The Railways of Ottawa

Findings of the Circle - Ottawa Area Yards

Finding No. 3  
Ottawa Area Yards
3.1    Besserer Street Yard and Station Approaches
3.2    Canada Atlantic Elgin Street Yards
3.3 Bank Street Yard
3.4  CNR Ottawa West Yard

3.1    Besserer Street Yard and Station Approaches

There is a circa 1950 picture northwards from Laurier Bridge in Boardroom A at the RMOC Planning Department, 2nd floor, 111 Lisgar Street, which shows an excellent view of the CNR Freight and Express Office on Besserer Street and the attached Freight Shed, which ran south to beyond the future site of the Mackenzie-King bridge, (under construction in the picture).  The shed was built in 1909 and demolished in the 1950's.  It had three parallel tracks for boxcars on the east side, (with through-car loading), and weigh scales inside the building opposite every loading door. There were also four team tracks with outdoor raised platforms between them on the east side of the freight shed.

On the west side of the freight shed were the postal terminal tracks for the Besserer Street building erected in 1937.  It was served by two tracks from the station throat and two from the freight yard ladder track.  This building survived for about ten years after Union Station closed.

An aerial photograph from 1958 shows the freight shed gone, but its outline still visible, the coal trestle gone and replaced by a parking lot at Besserer and Nicholas and by what it is believed was a pair of bonded warehouses for the Canada Customs building on Nicholas.  The four team tracks are still there and in use with over a dozen freight cars visible as far north as the line of Daly Street.  The postal terminal had four cars visible, plus the two government official cars, stored on the tracks which led from the passenger throat.

A later aerial photograph from 1965 shows that although the four postal tracks still had room for 12 cars, only two were present.  The CN express facility at Union Station appears deserted, but the CP facility has at least 15 trucks at its loading docks.  Perhaps CN Express had already relocated to Terminal Avenue.

In 1965 the coal track for the steam plant at the station has a hopper car in it.  The steam plant functioned untill the end. The very tall chimney was to be brought down with explosives so that it would fall across the vacant area formerly occupied by the yard.  Much publicity attended this, and a large crowd gathered for the event.  The charges were set off, the stack rocked first one way and then the other, and then just refused to cooperate.  The crowd loved it and applauded the defiance.  It took a couple more days, and some pretty dangerous work, to set more charges under the stack, which probably could have colapsed under its weight at any time.

The CN employee timetables for 1957 and 1965 give some insights on the Besserer Street yard tracks.  They are referred to as 'A' yard in the tables of restricted clearances.  The tracks are numbered from west to east.  Tracks 1,2, and 3 were east of the freight shed, with the 1957 timetable showing a restricted clearance on the west side of track 1 for the shed.  The shed was gone in 1965.  Tracks 3 and 4 had restricted clearances for a loading platform between them.  Tracks 5 and 6  also had loading platforms but on both sides.

It would appear that the Postal terminal tracks were not considered part of A yard, though they came off the same ladder and were to the west of the freight shed.  Likewise, the two tracks into the bonded Customs warehouse may not have been part of A yard, as no clearance restrictions are listed, though they certainly existed, as the buildings were built tight to the tracks.

Besserer St. Yard, was accessed from the through track at the top of the passenger yard.  In later years, service was provided by a daily yard job or transfer once a day, although passenger yard switchers could undoubtedly be called upon to do an extra switch of the freight sheds if required.  The passenger yard jobs also took care of much of the mail switching since some of this could figure into passenger trains.  In the latter days as well, there were generally a half dozen
business cars tied up behind the post office.  The passenger switchers also spotted the cars of coal for the steam plant, as this had to be done when the express operations weren't cluttering up the lead.

There was also a 'B' yard, possibly the Coach Yard, which appears to have been south of the Laurier Bridge.  It must have been on the coach yard ladder, as there was a speed restriction from the end of B yard into the station.The only restricted clearance was listed in 1957 and 1965 as the Liquor Siding.  This was a track behind the yard office, which had a loading platform on the east side for the Liquor Commission office and warehouse, (which was on Nicholas Street south of Laurier Avenue, directly above the yard office and which later became the Child Guidance Centre of the University of Ottawa).

The restricted clearances are grouped under four names for different parts of the Deep Cut to Sappers Bridge layout, (The timetable still refers to Sappers' Bridge, even though it was torn down in 1912). "Ottawa Station" applies only to restricted clearances in the train shed. "Ottawa" applied to restrictions at the Mackenzie-King and Laurier bridges, "A Yard" and "B Yard" covered the rest, as described above.  CPR main track began at the switch at the north end of tracks 1 and 2 of the train shed, however, the track north to Laurier Bridge was still within yard limits for the station.

CN's two main tracks (designated "double track" in 1957 but "two tracks" in 1965) ran from Riverside (a spring switch) past Deep Cut to the throat of Union Station, where they converged under or near the Laurier Bridge in a hand-operated double-slip switch (one of  two in the passenger yard) which fed  into the eight tracks of the trainshed.  At the crossover south of the Laurier Bridge, northbound trains approached a sign indicating "end of two tracks" while a switch connected
CN's southbound main directly with Track No. 1 almost all movements to and from that track were made instead through the main throat trackage, which was protected by a semaphore in one if not both directions. The signal mast had a doll post on the left to show the signal did not apply to the canal bank track which continued northwards.  The semaphore signal actually governed movement from either of the two approach tracks, (which were bidirectional), to the single main leading through the two double slip switches to the station.  The single semaphore on the north side of Laurier Bridge controlled southbound movements on this single main to either of the two tracks.  All other movements required hand signals from the switch tenders, who also controlled the semaphores and mainline switches through rodding from the switch shanty under Laurier Bridge. South of Laurier  As only Tracks 1 and 2 continued north from the trainshed, one or other had to be  used by CP road engines (and RDC's?) which tied up at Ottawa West, as well as all CP trains through Hull including transcontinental and Brockville  trains.  That gave them the appearance of being "CP" tracks.

After the Mann Avenue roundhouse closed, there was some daytime storage of engines and steam generators
on one of the freight yard tracks; this included the odd cab unit and also [GMD1s] that ran on the Whitney. Trains and/or
engines were spotted farther out on the station tracks to keep exhaust fumes out of the train shed and were just left to idle.  Near train time, the switcher would shove them back into the station.

Consistent with CN ownership, all switching of passenger equipment was performed by CN engines and crews.  This included turning of train consists by  means of the wyes at Hurdman. The 1957 CN Employee timetable includes instructions that the eastbound Supercontinental, and both east and westbound Continental take the wye to Main St. before backing into Union Station.  The westbound Supercontinental went straight in to Union Station (to minimize the Montreal-Ottawa trip time) and wyed on its way out of town.  As the western Queensway extended easterly across the Rideau Canal and Main St around 1965 the CN transcontinentals could no longer turn at "Deep Cut" and had to back up quite a long distance to turn at Hurdman.

3.2    Canada Atlantic Elgin Street Yard

The CAR yards were situated along the west side of the Rideau Canal.  The yards extended to Neville Street, (todayWaverley), at the right-angle bend of the canal.  The yard north of Archibald (Argyle) Street was entirely a lumber storage facility, with tracks running between all the log piles.  The piles were 10 feet to 30 feet high, according to the maps.  The yard was about 1800 feet long, measured along the canal, and a maximum of 800 feet deep measured back from the canal wharf.

Although labelled "Canada Atlantic Yard", the lumber yard was also labelled "Bronson and Weston".  Bronson was a lumber merchant and landowner.  The yard was almost entirely south of the then city limits of Ottawa at Ann Street (Gladstone), except adjacent to the canal, where it projected northwards in a small pocket on the east side of Robert Street, which was the alignment of the eastern boundary of the earliest land grants, (in line also with Main and Waller Streets).

East of Cartier, the plan showed an unusual yard with six tracks extending north to Ann Street (now Gladstone Avenue).  All the tracks in this yard, which lay entirely within William Stewart's land, were fed by a turntable, rather than turnouts.  Today there are houses on part of this land. The canal wharf was on the west side of the canal running up to a point opposite Gladstone, again within Stewart's land.  There was trackage on the wharf and a couple of tracks continuing further northwards, as far as a street named "Neville", about at the distance of today's Somerset Street.

A 1957 CNR Employee Timetable refers to an ice house track in its restricted clearances list. The timetable also refers to a cinder pit at the Elgin St. Yards.

Prior to the removal of the CN tracks to Elgin Street about 1965, it was a busy place with trains turning and local businesses still being serviced. The Driveway did not cross the tracks on the west side of the canal but entered as does the southbound lane now by going to Elgin Street next to the Tiffany Apartments.  Colonel By Drive originally started south of Hawthorne Avenue at the Pretoria Bridge.  That part of Colonel By Drive that now goes under the Queensway was then Echo Drive.  There was a watchman at the Echo Drive crossing (as well as the Main Street crossing) and he was a busy person in earlier times with all the shunting that went on.  The watchman's shanty had a round, white and black crossing sign hanging outside that he would hold up to the cars.

3.3  Canada Atlantic/Grand Trunk/Canadian National Bank Street Yard

The buildings east from Bank Street on the south side along Isabella were:
- Yard Office, Ice House, Coal Shed, Coal Ramp, Platform, Stock Pens.
On the north side east of Bank Street along Catherine were:
- Brewers Warehousing, Car Shops three Stores plus a similar sized unlabelled building at the east end running north-south.

The Bridges and Buildings Book of 1908 has the following dimensions for these buildings, which can be compared against the sizes estimated from the NCC plan from 1963 (shown in parentheses).

Stores 24.5 x 72 (cf 70 x 24 for Yard Office.  The bridges and buildings book shows a 12 x 12 Yard Office, which may have been relocated to the stores building.)
Ice House 104 x 32 (cf 140 x 35)
Coal Shed 698 x 39 (cf 665 x 35)
Coal Ramp 240 (165)
Car Repair shop 440 x 45.5, Car Repair shop 250 x 80.5, attached boiler room 19 x 42 (combined 680 x 35 with protrusions).

The east Car Repair shop is 465x45, the west shop is 245 x 80, and the boiler house extension to the south at the
west end is 42 x 20.  The ice house length may be a typographical error in the book.

A June 1910 picture (PA-42484) taken from the cupola of a snowplow on the main line at the Bank Steet Yard Office looking east.  It shows the Isababella Street Coal Shed with a decided tilt.  It seems that it either fell down or was demolished a little after that and there was an agreement between the Coal Trestle Company and the GTR dated 25 October 1916 concerning the new coal trestle.  There was, subsequently,  an application by O'Reilly & Belanger Ltd. for an order directing the GTR to provide reasonable and proper facilities for the unloading, handling, storing and delivery of the applicant's coal at the coal trestle erected upon the lands of the GTR in its station yards at Isabella Street, Ottawa and for a mandatory order directing the railway to terminate the agreement or lease made between the railway and the Coal Trestle Company Ltd. dated 25 October, 1916. The BRC decided that it has no power to fix the rental rates for space owned by the Coal Trestle Company at Isabella Street, Ottawa and denied the aplication.  It seems that not all the coal companies were prepared to pay to lease space in the new, more expensive facility.

3.4  CNR Ottawa West Yard

Updated 3 March 2017

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