The Railway City
St.Thomas – The Railway Capital of Canada
Why do we call St. Thomas Canada’s railway capital?
St. Thomas was an important railway town. At its peak, it was a hub for a multitude of prominent railways, and served as the primary stop on the Canadian shortcut between Detroit and Buffalo. By 1914, a total of eight different railways brought in more than 100 trains per day.
A more profound reason is the importance of the railways to St. Thomas. To be sure, there were major cities in Canada that also served as booming railways centres. But the railways transformed St. Thomas from a town of just 1700 people in 1860 to a city of more than 35,000 people today. The railways brought St. Thomas jobs and prosperity.
St. Thomas became known internationally, though the incident that made St. Thomas a household name was an unfortunate one. On September 15, 1885, Jumbo the elephant, star of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, was struck and killed in St. Thomas by a Grand Trunk locomotive. On the one hundredth anniversary of Jumbo’s death, the city dedicated a monument to Jumbo.
Magnificent in its heyday, the Canada Southern Railway Station is still one of the largest buildings in the city of St. Thomas. Other local attractions include the Elgin County Railway Museum and the North America Railway Hall of Fame.
Every August people from St. Thomas and visitors from far and wide come to celebrate the railway influence in the Iron Horse Festival. The current community focus is a fundraising effort to save the old railway station, originally built in 1872. In addition to preserving an important historical landmark, the project also promises to rejuvenate the downtown core and serve as a testament to the enduring legacy the railways have left on St. Thomas, Canada’s railway capital.
From the St. Thomas Downtown Development Board
One of Ontario’s oldest railways, The London and Port Stanley Railway, was designed to alleviate congestion on a road that had been built to connect Port Stanley and London. Entirely constructed by hand labour, the railway project was begun in 1853 and the first train to reach Port Stanley was on July 5th 1856.
During the next 59 years, thousands of steam trains traveled the route, carrying passengers and freight to and from London and Port Stanley.
In 1913 the City of London assumed operations and rebuilt the line into a modern high-speed electric operation. These trains enticed excursionists to travel to Port Stanley, where passengers could enjoy the amusement park, dine in the cafeteria, or dance under the stars at the L&PS Pavilion (later knows as the Stork Club).
From the Port Stanley Terminal Rail
The new L&PS station is a replica of the original that was torn down in the 1960s. It was built by the St. Thomas-Elgin Home Builders Association originally for the International Plowing Match.
Thanks to a donation from the Dorothy Palmer estate, the City of St. Thomas was able to set up the station at its new location (or old location!) downtown.
In addition, the tracks were rebuilt connecting the rail lines from downtown St. Thomas to Port Stanley and park space was developed along the tracks for public use.
Within the station tourism operations will be able to be conducted year round so St. Thomas can continue to showcase its unique rail heritage and truly live up to the name of "Railway City".
And looking forward, installation of a portion of rail tracks will be built that would provide a connection to the CASO Station, the Elgin County Railway museum and to Port Stanley.
From the St. Thomas Times Journal and Relish Elgin
The train occasionally runs from the L&PS Station for Special Events. Stay tuned to our social media channels and events page for details. See our TRAIN FAQs for more info on the train in St. Thomas.