By Craig Cole
Written history dealing with the early years of Port Stanley is sparse, but postcards have proved an invaluable record of what life used to be like in our then little village. Several of these illustrations show views of the London and Port Stanley railway (L&PS). Above, the postcard shows a view of the Pere Marquette depot. Note the bridge over Kettle Creek, one of the predecessors of the King George VI lift bridge.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of the L&PS in the early development of Port Stanley. Some of our older residents may still remember using the L&PS (as it was always called since no one used the full title) which functioned as a school bus as they traveled back and forth to high school in St. Thomas.
Going further back in time, the L&PS started service between London and Port Stanley in July of 1856 as a steam railway. It had six stations, with additional “flag stops” at each road concession that it crossed, and it proved to be a vital link for the tens of thousands of immigrants who were pouring into Southwestern Ontario through Port Stanley.
Another vital service of the railway was to transport vast amounts of coal north, coal which had arrived in Port Stanley by boat from the coal fields of Pennsylvania.
In the early years, the railway was leased to various American railroads. In 1872 it was leased to the Great Western Railway Company (which later became the Grand Trunk Railway). In 1894, it was leased to the Lake Erie and Detroit River Railway, and in 1900 it was leased to the Pere Marquette Railway.
This postcard, from the collection of the late Sam Vary is shown on page 40 of the Heritage Port Stanley book entitled, Port Stanley’s Pictorial Postcards, Volume One, 1906-1925 by Craig Cole.
The postcard is entitled Pere Marquette Depot, Port Stanley, Ontario. Note the wooden grain elevator behind the onrushing train. Also note the long skirted pale blue and pale pink dresses on the waiting passengers. This was before the era of color photography, so that many of the postcards which we have were hand colored. The colors were somewhat up to the whim of the illustrator. The sky was always blue.
In 1915 the L&PS was electrified. Beautiful new passenger coaches were purchased, and the L&PS became the prime link in the rapid development of Port Stanley’s amusement beach. In busy summer months over 20 trains a day carried passengers from London to Port Stanley and vice versa. Passenger coaches with even numbers (we have a postcard of one of these in Volume 2 of the Heritage Port Stanley postcard book) had an electric motor in the car, drawing its power from a catenary on top of the car. Odd numbered coaches were “trailer” cars which did not have motors.
A railway bridge which is still in use today is shown in another postcard entitled, New P.M. Bridge, Port Stanley. One of the abutments of the bridge bears the date 1908. This bridge replaced an earlier wooden covered railroad bridge. The Pere Marquette lease for the London and Port Stanley Railway tracks expired in 1913.
The story of the eventual demise of the London and Port Stanley Railway is long and complicated, but tourists can still ride the southern portion of the line, thanks to Port Stanley Terminal Rail. It is a trip which I always enjoy taking with newcomers to Port Stanley, remembering the days when the L&PS played such a vital role in linking our little village to the rest of Southwestern Ontario.
Dr. Cole has been a summer resident of Port Stanley for the last 80 years. He was a medical researcher, teaching medicine and physiology at McGill University for many years. About 20 years ago, he and his wife retired to the old family summer cottage on Orchard Beach. He is the co-author, with Robert Burns, of a book entitled Port Stanley: The First Hundred Years.
Other posts by Craig Cole.