A North-South Connection: The Erie & Huron Railroad
An occasion worthy of a school holiday – that was the opening of the Erie and Huron Railroad through the communities along the St. Clair River. Henceforth, axle-deep springtime mud could be avoided by those wishing to travel north or south. Now, freight could be economically transported over land. The link from Chatham to Sarnia was complete.
The Erie & Huron was constructed during the second phase of railroad building in Ontario. Canadian railroads had begun later than in many countries because of the government's financial contributions to canals in the early 1800's. The government was not eager to put money into a second form of transportation to compete with the first. Inland settlement by the 1840's, however, led farmers further away from the waterways to require inexpensive transportation for their goods. The first railroad-building boom in Ontario began at this time, therefore, and continued to the depression of the late 1850's.
By the late 1860's, a healthier economy and the need to extend rail lines into more recently settled areas created a second railroad building era. It was during the second boom that the Erie & Huron had its beginnings. Construction began at Rondeau Bay in 1879 and was completed to Sarnia in 1886. Station stops included Corunna, Mooretown, Courtright, Sombra, Port Lambton and Wallaceburg. Wawanosh and Watson were flag stops on the route. While the original purpose of this line was to be for the hauling of cordwood, passenger service was also well utilized. Homemakers from Courtright, Mooretown and Corunna rode into Sarnia for shopping trips. A special train of 10 to 15 cars was even run to take Moore Township school children to their annual picnic in Chatham. The mail was also transported by train to the downriver communities until about 1930.
An Erie & Huron Timetable for 1888 lists 2 trains each way daily between Sarnia and Chatham. One of the southbound trains was mixed (i.e. passengers and freight) but the rest were express (i.e. passengers only). The express run took 2 hours and 20 minutes with the mixed requiring 40 minutes more.
The importance of the railroad to a community is illustrated by the fact that Mooretown was even re-named after its station. Originally called simply Moore when the first post office was established in 1853, the naming of the railroad station Mooretown led to the re-naming of the post office in 1906.
In 1898, the Erie & Huron was purchased by Hiram Walker and became part of the Lake Erie and Detroit River Railroad. In 1902, it was leased by the Pere Marquette Railroad, which then bought it in the following year. In 1947, the line became part of the Chesapeake & Ohio System.
Just as the passenger service on the Erie & Huron diminished the demand for passenger service on the river steamers, in its turn the passenger rail service was overtaken by a new method of transportation. Following WWI, cars and buses began to dominate passenger travel. Similarly, truck traffic began to replace much of the freight transportation on the railroads. With road paving in the 1920's and 1930's, further shifts were made toward roads instead of railroads.
Andreae, Christopher. Railways of Lambton County. Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery, 1986.
Ministry of Citizenship and Culture. Ontario's Railway Network, 1985.
Webb, Fred. Sarnia's Railroad Heritage.