powered) trains every day, working the General Motors plant on Ontario Street. Other than the overhead wire, it was just like this.

I had some trouble pinning down exactly what this crew was doing on St. Paul, however. I didn’t know of any industries along the street – I thought it was solely a passenger-carrying line. (The city bus next to the steeple cab shows that the streetcars had been abandoned by this time.) So I posted the photo to the NS&T Facebook group, and the Niagara History and Trivia Facebook group, and got some answers. (Thanks to everyone who contributed!)

It turns out that there was a factory at the south end of Phelps Street (now Riordan Street) that was an NS&T customer. There are various thoughts about the identify of the customer – including English Electric, Resin-Tex Limited, Eaton Yale, and Ferranti-Packard. (Eaton Yale or Ferranti-Packard may make the most sense: those companies had foundry operations, which would explain the gondola cars in the train.)

As the saying goes, “getting there is half the fun”. Switching Phelps Street required a lot of backing and frothing. I’ve illustrated this by adding labels to an aerial photograph of the area:


Aerial Photograph, downtown St. Catharines, 1955 – From the Brock University online collection

St. Paul and Geneva - Aerial 1955

(As above, without the labels.)

Cars for this customer would’ve come out of the Eastchester Yard, west onto Welland Avenue, south down Geneva Street, and then west on St. Paul Street. That’s where the photo of Number 14 was taken. At this point, the crew is likely preparing to swap ends with the trolley pole: either that, or the crew member holding the pole’s rope is preparing to guide the pole as the train back-poles. (I’m told the track on St. Paul was cut back to Court Street – which is the gap between the buildings over the second gondola car. On the photo, I’ve ended my sketch of the line at Court.)

The train would then pull east on St. Paul and onto Queenston Street and run past Phelps Street before switching direction again and heading south on Phelps to the factory.

For those unfamiliar with St. Catharines, Welland, Geneva, St. Paul and Queenston are all major streets with a lot of vehicle traffic. It would’ve been a real challenge to switch this safely.

If I go ahead with the NS&T layout project, I know I will want to model some scenes where freight ran through the street, so this picture is a real inspiration.

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.