During the Depression a hobo jungle grew up near the crossing and Sam told the story of four hoboes who pooled their money, a total of ten cents. One rode the train to Merrickville and returned with a loaf of bread, their only dinner.
Sam also told the story of Franz von Werra, the German prisoner of war fighter pilot who escaped from the train near Smiths Falls, made his way to Johnstown on the St. Lawrence and across to the still-neutral United States, to New York City and subsequently back to Germany.
Nothing remains at Bedell, but the roadbed through North Grenville has been re-made into a multi-use trail system, with interpretive signage about the railway. As well as diagrams of the track setup at Bedell, the film also included some excellent vintage footage of steam engines at the crossing.
The second video featured the Prescott to Bytown Railway, with discussion by Fraser Lachinger, Councillor for the town of Prescott and Douglas Smith, railway historian. Fraser noted the early importance of the forwarding trade at Prescott, carrying goods around the St. Lawrence rapids. A canal system bypassed the rapids by 1848 and Prescott looked for different economic opportunities. Lumber from Bytown needed an outlet to the United States. A Bytown to Prescott railway proposal received a government charter in 1853, and a rail link was completed the next year, using six locomotives and 127 rail cars, including six passenger cars, all made in Boston.
But at the end of a decade it was basically bankrupt. Reorganized in 1867 as the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway, it acquired a ferry carrying railway cars across the St. Lawrence to New England. After a vigorous question period, Brian Earl thanked D’von and the meeting broke up for refreshments and more railway discussions.
The Meeting Room
On the evening of 20 November 2019, some 45 members of the Rideau Township Historical Society, guests and friends, railway enthusiasts all, gathered at the North Gower Client Service Centre to hear D’von Wallace.
Sandy McNiece introduced D’von, founder and head of Eleuthville Media, a documentary filmmaker with an ongoing passion for little-known railway lines. D’von showed us two online videos. The first was centred on the Bedell crossing and station south of Kemptville.
After an introduction from David Shanahan from the North Grenville Historical Society on local railway history, Sam Gaw discussed Bedell, his father’s career working 52 years for Canadian Pacific (CPR), as night operator then agent at Bedell, and his own 42 year career with CPR. The railways were important locally as they provided employment, education (children rode the trains to school), local economic opportunities and improved communications. Development of the highway network, however, made the railways extinct.
The video continued with the story of the Bytown and Prescott Railway which ran north and south through Kemptville from 1854. In the 1880s the federal government gave funding and land to CPR in order to construct a transcontinental rail line. That line crossed the Prescott to Ottawa line at Bedell, over a “diamond” supported by sidings, a station, an operations tower and a water tow Bedell was always a lonely place to work, at night staffed only by the operator and a single section worker who cleaned snow and ice from the switcheser.
November 2019 Presentation
Forgotten Railways of Eastern Ontario
Presentation by D’von Wallace
Article by Owen Cooke, Photos by Rod Brazier