I Am a Pedestrian: Part 8
Walking around a city
I Am a Pedestrian is the result of a 159-kilometre walk around Toronto. The book consists of 159 observations gleaned from a 42-hour adventure at the perimeter. I Am a Pedestrian is a record of underexplored places, stories of people encountered and lost histories rediscovered at Toronto’s current city limits.
Before the onset of the novel coronavirus, I promoted I Am a Pedestrian in public libraries and other venues with a talk titled, The Time Travelling Pedestrian. With the aid of historical photographs, maps, and group discussion, the presentation revealed how Toronto has grown from a lonely French outpost in 1750 to today's bustling metropolis.
Numerous rail lines bisect city limits. Routes and destinations are explored in a feature I titled, Vagabond Fun Facts. Below is an excerpt from the book.
78 — Mad Capreol
Guardrails and caution lights are evidence of a former level crossing where GO Transit’s Barrie commuter rail line crosses an abandoned portion of Steeles.
Vagabond Fun Fact:
• Before Metrolinx purchased CN’s Newmarket line, you could catch out on a northbound freight to Huntsville and Gravenhurst.
Two decades after Toronto’s founding in 1834, the fledgling city still lacked a railroad. Financiers weren’t convinced of the city’s viability. Favourable legislation was passed to entice investors. Auctioneer, businessman and father of eleven Frederick Capreol took the bait.
Many thought construction of a rail line north was ludicrous. The press referred to Capreol as Mad Capreol. Through grit and determination, he managed to arrange financing for the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union (OS&H) Railroad.
When completed, the OS&H would provide an overland route between Toronto and the upper Great Lakes at Collingwood. Tracks would open a trade route into western US states. Passengers and commercial goods would no longer endure twenty-one-day voyages aboard sailing ships via the Welland Canal.
The OS&H was the first step in making Toronto the commercial centre it is today.
Toronto Locomotive Works was commissioned to build the Toronto, engine No. 2. The twenty-nine-ton locomotive was no beauty. As the first steam locomotive built in the colonies, it became the embodiment of local know-how and tradecraft.
A problem: Located at Yonge and Queen streets, Toronto Locomotive Works’ foundry was a kilometre north of the new tracks.
A solution: Two hundred very strong men equipped with pinch bars rolled the Toronto on temporary rails through the city to a shed opposite Queen’s Hotel on Front Street. As the behemoth inched forward, very strong men placed temporary rails in front of the engine while other strong men moved the engine with brute force. Crowds cheered from the sidewalk. The Herculean task was complete in five days.
May 16, 1853. 10:30 a.m. departure. Tickets fetch $1 apiece.
Destination: Machell’s Corners (Aurora, Ontario). On the inaugural run the Toronto pulled two boxcars, one baggage car, one passenger car and the future.
Hundreds of awed citizens lined the track. Fathers hoisted sons on their shoulders to witness history. The engine’s swiftness was breathtaking. With its top speed of twenty miles per hour, all agreed, the Toronto was pretty marvellous.
I Am a Pedestrian is available through this website.