trainspotting (blog)

Last train to Waterloo

Approaching the intersection of Caroline and William Streets, the last train on the former Grand River Railway trackage in downtown Waterloo, Ont., passes the soon-to-be demolished Carling Brewery on July 6, 1993.

Approaching the intersection of Caroline and William Streets, the last train on the former Grand River Railway trackage in downtown Waterloo, Ont., passes the soon-to-be demolished Carling Brewery on July 6, 1993.

Waterloo wasn’t home, but the Grand River Railway’s Waterloo Sub (part of Canadian Pacific Electric Lines) was very much a hometown road. The tracks of GRR’s line to Waterloo crossed Glasgow Street in Kitchener just a few doors down from my boyhood home, and ran directly past my Grandmother’s house on Union Boulevard, a couple blocks away. You could hit a baseball over the Waterloo city line from the makeshift diamond in my grandmother’s oversized trackside yard.

A couple blocks beyond my grandmother’s, the tracks made a hard, interurban-style turn onto Caroline Street for eight wonderful blocks of street-running to the Waterloo yard, freight sheds and end-of-steel. The bumper posts in the Waterloo yard marked the northernmost point on the CP Electric Lines, a 69.4-mile interurban system that stretched south to the shores of Lake Erie at Port Dover. (The majority of that trackage, 50.6 miles of it, was operated by GRR’s sister road the Lake Erie & Northern, which ran from Galt to Port Dover.)

As much as we thrilled to watch the Grand River trains wander across Glasgow and past my grandmother’s, there was nothing better than seeing them stroll up Caroline Street, usually stopping to switch spurs into the Bauer Skate factory, Carling Brewery, and Seagram’s Distillery. I grew up watching zebra-striped Baldwin-Westinghouse steeple cabs doing just that. In my early teens, we spent many a Saturday riding to Waterloo in the cabs of the Tuscan and grey SW1200s that bumped the motors in 1961, or in the wooden vans that punctuated the trains that even then ran with 20-30 cars or more.

All of this — if you haven’t nodded off or wandered away — is by way of rambling preamble to recalling that the last CP train to Waterloo made its way up Caroline Street and back 22 years ago yesterday evening.

Flagging across William Street

The afternoon Electric Lines crew did the honours along with CP 8161 and 8162, two of the three SW1200s that had spent most of their working careers assigned to CPEL. In the gathering dusk of a warm July evening, they came north, rolling across Glasgow Street, past 92 Union Boulevard, and squealing through the tight curve onto Caroline Street. I watched as they strolled up Caroline Street one last time.

Lifting the last car from CanBar, the northernmost limits of a onetime 70-mile interurban network that once stretched to the shores of Lake Erie.

Without ceremony or solemnity they tied onto Milwaukee Road 63024, the center-beam bulkhead flat that had delivered the last load of hardwood to CanBar, attached the marker, and started back south. I set up beside the skeletal ruins of the old Seagram’s Distillery — being demolished to make way for condos — and quietly said goodbye as the little train rolled down the darkened street.

And that was that.

Strolling past the skeletal ruins of the Seagram’s Distillery - and that was that.

The tracks and the brewery, the distillery (save for a portion repurposed as condos), the yard, GRR freight sheds, and CanBar are all long-gone and the entire area has been gentrified beyond recognition. Happily, memories are beyond the reach of wrecking balls and redevelopers.

 

greg mcdonnellComment