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The Carillon & Grenville Railway

In 1905 the Ottawa River Navigation Company and the Carillon & Grenville Railway fell into the hands of Charles Newhouse Armstrong, a somewhat controversial railway promoter who had the idea of buying small existing lines, building missing links, and welding them into a trunk line running from the Gaspé to Sault Ste. Marie. This scheme was known as the Atlantic & Lake Superior Railway and by many other names as well. Armstrong’s methods could most charitably called “irregular” and sometimes bordered on illegality. Armstrong hatched his idea about 1890 and in 1905 he was still at it. His link between Ottawa and Montreal was to have been no less than a high-speed electric line.

In 1905 Armstrong convinced parliament to change the name of his Ottawa River Railway Company to the Central Railway of Canada. It was this latter corporate instrument that bought the Ottawa River Navigation Company and the Carillon & Grenville Railway. The Ottawa River Railway Company had been chartered in 1903 with powers to build from Grenville to Montreal and from St. Andrew’s, Quebec, to St. Come, to Lake Rouge and to connect with the Canada Atlantic Railway at Hawkesbury. With the name change came powers to extend to Georgian Bay. Suffice to say none of this happened.

In 1912 Armstrong tried to use the Central Railway of Canada to consolidate a witch’s brew of his properties and would be properties: the Ottawa River Railway; the Central Counties Railway; the Great Eastern Railway; the Carillon & Grenville Railway; and the Ottawa Navigation Company. The company managed to acquire the Central Counties Railway; the Ottawa Valley Railway; the Carillon & Grenville Railway; the Ste. Agathe Branch and the Ottawa River Navigation Company. Unfortunately subsequent legal proceedings saw the purchase agreements with these companies declared illegal and therefore null and void. In December 1917 the Central Railway of Canada went into receivership upon demand of the bondholders. In April 1920 the company's remaining assets¾the steamboat and wharves¾were sold at auction by order of the Exchequer Court.

Meanwhile, back at the portage railway, by 1910, its last season of operation, the Carillon & Grenville was truly an anachronism but it was still limping along. Many passengers took a trip on the Ottawa River just to say they had ridden the last broad-gauge railway in Canada and very probably in North America.

The river and the portage railway had long since ceased to be part of the only route to Ottawa. Roads had started to emerge and by 1910 there were three rail routes from Montreal to Ottawa. To the south of the Ottawa River there was the Grand Trunk’s former Canada Atlantic Railway line via Glen Robertson, and the Canadian Pacific’s former Montreal & Ottawa Railway route via Vankleek Hill. To the north of the Ottawa River there was another Canadian Pacific line, the former Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa & Occidental Railway via Lachute and Montebello. This latter route broadly approximated the route of the ill-fated Montreal & Bytown Railway.

In 1901, the Carillon & Grenville got a new neighbour in the form of another Armstrong venture, the Great Northern Railway (later renamed the Great Northern Railway of Canada) that was to connect Grenville to the Quebec City area via St. Jerome and Joliette. This line crossed the C&G east of Grenville and ran east through Stonefield Heights before turning northeast towards Lachute and St. Jerome. This railway later became part of the Canadian Northern system as the Canadian Northern Quebec (CNQ).

The Carillon & Grenville ceased operation permanently at the end of the 1910 shipping season, partly as a result of Armstrong’s legal and financial entanglements, but mostly because of the decline of Ottawa River steamer traffic. The line was dismantled in 1911 but the equipment stayed on the property until 1914.

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