New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The St. Andrews and Quebec Railroad

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A Brave Vision for an Early New Brunswick Railroad

Henry Fairbairn, an Englishman, made a bold and innovative proposed in 1832 “to form a railway for wagons from Quebec to the Harbour of St. Andrews”. His vision was to carry Saint Lawrence River trade to the Atlantic in a single day – year round. It is true that railroads were being built at a frantic pace in the United States, but it was still new technology. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad was the first truly commercial railroad in America, and even that, in 1828, was not powered by steam. All sorts of contraptions were tried including horse or mule power, sails, and so forth. The first imported steam locomotive did not arrive until 1829 and American manufacture of locomotives was still experimental. Fairbairn must have seen the project as an opportunity to catch a technological wave and to change North American trade as nothing else could. He was right!

Fairbairn’s idea was embraced by Charlotte County businessmen who began a serious, well planned and vigorous campaign to promote such a railroad. The founding meeting of the Saint Andrews and Quebec Rail Road Association was held on October 5, 1835. They wanted to do more than to just ‘promote’ the road, and set about forthwith to do whatever was necessary in order to make it happen. The Association Chairman and his Deputy were the Hon. James Allanshaw and Thomas Wyer, Esq., and the Secretary Treasurer was Adam Jack. There was also a Management Committee consisting of Harris Hatch, John Wilson, James Rait, Samuel Frye, and J. McMaster. There were fifty other members of the Association, which was the executive’s first step – a ‘crowd scene’ to indicate public support.

This rail link between Quebec City and the Atlantic could have re-shaped trade patterns in Canada and along the eastern seaboard. St. Andrews would have become a major transportation hub and Lower Canada would have instantly become competitive in the New England markets. Saint John’s position as the commercial capital of New Brunswick would have been challenged, but the merchants in that city lacked the foresight to care about that. There was little reaction in Saint John to St. Andrews’ plan.

A group was appointed to present the project to the Lieutenant Governor, Sir Archibald Campbell. This was done, but not before hiring George H. Smith and C. R. Hathaway to assemble a staff and to carry out a preliminary survey of the route. A subscription was taken up to pay the cost of the survey, but the Lieutenant Governor agreed to support the project and £10,000 was provided to cover that cost. The survey began on October 28th and was completed on December 29, 1835.

In December, a group was sent to Quebec City and met with the Governor of Lower Canada to present the plan. He sanctioned the project, having already heard about it from the Governors of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Boards of Trade of both Montreal and Quebec City joined the Association and signed petitions of support. Finally, the Assembly of Lower Canada resolved that the project be presented to the British government. The support of the Governor in Chief, at least, was later forthcoming. In March of 1836, resolutions similar to those passed in Lower Canada were also passed in Nova Scotia, and a bill was passed in New Brunswick incorporating the “St. Andrews and Quebec Railroad Company”. The Company was authorized to issue 30,000 shares at £25 each for total capital of £750,000. The Province guaranteed a return of 5% on the condition that the railroad was completed at least from St. Andrews to Woodstock.

Henry Fairbairn had recommended a type of construction similar to that which was being used in the United States. This was of timber which could later be upgraded to stone. This gives some hint of what they had in mind, but practices in the United States were still evolving. One method was to lay longitudinal timbers with timber cross ties on top. Another was to lay now-conventional ties, either with or without ballast. Yet another was to anchor the rails to stone slabs. In all cases, rails were made of softwood timbers measuring six or twelve inches square, usually topped with hardwood planks and surfaced with iron plate.

A more detailed survey was completed in February of 1837, taking the line from Levis near Quebec City to Mars Hill in Maine and finally to St. Andrews. Mars Hill is just south of Presque Isle and the route from Levis to Mars Hill was through Maine. About half of the whole route, then, was through what would become Maine. The Association foresaw that it would only be necessary to construct a line between Quebec and Montreal to Lake Huron in order to join the ocean and the Great Lakes. Also, the resources of 200 miles of forest land and several known mineral resources would be opened, providing employment and giving rise to new towns and villages. They made no mention whatever of the border negotiations or of there being any implications to building on a straight line from Levis to Mars Hill.

The border negotiations between the United States and New Brunswick dragged on until 1842. However, the railway proposal was definitely seen as a provocation and an attempt to prejudice the talks. So, in early 1837, the United States objected to the proposal and Lieutenant Governor Sir John Harvey was instructed by the Imperial government to prohibit any further work on the ground. Nothing further was accomplished until after the Ashburton Treaty settled the border in 1842.

The delay imposed by the border dispute was pivotal for the St. Andrews and Quebec Railroad Company. They had lost their momentum, and the rapid construction of other railroads made their proposal less pioneering. A charter was granted to the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway in 1845 to build a rail line from Montreal to Portland, Maine and this went into operation in 1853. The economics of a second line and the proposal that Saint Andrews could become a major transportation hub were then in question.

This ends my summary of the early years of the St. Andrews and Quebec Railroad Company. Those were the days of bold vision and action. The remainder of the story is not so inspiring.

OK, but what happened next?

Well, in 1847, a civil engineer from Boston was hired design a route for the railroad into St. Andrews from Waweig, about 20 miles away. Shortly thereafter, and with £50,000 in hand from the sale of stock, a route over Katy’s Cove was chosen and construction tenders were called. Work was begun on the first four miles from St. Andrews to Chamcook but a year later it had only proceeded to Katy’s Cove which is still, practically, in St. Andrews. The project was brought to a halt by financial problems.

In 1848, an Irish landlord, Earl Fitzwilliam, transported 100 Irish labourers to St. Andrews aboard the Star. They arrived in rags and were put up in shacks. They were supposed to be paid from a fund established by Fitzwilliam for which he would be reimbursed in stock, but after a few weeks they were unemployed and thrown onto the charity of the Parish. There were loud complaints to London about the cost of maintaining these strangers, and the imperial government eventually paid some of the costs because Fitzwilliam’s actions were seen as scandalous.

Construction resumed again in 1850 and a contract was awarded to build the line to Woodstock. By this time, a 5’ 6” broad gage line using iron rails had been decided upon. New Brunswick transferred 10,000 acres of land to the railroad and the first locomotive was ordered. The locomotive, the Pioneer, and the rails arrived from Britain in March of 1851, but this was followed by a labour strike, and storm damage to the roadbed at Katy’s Cove, and political opposition from other projects that were not receiving the same support. Financial difficulties ensued and the contractor seized the Pioneer and other assets.

The abandoned project was taken over by the New Brunswick and Canada Railway and Land Company in 1856 and only twenty five miles of track had been built by 1857. There was a grand opening of this short section on October 1st. Sixty five miles were done by 1858 and the railroad made it to Richmond Corner in 1862. This was just short of Woodstock and there was still no access to the Saint John River. Unpaid labourers then tore up some track and seized three locomotives, while unpaid and unhappy farmers also demonstrated. A hundred soldiers were sent from Fredericton to maintain order.

Thus ended the long and sorry story of the post-Ashburton Treaty phase of construction. There was no plan as to how they might push forward to Quebec City, and they never did. The section of track from Richmond Corner, back to Debec, was later abandoned and the remainder was sold to the New Brunswick Railway Company and later to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

When I was working for the C.P.R. in the 1960s, my old Division Engineer told me that there had once been a railroad from St. Andrews to Woodstock. He was right about that, but the way he told the story gave the impression that it was an abandoned line grown up with trees. What Jim didn’t know was that we were standing on part of that railroad: The C.P.R. St. Andrews Subdivision.


Written by johnwood1946

September 19, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I live in Mcadam .This story is interesting in that a RR from Montreal to Portland was allowed , but not from Quebec to St.Andrews . Was there political policies in place to prevent N.B. from getting a lead on upper and lower Canada even at this early date . ??

    David Blair

    August 25, 2014 at 6:53 PM

  2. Hi David, Thanks for your comment. I guess that it all came down to the border dispute. There was no way that Maine could agree to Britain ‘occupying’ disputed territory with a rail line.


    August 27, 2014 at 6:51 AM

  3. Hi,
    I am Jim Goss. My grandfather Thomas Goss, dad Lloyd Goss and uncle Jim Goss all worked for the CPR section crew in Charlotte County. Thanks for the history.

    Jim Goss

    April 21, 2015 at 8:49 AM

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