Railway Avenue

The first train

Sir Casimir Gzowski, GTR builder  

Alexander Grant Stratford-Public Achieves

 Railway Avenue runs at a 45-degree angle west from Dufferin Street. The first part of it is parallel to and just south of the Canadian National Railways tracks to London. After crossing Nelson Street, Railway Avenue turns south, runs parallel to Erie Street and ends at Lorne Avenue in the south end of the city.

Part of a survey laid out by Alexander Grant in 1873, Railway Avenue was named for its proximity to what was then the Grand Trunk Railway line to London and Sarnia. Alexander Grant was the mayor of Stratford in 1879-80, and Railway Avenue first appeared on the map of Stratford in 1879.

On the first train into Stratford, on Sept. 3, 1856, was an inspection crew and Grand Trunk Railway officials. Because this was the first "iron horse" in Stratford, the date has gone down in history as the official arrival of the first railway.

However, Stratford's railway history dates back several years before 1856. In fact, the Grand Trunk was not the first railway to lay tracks here. Though the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railway (B. B. and G. R.) did not run a locomotive into town until Dec. 6, 1856, the first sod for the B. B. and G. R. was officially turned on July 8, 1853, at the corner of Erie and St. David streets, close to the CNR overpass on Erie Street.

Though a shortage of funds delayed construction, the first B. B. and G. R. tracks were laid across Nile Street, where the present main line and station are now. The railway boom was on, and competition was cutthroat.  It was the accepted practice that the first rails laid determined the ownership right of way. After 1856, the B. B. and G. R. became known as the Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway (B. and L. H. R.), and its aim was to beat the GTR in running a line to Goderich. 

Railway fever was rampant in Stratford and Perth County (established 1853), and opposing politicians were backing opposing railway lines. Fortunately, both Stratford and Perth were served well by the railways, which came to dominate the economy of this city for over a century. 

Stratford and Perth were moving rapidly beyond the era of ox-teams and horse-drawn wagons carrying produce as far as Galt and Hamilton. The new age featured railways with produce-laden cars drawn by steam-powered locomotives. The railway era was dawning, and Stratford was in the forefront of that development in Upper Canada. Competition was fierce, and the fight was on.

Sir Casimir Gzowski , builder of the Grand Trunk Railway west of Toronto was one of the party officials aboard the first passenger car to arrive in Stratford on the GTR train on Sept. 22. 1856. Regular passenger service started on Oct. 8. More than 200 guests attended a civic banquet in the new station house on Oct. 8. MPP Thomas Daly proposed a toast to the engineers and conductors of the Grand Trunk. The longest railway in the world was officially opened, and Stratford’s future as an important railway centre was assured. That’s how Railway Avenue got its name.  Source: Stanford Dingman  

* Stratford has had six train stations. For a map and timeline of those stations, see Station Timeline

A train, similar, to  the Grand Trunk Railroad wood burner 'Toronto', (above) the first steam locomotive built in Toronto circa 1853, was the first steam engine to pass through Stratford on a scheduled run when the Grand Trunk reached the town in 1856. 

The Toronto Locomotive Works, which built the "Toronto", also constructed a total of eight steam engines for the Grand Trunk between 1854 and 1859. It was most likely one of these locomotives that was used on the first train into Stratford. Source:  Toronto Railway Museum

 Art by Rick Thistle

One of the first locomotives: a Dorchester Canadian (1836-1860) 

Stamp issued 1983 

Dean Robinson wrote a comprehensive book about Stratford's railway history. It is titled Railway Stratford Revisited.

The Decker Steam Tractors, built by the Macdonald Company  

The Decker Steam Tractors were once built on Railway Avenue by the Macdonald Company (MacDonald also).  The Macdonald machines were a copy/Canadian licence of a Baker steam engine made in Swanton Ohio. Macdonald got the licence to make the Baker design in Canada. Macdonald Steam engines are rare as their are only 9-10 engines in existence along with various threshing machine and separators, clover haulers and other equipment made by Macdonald. Macdonald also made some gasoline tractors in the teens and early 1920s in Stratford 

The photograph below on the left was made from an old engraving plate used to print pamphlets advertising the Decker Steam Tractor seen here which was made  by the Macdonald manufacturing Company which had a huge frame plant on Railway Avenue.  Source: John Perusello on Stratford and District Historical Society FB. 

Addendum: For a full history of the Macdonald Company, see Erie Street and Cambria Street

Decker Steam Tractor built by Macdonald Company Railway Avenue. Photo: Stratford and District Historical Society FB 

Later Model Decker Tractor built on Railway Avenue. Photo: Courtesy of John Perusello  on Stratford and District Historical Society FB