[To search all databases, click here]
Chapter 6
Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Preface
1 The Road through Richmond Hill
2 First Peoples on the Land
3 The European Settlers Arrive
4 From Miles' Hill to Richmond Hill: The Birth of a Community
5 Tories and Reformers
6 Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
The Village at Mid-Century
Harmony and Good Feeling: A Sunday School Picnic at the Richmond Hill Methodist Church, June 17, 1857
The Kinnear Murder Case
Hospitality on the Hill
Yonge Street By Stagecoach
Toll-Gates and Macadam Surfaces
Yonge Street on Foot and by Wagon
The "Oats, Straw and Hay" Railway
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
9 Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
12 The Village Transformed
Table of Illustrations

The "Oats, Straw and Hay" Railway

Locomotive "Toronto" of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway (or Railroad), which inaugurated steam railway service in Upper Canada on May 16, 1853. But the OS&H; ran its line six kilometres to the west of Richmond Hill, bypassing the village and disrupting the Yonge Street stagecoach business. Farquharson
On May 16, 1853, the community of Richmond Hill faced the greatest challenge of its half-century existence. On that day, the first regular steam train ever to run in Upper Canada completed its inaugural trip from Toronto to Aurora. It was the spanking new Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway, more popularly known as the "Oats, Straw and Hay," and later renamed the Northern Railway. Eventually, the line ran from Toronto to Collingwood on Georgian Bay, providing another communication link between lakes Ontario and Huron. Today, it is part of the Canadian National Railways system.

On that bright day in May 1853, the first train passed what the company called its Richmond Hill station. Once regular service began, trains made regular stops at that station, carrying passengers and freight back and forth to Toronto and other stops along the line. Although the station was officially named "Richmond Hill," it lay six kilometres (about four miles) west of the village along the Vaughan Sideroad(Major Mackenzie Drive), a stop more accurately named "Maple" later in its existence.

Stagecoach connections between Richmond Hill,Thornhill, Kleinburg, and the new OS&H station at present-day Maple.
Six kilometres by stagecoach or by horse and buggy along the dirt-topped, rutted, and poorly drained Vaughan Sideroad was a much more difficult trip in 1853 than today's short hop by car along the road's multilane, paved successor, Major Mackenzie Drive.The railway had effectively bypassed Richmond Hill, challenged Yonge Street's monopoly on north-south trade, dealt a severe blow to Richmond Hill's stagecoach and hotel trade, and threatened the economic future of the community.

Palmer's "Bus Line" ran stagecoaches between Richmond Hill and Toronto in 1876, despite competition from the Northern Railway.
A Toronto-Georgian Bay rail link had first been broached at a public meeting back in 1834, but the project languished until Frederick Chase Capreol ("Mad Capreol") got involved. After failing to finance the line through a public lottery, Capreol poured in 12,000 of his own money and secured a government grant. He hired a New York surveyor to locate the line and a New York engineer to build it. On October 15, 1851, twenty thousand Toronto residents turned out to watch Lady Elgin, wife of the Governor General, turn the first sod at a spot opposite the Parliament Buildings on Front Street in downtown Toronto. 23

By February 1853, contracts had been completed for the construction of stations at Weston, Thornhill(Concord),Richmond Hill(Maple), and Machell's Corners (Aurora). The buildings at these points were to include "sidings, platforms and offices, with their necessary appendages, freight, tank and wood houses." 24 By May, although little track ballasting had been done, company officials decided to inaugurate regular service between Toronto and Machell's Corners.

At 8:00 a.m. on May 16, in the presence of a large crowd, the train left Toronto. First came the engine "Toronto" with William Huckett at the throttle, then came two box cars, one combination baggage and passenger car, and one passenger car. Return fare was one dollar. All along the route people turned out to see the novel sight. At Richmond Hill, they walked or rode their horses or drove their carriages west from Yonge Street along Vaughan Sideroad. Two hours after leaving, the train pulled into the last stop, Machell's Corners.

One month later, train service was extended to Bradford and by October the railway reached Allandale near Barrie. Early in 1855 the entire stretch to Collingwood was completed and the first train made the 150-kilometre (90-mile) run connecting lakes Ontario and Huron, replacing the old water route through Lake Erie and the Yonge Street wagon route.

But the optimism generated by the new train service turned to gloom at Richmond Hill. The surveyors and engineers had run the line six kilometres (about four miles) west of Yonge Street to avoid the steep slopes of Gallows Hill and Cemetery Hill, Hoggs Hollow and Richmond Hill. Not until King City did the line angle northeast towards Yonge Street and Aurora. Topography cost Richmond Hill a steam railway.

The Northern Railway itself did not suffer for bypassing Richmond Hill, for it was able to tap the rich commerce that had poured down Yonge Street from Bradford for the past half-century. "Travel in public conveyances between these two places," reported the Northern's chief engineer in 1852, "is equal to seventy-five persons each way daily, and by private conveyances as many more. One hundred wagons, loaded with merchandise, produce, lumber, etc., often pass the toll-gate north of Toronto in one hour ... . The effect of the operation of the railway when constructed, will be, at the outset, to quadruple the travel, and increase the traffic to a vast extent." 25 Traffic did increase, as predicted, and profits poured into the railway's coffers.

Unfortunately, the railway's profits came at the expense of other transportation services. The trains drew passenger and freight service off Yonge Street and put the Toronto-to- Holland Landing stagecoach service right out of business. The railway dealt James Beatty and the York Roads a "paralysing blow." During the last five months of 1853, Yonge Street toll receipts declined by 533 from the previous year, and between 1852 and 1854, toll receipts declined by 26 per cent. 26

Nevertheless, Richmond Hill did survive. Because the "Richmond Hill railway station" was six kilometres (four miles) away from the village centre, many community residents continued to use the local stagecoach line to Toronto. And the Post Office stuck with the coach for mail service between Richmond Hill and Toronto.

As before, ownership of the Richmond Hill-to-Toronto stagecoach line changed hands frequently through the second half of the nineteenth century. The service was owned in turn by Edward Shepherd,Robert Raymond, then John Palmer, and finally John Thompson after 1880. Thompson himself was finally put out of business when Yonge Street's interurban electric railway reached Richmond Hill in 1896.

John Thompson's Richmond Hill-to-Toronto stagecoach, 1880-1896.
After that, Thompson's old stagecoach stood abandoned for many years in a field on Church Street behind the Trench Carriage Works - its original builders. There it served the young boys of the community as a fort, tank, theatre, or whatever their imaginations made up. One day in 1931, burning candles ignited straw on the coach's floor and the resulting flames gutted the body. But the Toronto Transportation Commission came to the rescue, restored the body in 1932, and incorporated it into its collection of historic public passenger vehicles. The old coach eventually passed into the hands of the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa and made a triumphant return to Richmond Hill for the Centennial Parade on June 16, 1973.

For Richmond Hill itself, however, the stagecoach days had begun to die by mid-century. Eventually the horsedrawn vehicles would be replaced by the electric trains, and the inns and hosteleries that first put Richmond Hill on the map would become a part of the past.


23. Nick and Helma Mika,Railways of Canada: A Pictorial History(Toronto:McGraw-Hill Ryerson,1972),p. 30.

24. Russell D. Smith,"The Northern Railway: Its Origins and Construction, 1834-1855,"Ontario History,vol. 48,no. 1 (Winter 1956):33.

25. Miss L. Teefy,"Historical Notes on Yonge Street,"Ontario Historical Society,Papers and Records,vol. 5(1904):56.

26. Cross,"Stormy History of the York Roads,"p. 20.


Previous    Next

Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991