Train Service to Rawdon

Taken from an article written by Dr. Glenn F Cartwright on the occasion of the Centennial of the Arrival of the first Train in Rawdon

Remarkably, the Township of Rawdon was served by, and later abandoned by, at least two different railways in two different centuries before a station was actually built in the village of Rawdon.

First was the Industry Village and Rawdon Railway, opened in 1852 just 16 years after the opening of Canada’s very first railway, the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railway.

At this time there were no railways from Montreal to Rawdon or Joliette and by road a one way trip from Rawdon to the market in Montreal was a two day trip. Writing in 1836, Farmer George Copping recounts that the journey, by horse, to the market in Montreal to sell potash and some butter involved, first a day long trip to l’Assomption, an overnight stay there, and another day’s travel following the l’Assomption River to its mouth at Charlemagne. Here a local boat man was hired to cross to Bout de l’Isle on the Island of Montreal and travel another 15 miles (approx 25 km) to the heart of the city.

What was a two day trip in 1836, takes about an hour by automobile today.

In 1847, legislation had been enacted to build a new railway, the Saint Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad, downstream from Montreal on the Saint Lawrence River, northwest to Industry Village (later renamed Joliette). The railway was built with wooden rails faced with iron strips. The train travelled at a top speed of 14 mph.

Local accounts, however, told of a service so slow the passengers told of picking blueberries during lengthy delays along the way.

Montcalm Station

Watching the company’s progress was Montreal businessman, Jedediah Hubble Dorwin, who had commercial interests in the Rawdon area. He soon realized that if he could build a rail way from Rawdon (6 miles outside of the village of Rawdon ) to connect with the St. Lawrence and Industry Railroad to Lanoraie he could gain access to the Saint Lawrence River with it steamboat upstream to Montreal and downstream to Quebec city. The new railway, the Industry Village and Rawdon Railway with Darwin as its president, was opened on December 4, 1852. The Montreal Gazette of December 8, 1852 proudly reported the festivities.

According to The Gazette, directors boarded the steamer Jaques Cartier at Montreal for the trip to Lanoraie and travelled up to Industry Village on the St. Lawrence and Industry Railroad. Presumably using the same rolling stock, they continued on to Montcalm. Inclement weather forced the party to take shelter in a local farmhouse rather than the planned al fresco picnic.

The return trip was uneventful but celebrant with numerous toasts given on the steamboat back to Montreal.

Dorwin asserted that his new line was the cheapest railway in the world for it cost just 741 pounds per mile to construct, a feat then thought to guarantee future financial success. Still, additional investors were required and Darwin promised them 12% return on their money. St Sulpice Fathers invested 1000 pounds a short time later.

The Mystery of the Dorchester

The Saint Lawrence and Industry Railroad eventually acquired Canada’s first locomotive, the Dorchester (nicknamed Kitten) which had initially run on the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad. It may be presumed the tracks and rolling stock were compatible with Rawdon and thus possible the Dorchester had come to Rawdon Station.  

Since the Champlain and St. Lawrence and Industry Railroad later became part of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canada’s first locomotive, the Dorchester, ran on both of what were eventually to become Canada’s two major railways.

The question is, what happened to the Dorchester?

There are very different “facts” told about its demise. One is that the locomotive blew up in a field. After that there are facts and fiction connected to its final destiny. Which one is fact and which is the “alternate fact”?

One story goes that the locomotive blew up one day as it passed through a field. The pieces were collected and dragged away for repair. Decades later a farmer found the nameplate Dorchester and turned it over to the Clercs St Viateur in Joliette for safe keeping. This plaque is today at the Exporail in Delson. 

Another story told of the Dorchester has a tie, if rather tenuous, with the Rawdon area. In 1864 the Dorchester, now owned by the Lanoraie and Industry Railroad, exploded in a field when passing through St. Thomas de Joliette. The railroad wrote the engine off as a total loss and officially only the brass name plate was salvaged. This artifact is now in the Joliette Museum of Art.

Another claimant in nearby St. Ambroise de Kildare swears the pieces were gathered and the engine was actually rebuilt. After years of service running farm equipment, it now rests in his barn although he refuses to show it. 

Where is the Dorchester?