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by A.M. McKitrick

In 1864 Orangeville, Ontario was a small community with a population of about five hundred. In the previous year it had been incorporated as a village. There were none of what might be termed industries in the small community. It was a village mainly of tradesmen and merchants catering to the sparsely settled farming areas surrounding it. The townships were still in their infancy with many of the farmers operating original crown grants. Scattered throughout the townships were tiny communities, formed for the most part of a tavern, a general store, one or two homes, and possibly a schoolhouse or church.

In 1864 farmers had to team their produce to either Guelph or Brampton. In either case it was a long haul over roads that were impassable for some months of the year. In like manner all goods sold by Orangeville merchants had to be hauled in from either of these points, which were situated on the Grand Trunk Railway's Toronto-London line. The farmers in the district were not obtaining the best prices for their produce and at the same time had to pay higher prices for the goods they purchased in Orangeville.

Out of this situation was born the Orangeville Tramway Company, a means of transporting the produce of the farmers of the Townships of Mono, Mulmur, Melancthon, Amaranth and Caledon to large markets. The first meeting to discuss the project was held in Orangeville in May, 1864. The purpose of the project was explained at this meeting. It was to be a horse-drawn tramway system from Orangeville to Brampton or some point on the G.T.R. between West Toronto and Brampton. The tramway would be a cheap and ready means of transportation, superior to the main gravel road then in existence between these two points, Hurontario Street (now No. 10 Highway).

The route proposed for the tram line followed the valley of the Credit River from the east end of Orangeville to the base line of Caledon Township, thence paralleling Hurontario Street to Brampton. It was claimed that this was the easiest possible grade and would allow one horse to draw five or six tons of freight.

It was proposed that the cost of the tramway be shared between Orangeville and the five townships mentioned above. It was estimated that construction costs would amount to approximately $2660 a mile, totalling about $50,000. The proponents claimed that the operation should show an annual profit of around $10,000.

In June of 1864 various meetings were held in Amaranth Township to discuss the project, and it was approved in principle at all of them. A mass meeting was held in the same month at Bell's Hall, at Broadway and Mill Street in Orangeville, and was attended by 400 ratepayers and interested persons. At this meeting complete particulars were given on financing and the type of construction. $50,000 was to be raised by contributions of $10,000 from each of Orangeville, Mono, Amaranth and Caledon; $5,000 each would be contributed by Mulmur and Melancthon.

It was proposed that the tramway be 24 miles in length. Its right-of-way would be constructed on an embankment 9 feet in width, with a 5 foot fill over level country. Ties would be placed on 4-foot centres; to them would be fastened longitudinal scantlings to which the rails would be attached. The rails were to be of strap iron, l 1/2 inches wide and 1/4 of an inch thick. Stations would be constructed, as well as horse barns. The staff to operate the tramway would consist of a superintendent, two clerks and ten teamsters. It was estimated that the right-of-way would be purchased for $40.00 an acre.

Money was scarce in 1864, and for a small community such as Orangeville to raise $10,000 represented an ambitious outlook on the part of the citizenry for the future welfare of the district and the tramway.

A meeting of ratepayers was held in Charleston (now Caledon Village) in July, 1864, and was lively because there was considerable opposition to the location of the project in Caledon Township on the part of those citizens who would be remote from it. Soon afterwards the Tramway Committee met and approved the spending of $500 for a survey of the line. Jesse Ketchum was Chairman of the Committee, and representatives from Orangeville, Caledon, Amaranth and Mono sat on it. In November the Committee engaged C.J". Wheelock to survey the route for a fee of $400. At this time Mr. Orange Laurence, after whom Orangeville was named, donated the land for the right-of-way through 200 acres owned by himself in the Credit River flats in the east ward. It was through this area that the Credit Valley Railway eventually laid its rails, and it is possible that it utilized the right-of-way of the Orangeville Tramway Co.


This was a year of further planning and of strengthening gains made in the previous year. In March the Tramway Committee issued a lengthy statement on the progress to date, which was sent to all ratepayers in Orangeville and in the various townships interested in the project. At the same time, Thomas Jull, reeve of Orangeville and C.J.Wheelock were appointed a committee to visit the state of Michigan and other states to study the operation of tramways there.

In June of 1865 "the Tramway Committee approved a resolution to organize a joint stock company with a capital of $50,000 to be issued in stock at $10 a share, this money to be used to construct and run the road. A month later a provisional Board of Directors was set up for the project, by this time known as the Orangeville Tram Railway, consisting of R. Church, President (postmaster at Cataract), Jesse Ketchum, Vice-President (land speculator and developer), Frank Irwin, Treasurer (Orangeville businessman) and John Foley, Secretary (publisher of the Orangeville Sun).

In August of 1865 a prospectus was issued setting the cost of the Tramway at $49,000 including right-of-way purchase, horses, rolling stock and the erection of stables and depots. The annual cost of operation was put at $13,000 and the gross yearly earnings at $25,000, leaving a profit of $12,000. A few days after the stock books of the company were opened, $10,000 had been subscribed.


In April a notice was given of application to the Provincial Legislature at its next session requesting power for construction of the tramway. In this same month a new railway, the Toronto and Owen Sound Central, was proposed for the district. This company went so far as to apply for a charter and hold a meeting in Orangeville for promotion purposes. This company passed early from the scene when it withdrew its application for a charter a month later because of opposition in the Railway Legislative Committee.

In August, 1866 the Tramway Bill was passed by the Legislative Assembly. Commencement and rapid completion of the project now seemed assured. In October Caledon Township Council agreed to grant a bonus of |10,000 to the tramway, and in the same month a deputation from the Township of Albion waited on the Board of Directors and offered bonus of $30,000 provided that the tramway pass through the village of Bolton.


The year 1867 was one of high hopes and some disappointments. It was the year that saw construction on the tramway started. Considerable opposition to it still existed in Orangeville and to some extent in the adjoining townships. In Orangeville it was the major election issue. Two groups of candidates for municipal office were nominated, one group being for the tramway and the other bitterly opposed. At the nomination meeting in Bell's Hall those who were opposed were soundly defeated and every candidate in favour was acclaimed.

In March both Orangeville and Caledon approved bonuses of $10,000 each; the Orangeville bonus was conditioned that it be in the proportion of $1000 for every mile constructed for 10 miles, and that construction commence within one year.

During April contracts were let for three miles of grading and tie laying from Orangeville southerly. There is evidence that by this time the Board of Directors had decided to change the form of motive power of the tramway from horse to steam.

On May 30, 1867, a public meeting was held in Orangeville to consider the application of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Ry. for a charter to construct a narrow gauge steam railway from Toronto to a point on Georgian Bay and one on Lake Huron. The result of the meeting was a resolution endorsing the granting of the charter.

By the middle of August, one half mile of grading on the tramway had been completed south of Orangeville and it was hoped to have the grading soon complete to Melville. The cost of grading was $400 a mile and was termed "a marvel of cheapness". Shares in the Tramway were by now quite popular, and men who had been bitterly opposed were now hurrying to purchase them.

At a general meeting held in December the auditors reported that $21,610 in capital stock in the company had been taken up. They also reported that it would cost $5,000 per mile to reconstruct the tramway to "wide" gauge. It is presumed that the directors were considering changing from the planned narrow gauge to standard.


This year marked the end of the tramway project.

Early in the year the town of Brampton was taking sufficient interest in the project to call a ratepayers' meeting to discuss the propriety of a land bonus. The meeting approved the plan in principle provided that the Township of Chingacousy, through which the tramway would also pass, was agreeable to similar action. At this time a new stage coach line was opened from Orangeville to Owen Sound; a similar facility was already operating between Orangeville and Brampton with -three southbound and two northbound trips per week.

By March, 1868, one mile of tramway roadbed had been graded south of Orangeville. However, by this time, more and more attention was being directed to the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway and public opinion was swinging away from the tramway company, to the extent that both Orangeville and Caledon were defaulting on the payment of their promised bonuses. Claims were made against the two municipalities by the Board of Directors, but in October it was decided to hold the claims in abeyance until the expiration of the charter of the T.G,& B. and to abandon them completely if this railway was carried through to completion.

At the end of October, 1868, it was clear that finis could be written to the undertakings of the Orangeville Tramway Co. The Orangeville Sun of October 22nd carried a report that the Directors had left their claim against the village in abeyance and decided to unite in an effort to secure the early construction of the T.G.& B. The shareholders of the tramway company ratified an agreement in this respect and agreed to receive a bond of indemnity for their paid up stock. Following this, the tramway company passed into oblivion, and the Village of Orangeville granted $15,000 to the Toronto, Grey and Bruce, which later built through Orangeville. With the construction of this railway, the proponents of the tramway secured the transportation facilities they had been seeking, and in a superior form.

U.C.R.S. Newsletter January 1959.



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