The Very First Railway in Ottawa

Taking advantage of the spring weather but before the leaves had come out, a few members of the Ottawa Railway History Circle I visited the locks at Hogs Back (Mooneys Bay), Ottawa to see the location of the first railway or tramway in Ottawa.

Rideau Canal tramway
View looking east along the route of the tramway. Hogs Back Road is to the right (south).

One of the contractors on the Rideau, Fenlon, built a small railway in 1827 to connect the dam and locks at Hogs Back with a small quarry which provided the stone for the work at Hogs Back as well as some material for the work at Long lsland and Hartwells. ln February and April 1828, much of the original work was destroyed by rising waters. Although Fenlon was forced to relinquish his contract, it appears that the railway lasted at least until 1831.

Hog's Back in 1831. From a "Survey of Hogs Back Rideau Canal" by John By, January 22, 1831. National Archives of Canada. NMC 21975, (RI-0852)

From this map it is quite easy to trace where the tramway ran although there are absolutely no traces of it to be found today. There is a parking lot to the east of the dam and the line went right across here, just to the north of Hogs Back Road and finished up at a small quarry. The quarry faces can be seen in the bush, located just to the south of a larger quarry which is fenced off because of dangerous drops in places.

What do we know about the first railway in Ottawa? Very little. It was likely a wooden or pole railway that would have used animal power. lt was very short and the loads would have run down the gradient. There would probably have been little or no earthwork as it would have been easier to have built the line on wooden trestlework similar to the horse railway at Chats Falls (see: The Union Forwarding Company Railway - The First Railway in the Ottawa Valley. The Horse Railway that ran a Royal Train. - Branchline, July-August 2006.)

The railway likely would have fallen into disuse with the completion of the Rideau Canal in 1832. Thus ended the short career of the first railway in Ottawa, some 22 years before the construction of the first railway, proper, into Ottawa, the Bytown and Prescott Railway in December 1854. (See The First Railway in Ottawa - Branchline, February 2005).

Rideau Canal tramway
A view of what is thought to be the quarry rock face.

ln conclusion, one point bears mentioning. lt has been stated in recent publications that a railway or tramway was built alongside the Rideau Canal right up to the locks into the Ottawa River at
Entrance Bay. Fenlon's railway only ran for some three or four hundred yards from the Hogs Back dam to the small quarry, and there is no evidence, documentary or otherwise, to suggest a
longer railway was ever built to Nepean Point or the Ottawa River.

Denison, Lieut. W. " Rideau Dams" vol ll, pp. 1 14-1 21 ,3 pl., 1838
Frome, Lieut. "An account of the Causes which led to the Construction of the Rideau Canal connecting the Waters of Lake Ontaio and the Ottawa; the nature of the Communications prior
to 1827; and a description of the Works by means of which it is converted into a Steam-boat navigation," vol l, pp. 73-102, 4 pl., 1837.
Leggett, Robert. "Rideau Waterway", Revised Edition, University of Toronto Press 1972. p. 178.
Bush, Edward F. " The Builders of the Rideau Canal 1826-32" Parks Canada - Manuscript Report Number 185, 1976. pS. 47.
Watson, Ken W. "Engineering Landscape - The Rideau Canal's Transformation of a Wilderness Waterway", published by the author 2006, page 223.
Elliot, Bruce, McKenna, Katharine (editor), and Wylie, William "Labourers on the Rideau Canal", 2009.
Findings of the Ottawa Railway History Circle - The Rideau Canal Tramway

Click above to see additional pictures taken at this location

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, November 2010.

Home   Articles