The 1850s was the decade of railway fever in Canada West. Every community from the tiniest hamlet campaigned to have a railway line – and the citizens of the Township of Derby were among them. We don’t know if the Flemings invested in railway bonds, but they must have followed the local Council meetings, and they eventually benefited from improved access to markets for their produce and greater ease of travel.
In the 1850s, railway building was booming. Over 2,000 miles of track were laid in the provinces of British North America. [i] By 1859 the Grand Trunk Railway ran from Quebec City, through Montreal and Toronto, to Sarnia, with extensions to Chicago, Illinois and Portland, Maine. Its rival, the Great Western, had lines from Niagara Falls to Windsor through Hamilton and London and connecting to Toronto. The Northern Railway (previously the Toronto, Simcoe and Huron Railroad) reached Collingwood from Barrie in 1855.[ii] Jennie Fleming took this route for her trip to Toronto in 1869.[iii] But the great triangle of the Queen’s Bush along Lake Huron, the west half of Georgian Bay and south along the Garafraxa Road was unserved.
Derby Township became involved with railway mania in July 1857 when Mr. Carney and Mr. W.A. Stephens came as a deputation from a railroad committee in Owen Sound – “to solicit a grant of money to aid in procuring the passing of the ByLaw for taking stock in the Toronto and Owen Sound Central Railway” (T&OSCR). Council was immediately enthusiastic and moved to set up a fund of 12 Pounds and 10 Shillings towards getting “sanction” from the ratepayers to buy ₤ 100,000. Further, Reeve Sam Jones and the Council expressed their thanks to the deputation “for affording them an opportunity of expressing their desire to see Railway communication afforded to the County of Grey and for honoring them with the first call for pecuniary assistance towards that object.” [iv] The proposal, complete with routes, costs and benefits, and considerations, was documented by J.W. Tate in the Report on the proposed route of the Toronto and Owen Sound central railway.[v] The proposed route would run from Weston, up the Humber Valley to Mono Mills, across to Orangeville, north to Chatsworth and from there either along the Sydenham Valley through part of Derby Township or along another stream to the north of Owen Sound.[vi]Continue reading