Cornwall Station Feb. 14, 1957

This company had a long history behind it.  The charter was originally granted on May 17, 1882 as The Ontario Pacific Railway, headed by two politicians, Member of Parliament Dr. Darby Bergin and Member of the Legislative Joseph Kerr. The charter stated that The OPR was to be built from Cornwall to Ottawa, turn west to Arnprior, then run along the Bonnechere River to Lake Nipissing and along the French River, where it ended at what appeared to be the middle of nowhere.  Also included was a bridge to span across the St. Lawrence River to link up to an American railroad (likely the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad) and a branch from Cornwall to the Perth/Smiths Falls area.  Bergin and Kerr managed to add other clauses to the original act in years to come.  1883 was the extension of the main line to Sault Ste. Marie and the moving of the Perth Branch from leaving the line in Cornwall to Newington with an extension of that branch to Almonte.  Lastly was the addition of a branch from the main line between Renfrew and Eganville to Pembroke.  In 1884, the addition to the bridge crossing in Cornwall was it to be planked for the passage of house drawn carts.  1885 was likely the time that the main line was extended to British Columbia.  The last addition to the rail line’s route was in 1887 when a branch from Ottawa to Manotick was included.  Unfortunately, due to many problems in acquiring funds and support, The OPR was never built.  For a total of fifteen years, the charter sat dormant. To Bergin's disgust, he watched as the Northern Pacific Railway, a Canadian Pacific Railway owned company, built along the proposed OPR route from French River to the west.  In everyone’s view, The OPR was dead, but not to Bergin.  Bergin continued to do what he could to bring The OPR to reality, while Kerr remained a backer and had grown tired of fighting.  Bergin finally found a major backer in the form of an American railroad owner, known as Charles Hibbard.  The two spoke many times and hammered out a deal, making The OPR come alive once more.  Unfortunately, by the time a deal was finalized, Bergin had passed away, but his brother John stepped in to continue the dream.

On May 21, 1897, The OPR was renamed The Ottawa & New York Railway, reflecting in its name the direction the route was to be built.  Construction finally began that August 23rd and it was quickly done, due to the land being mostly flat.  Only one major obstacle stood in the way, the St. Lawrence River.  Although the bridge system would be difficult to build, it was not impossible.  The line was built from Cornwall to Hawthorne, where it junctioned with Canada Atlantic Railway. Rails of their own from Hawthorne were not built until 1907.

 Unfortunately, the building of the bridges and the line cost more than what the company had figured.  To help keep the line in existence, Hibbard had purchased the Canadian company, which meant yet another name change by dropping “The” from the official title as of June 13, 1898.  From this moment on, the company known as O&NYR remained only in name as operations were now headed by the American owners.  The line opened on July 29, 1898, running from Cornwall to Ottawa.  For a time, O&NYR used the Sussex Street Station owned by CPR, but soon  moved into CAR's Central Station.  At that time, the bridges were not complete yet over the St. Lawrence and it would be another two years before a crossing was made.  On Sept. 6, 1898, the south channel bridge collapsed, killing 15 workers, when one of the piers on the American side gave way.  This only delayed opening of the system until Oct. 1, 1900, when the first train officially crossed over the bridges and the two rail lines that were on their own sides of the border were linked.  Even the station on Cornwall Island was finally in service.  On June 23, 1908, another bridge collapse occurred in Cornwall, by this time it was the north span and centred on the swinging portion over the Cornwall Canal.  A break in the canal wall eventually grew so large that it swallowed the supporting pier.  O&NYR, although owned and operated by it’s American partner, lasted on paper til Dec. 20, 1957.  It’s rails were abandoned, officially, on Mar. 22, 1957 (the last train was on Feb. 14th).

An Interesting Site on the 1898 Bridge Disaster 

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