Detailed History

The History of the York-Durham Rail Line

The York-Durham Heritage Railway trains operate on the original Toronto & Nipissing (T&N) rail line, built in the late 1860’s. This line was built to allow its owner, William Gooderham, a well-known distiller from Toronto, to carry grain to his distillery as well as lumber for export and cordwood for resale. The intention was to cut off the flow of lumber from the Haliburton Highlands which at that time was floated down the Trent River to Trenton. Though this goal was achieved when the line reached Coboconk on the Gull River, construction of the line stopped there and never was extended to its intended target of North Bay on the shores of Lake Nipissing.

On March 4th, 1868, the Company was chartered and construction began the following year. As it was advantageous at that time to have the rail line pass through any town, many paid handsomely for the privilege. Markham raised over $4,000 in one evening, and Unionville made a successful last minute effort to have the line rerouted after it bought $500 worth of shares. The town of Uxbridge was chosen for the site for the railway’s shops.

The line was built starting in the south and moving northwards, the first sod being turned at the Scarborough Junction (site of today’s Scarborough GO station). The company was frugal when building the line, choosing narrow gauge steel at 3 ft. 6 in. (1.1m), rather than the standard gauge of 4 ft. 8.5 in. (1.5 m). To avoid the expensive costs of moving earth, the line was built following the natural flow of the land as closely as possible. An additional rail line was placed between the existing Grand Trunk’s rails to allow the T&N trains to enter Toronto on their narrow gauge rail lines. The most southerly destination in Toronto was at Parliament Street, just south of King Street, where a station, a large yard and docks were constructed.

On April 27th, 1871, the first train to leave Toronto consisted of four flatcars loaded with iron, and one boxcar loaded with officials. The train passed through Markham at 1:00 p.m. and reached Uxbridge at 4:00 p.m. Public service did not begin until July 1st of that year and went as far east as Uxbridge while service north to Sunderland did not begin until November 1st. The official opening on August 14th was conducted with great ceremony, a floral arch having been constructed for the official train to pass through. The site of the arch was south of the original Uxbridge station, which is just south of the present station (built in 1904).

The line settled down to a slow but steady (and profitable) operation. The average speed of an express passenger train was 28 mph (45km/h), while freight trains averaged approximately half that speed. William Gooderham was noted for telling his engineers to slow down the trains as fuel was being wasted by running fast. The only notable mishap was in 1880 when the boiler on the line’s largest engine blew up at the Stouffville station, blowing off the roof of the stationmaster’s house.

By 1880 it became obvious that the rail lines needed to be converted to standard gauge to match the other lines in the area. The Company completed the change in late 1880, and having used up most of its cash reserves to do so, the Directors were forced to sell out to the Midland Railway in April 1881. Midland Railway was an amalgamation of small lines in the south-central part of the province, and following the acquisition of William Gooderham’s rail line, finally had a network that stretched from Toronto, north to Midland and Haliburton, and east to Lindsay, Peterborough and Belleville. When the larger company took over, the shops in Uxbridge were progressively closed and moved to Lindsay and Port Hope. On February 1st, 1884 the Midland group was leased by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) and finally purchased by the GTR in 1894. Ownership of the GTR was transferred to the Government of Canada in 1920, and eventually became part of Canadian National Railways (CNR).

Increased traffic forced GTR to replace the Stouffville and Uxbridge stations during the early years of the 20th century. The existing Uxbridge station, with its distinctive “Witches Hat” roof, is owned and maintained by the Township of Uxbridge. The Stouffville station was a two-story building, befitting its status as a junction station (a branch line from Stouffville once ran to Sutton). The only original T&N stations remaining are in Markham, Unionville and Coboconk. Stouffville station was demolished by CN in the 1980’s and replaced in the mid-1990’s by GO Transit. The original T&N line was progressively abandoned from Coboconk southward beginning in the late 1960’s. The line north of Uxbridge to Lindsay was abandoned and removed in the early 1990’s. The section between Uxbridge and Stouffville was held out of service for future GO Transit use. South of Stouffville, regular commuter runs continue.

The York-Durham Heritage Railway reopened the line between Uxbridge and Stouffville in 1996 and has been running on summer weekends since that time.

York-Durham Heritage Railway Notable Dates

AUGUST 1987

  • The first recorded meeting of the railway; officers were elected and the York-Durham Railway was established.

SEPTEMBER 1987

  • A post office box was opened in Stouffville, letterhead printed, membership fee of $25.00 established, and a bank account opened.
  • Canadian National announced plans to abandon the railway line, and the wye (joint arrangement of 3 railway lines) was removed from Blackwater Junction.

NOVEMBER 1988

  • The Township of Uxbridge purchased the Uxbridge railway station from CN for $1.00.
  • CP Rail agreed to donate a caboose to the railway.

DECEMBER 1988

  • The railway entered “floats” for the first time in the Stouffville and Uxbridge Santa Claus parades. The first logo for the railway was sewn by Ann’s Fabrics of Stouffville.

JUNE 1989

  • The first issue of the railway newsletter “The Connecting Rod” was printed.

1990

  • In February the York-Durham Heritage Railway was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation.
  • The word “Heritage” was officially added to the railway’s name and in October a new oval logo, a green maple leaf with gold lettering on a red background, was approved by the directors.

1991

  • The little promotional train, used by the railway at community events as a fundraiser, was built by Rob Paré, one of the founding members. This “little train” generated lots of attention for the YDHR over the ensuing years.
  • In October the railway received tax exempt status from Revenue Canada.

1992

  • The first two pieces of rolling stock were moved to Uxbridge in October. Passenger coach #1462, built in 1926 in Montreal, was purchased from Don Zoller in 1991. It was housed at the Hearne Generating station in Toronto and was used to exhibit model railway layouts. CP Rail caboose #434411 was built in 1972 at the CPR Angus shop in Montreal.
  • In November railway volunteers began the restoration of #1462.

1993

  • CN sold the right-of-way through Uxbridge to GO Transit in March.
  • The Provincial Bill PR-64, “An Act Respecting the York-Durham Heritage Railway Association”, received final reading in the Ontario legislature on Nov 29th and royal assent on the 30th. The bill established the YDHR as an operating short-line railway in Ontario.

1994

  • In May, Bruce Brillinger donated CPR caboose #434908, circa 1953, to the YDHR.
  • The Ontario government awarded a grant to the YDHR in September.

Men working pump car

Pump Car RFD 2


APRIL 1995

  • Stouffville District High School students restore an antique railway handcart for the YDHR.
  • The final logo was approved in May by the directors.
  • The Superintendent of Operations and Department Heads was appointed by the Board of Directors.

SEPTEMBER 1995

  • The YDHR takes possession of a wooden box car circa 1918 plus 3 sets of automatic signaling equipment. Engine #1310, an RS 3, is purchased by the railway. It was built in 1954 at Montreal Locomotive Works. Prior to coming to the railway it was owned by Abitibi-Price and operated at Iroquois Falls, Ont.
  • The YDHR leases a 50 ton centre cab, side-rod locomotive.

MAY 1996

  • GO Transit approves leasing the railway line between Stouffville and Uxbridge to the municipalities.
  • The Township of Uxbridge and the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville agree to lease the line to the railway.

1996

  • Additional rolling stock was acquired by the railway including a “Rules Car”, a flatcar, 2 former VIA café cars and a baggage car. This equipment is in addition to 2 older passenger cars owned by the railway plus one leased from Bytown Railway Society.
  • Locomotive #3612 was aquired, an RS 11. It was one of 15 built by Alco in

Schenectady. It operated at a CN subsidiary in the Winnipeg area in the 1950’s and came to the railway from active service at a Montreal firm.

  • 34 members were qualified as trainmen.

SEPTEMBER 1996

  • The grand opening of the YDHR was celebrated on the 14th. It included gala celebrations in both Stouffville and Uxbridge and thousands of residents of both municipalities joined in the celebrations. The opening ceremonies were held on the 125th anniversary of the grand opening of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway in 1871.

1997-1998

  • Ground breaking for the new Stouffville station began in April 1997. It was built by a coalition of many organizations with some funds provided by the YDHR. The station opened in July,1997.
  • The Railway mural, commissioned by the railway, is painted on a wall of the Masonic Lodge in Uxbridge by a local artist.
  • September 1998 is the first corporate trip.

SEPTEMBER 1999

  • The train made 2 round trips to Union station to carry passengers to, and return from Uxbridge for a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert.
  • The railway receives a grant from the Trillium Foundation for equipment and renovations to: enhance wheelchair accessibility, enhance railway line accessibility, provide guest services, and perform ongoing track maintenance.

2001-2004

  • In September 2001 first special excursions to Markham and Unionville plus the first murder mystery on the train.
  • 2001-2004, the railway is widely used as a backdrop for movies.
  • 2004, the railway receives a grant from the Trillium Foundation to complete the restoration of a historic locomotive with passenger cars and to support a strategic marketing initiative.

2005-2006

  • July 2005 the railway sends its one operating vintage passenger coach to St. Thomas Ontario to be part of the Thomas The Tank Engine
  • The railway returns the other vintage coach to the Bytown Railway Society after 9 years of
  • September 2006 the railway celebrates its tenth anniversary with $10 fares for all.

2007

  • The movie Grey Gardens, staring Drew Barrymore, is filmed at the YDHR Uxbridge station
  • Locomotive RS3 7801 leaves YDHR and is transferred to her new owners in the US via the CNR from Stouffville.
  • July 20, 2007 the YDHR holds a Harry Potter Night on the train in Uxbridge. Three trains are required to accommodate the heavy turnout.
  • Oct. 13, 2007 sees Anne of Green Gables rides the YDHR.

2008

  • Members of the Association work very hard throughout the year on track maintenance to improve operating times between Goodwood and Stouffville.
  • June 2008 the YDHR hosts a Media Day to promote the Railway; over 100 members of the press and media attend.
  • July 2008 the YDHR hosts its first Railfan Day.
  • August 2008 in cooperation with the Township of Uxbridge, YDHR goes to the CNE to promote the heritage rides and rail station.

Track work
2009

  • The railway completes installation of crossing signals at the 6th Concession Road in Uxbridge in June.
  • In November the railway receives a grant from the Trillium Foundation for a program co-ordinator, advertising, and website enhancement.
  • June 2008 the YDHR hosts a Media Day to promote the Railway; over 100 members of the press and media attend.
  • July 2008 the YDHR hosts its first Railfan Day.
  • August 2008 in cooperation with the Township of Uxbridge, YDHR goes to the CNE to promote the heritage rides and rail station.

2011

  • 2011 marks our 15th year of YDHR train operations.
  • In February the Royal Museum of Ontario donates new display cases to the YDHR Museum. Our old cases are subsequently donated to the Uxbridge Scott Museum.
  • On August 12 weather anchor for CTV, Anwar Knight, visits the YDHR for the first time providing some much appreciated publicity.

2012

  • Five Boise BUDD coaches are purchased from the Guelph Junction Railway in Guelph, Ontario.
  • August the YDHR has its own booth at the CNE to promote the Railway.
  • The second Railfan Day takes place in September.