The Turntable Park

Update on the Turntable Park

Railway hub, Rawdon, October 1955.
Source: Canadian Rail, Jan-Feb 2011 

You are here near the old Montfort train station. The park’s name is a nod to the mechanism used to turn the lead locomotive around to change its direction. According to a Montfort resident who saw it in action, the plate turned by means of a compressed air engine powered by steam from the locomotive. 

'Some operators of the Montfort hub would let young people go up on the bridge to take them for a ride on this makeshift merry-go-round, which would ultimately foreshadow what this area would become. Sometimes, the young people had to hide behind the locomotive and wait for a moment when the operator wasn’t paying attention to get their chance for a ride.” Carl Chapdelaine, seasonal resident of Montfort.

The development of the North

Montfort village train station, around 1940
Source: BAnQ

The number of railway projects in Canada increased in the mid-19 th century. This new means of transportation facilitated the exploitation of raw materials such as wood and minerals, and the settlement of the West.

In this first stage of the industrial revolution, Quebec saw an exodus of French-speaking people to the factories of New England, which caused great concern among the Quebec elite. Sensitive to the plight of his compatriots, the parish priest of Saint-Jérôme, Antoine Labelle (1833-1891), worked tirelessly to find funding for the settlement of the northern townships, which he believed could not be accomplished without the establishment of a rail link between Montreal and this vast region.

A first section running north-south between Montreal and Saint-Jérôme was built in 1876 by the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa & Occidental (QMO&O) Company. An east-west track, entitled the Montfort Colonization Railway, was added, around which consequently sprung villages from Saint-Sauveur to Saint-Rémi-d’Amherst.

Wentworth Township train stations

The train arrives at the orphanage station,
circa 1910.
Source: McCord Museum

Inaugurated on October 27, 1894, the first segment of the Montfort Colonization Railway extended 21 miles (33.7 km) between Saint-Sauveur and Lac des Seize-Îles . The reception took place at the Notre-Dame de Montfort orphanage and brought together close to one hundred people, including railroad company executives, dignitaries, ministers, senators and members of Parliament, as well as the hosts, the Montfort Fathers, who took advantage of the event to encourage the extension of the train to the school farm near Arundel.

Planned stops in Wentworth Township, after the orphanage, were the village of Montfort; Newaygo, a resort destination; Laurel, along the main road; and Chapleau Lake, the site of the Old Brewery Mission's summer camp. It was not until 1897 that the orphanage line in Huberdeau was connected to the network.

A scenic route

The Canadian National 5562 locomotive near Lake Chevreuils on its way to Montreal.
Source: Canadian Rail, No. 135, 1962

The Laurentian landscape, with its uneven terrain and natural obstacles, presented ignificant challenges for the constructionof the railway. The company therefore chose a 36-inch (914.4 mm) narrow gauge track, which was used in the mountains for its tighter curves, better suited to the terrain. According to a newspaper of the time, the rails were imported from Belgium because they were cheaper than elsewhere, and the cars were built by the company itself.

'... the 'Montfort Colonization Railway' [is a] veritable serpentine of steel clinging to the sides of superb mountains, dashing through the middle of clear lakes, such as Chevreuils Lake, which it cuts in half, and also the great Lake Saint-François-Xavier, over a good third of which the alert and solid little convoy seems to swim without a care...' Le Monde Illustré, Saturday August 8, 1896. 

In 1897, the track was converted to the standard 56.5 inches (1,435 mm) to facilitate branching out to the wider network. Around 1926, the railroad, now owned by the Canadian National Railway, reached what would be its last station nine miles (14.5 km) from Saint-Rémi-d'Amherst, where there were kaolin and silica mines.

The steam locomotive

The Sunday train, circa 1949
Source: Table de concertation des arts et de la culture de Wentworth-Nord (TCACWN), Marcel Laporte collection.

'The nostalgia for the days when trains still ran in the Laurentians is that of a sensory experience: there were of course the familiar sounds, the chugging and clanking of the great steel wheels of the steam locomotives, but more than that, one felt the ground shake as the behemoths passed and the pounding of the hydraulic ram pumping water into the huge reservoirs along the track.' Remarks by Mr. Gordon Jones in Porcupine Magazine, #37. 

With the train came mail, packages, vacationers, friends and supplies for the Montfort orphanage, which housed several hundred young residents. In the 1940s, Canadian National advertising attracted many skiers from the city to the trails and slopes of the region. Although it took more than three hours to reach Montfort from Montreal, the trip itself was an event with the beauty of its landscapes outside and the friendly atmosphere inside the cars.

The railway workers

The Montfort line crew: A. Adrain, P. Godin, Omer Houle, P. E. Godin and O. Hébert, 923 Source: TCACWN

It was not uncommon to use two lead locomotives for the train, considering the topography of the terrain to becrossed. A former resident of Chevreuils Lake, who witnessed in his youth the difficult manoeuvres that were sometimes used to cross the difference in elevation between Chevreuils Lake, and Lake Saint-François-Xavier, says that 'at 6%, it was the steepest slope in Canada at the time. [...] even with two locomotives on the train, they [railway workers] had to ask the passengers in the last two cars to move forward, and then they would uncouple the two cars, leave them on the track and continue on to Montfort with less weight. Once they got to the top, they would leave the cars on a spur and go back down to the track to pick up the last two cars. 

Porcupine #37, Morin Heights Historical Association, Recollections of a Railway man, Mr. Gordon Jones.

The last train

The last passenger train, No. 99, stops just outside Newaygo Station on May 27, 1962.
Source: Canadian Rail, Sept/Oct 2011. Photographer: Paul McGee (Smaill collection)

Road construction and improvements in the 1950s to accommodate the growing popularity of automobile travel sounded the death knell for rail service in many regions of Quebec. On May 27, 1962, the locomotive ran for the last time through the valleys in the heart of the Laurentians from Saint-Sauveur to Lac-Rémi. The rails were removed two years later. Wentworth-North was accessible by car in winter as well as in summer, but the quality of the roadway would be a burning issue for a long time in a municipality where the main road, which links the three hamlets of Saint-Michel, Laurel and Montfort, stretches for 27 kilometres.

The Aerobic Corridor

The Aerobic Corridor along Lake Saint-Francois-Xavier

In 1996, the rail line was transformed into a linear park and named the 'Aerobic Corridor'. This 58-km recreational and tourist trail, well known to hikers, cyclists, snowshoers and cross-country skiers, is managed jointly by the local governments and the MRC des Pays-d'en-Haut and the MRC des Laurentides. Its route runs along Chevreuils Lake , where you can still see the remains of the water tank that fed the locomotive. 

Extract of
Historical Tour of Wentworth North

Historical Tour of Wentworth North image circuit

Presented by : Municipalité de Wentworth-Nord
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