Grand Trunk Railway 1855

The Daily Leader (Toronto), Thursday, 17 May, 1855

Grand Trunk Railway


By Fred Cumberland, Esq.,
Chief Engineer of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway.
(Read before the Canadian Institute, March 31st)

Having been favored some short time since with an invitation to join a part of gentlemen on a private inspection of the work in course of execution on the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, west of Toronto, I availed myself of an opportunity I had long desired, and having seen much that interested, and, I confess, surprised me, I thought some descriptive notes of the more interesting points upon the line might be acceptable to the Institute; and accordingly I propose (without entering upon any close or technical criticism), to offer to your notice this evening the memoranda I have preserved in connection with the principal objects which attracted my attention. Works of this nature seem amongst us to be objects of general interest only, at the time of their initiation, or when, being completed, we discover that they are of some importance to us; or, if it be otherwise,the interest which they attract is too frequently founded on a restless spirit of suspicion — a wilful faculty too prevalent amongst some of us for adopting a system of depreciation, instead of (what my experience teaches me would be the wiser one) of encouragement and support.

When I started on my visit, therefore, I had not been prepared by rumor to tied very much to gratify or surprise me, and as I think in part of the business of this Institute to trace out and follow, as far as the opportunities of its members will admit, the progress and the manner of the public works constructing about us, it may not be altogether unprofitable perhaps if I acquaint you with what is doing on this line.

Most of us are acquainted with the system of construction adopted by the Province as the standard of the Grand Trunk Railway — that it is one of more substantial character than had previously obtained either in the United States or Canada, founded indeed on the British system, so far qualified and lowered, however, as was necessary to economy, yet consistent with stability and permanence. The first illustration of this standard of any moment is to be found in the Humber Viaduct; 8.5 miles from Toronto, over their river and valley of that name. At the point of crossing, the valley (extremely picturesque in character), is 1500 feet wide between bold and precipitous banks giving an elevation of 68.0 to grade line above the stream. The viaduct consists of 8 piers and 2 abutments, giving 9 spans of 60 feet each, and a total length of structure of 560 feet, the remainder of the crossing being effected by embankments containing some 80,000 yards of material. The piers are of white brick on stone foundations, and will be spanned by wrought iron girders, the weight of metal in which will be somewhere about 150 tons. The construction of these girders being identical throughout the line (except for larger spans than those now mentioned) it may be well here to explain briefly that the gauge being 5.6 the girders are placed 7.6 from centre to centre, the top and bottom flanges being 2.0 wide and the main web 4.2 in height, so that the clear width between the girders is identical with the gauge of the road. Across, projecting over and attached to these are heavy timber beams — upon which are laid the trackstrings — the whole width of the floor being 16.0 feet, the track occupying the centre and having a pathway on each side of it protected by handrails. It would be difficult to imagine a more simple or satisfactory system of construction than this, and on contemplating it one cannot help reverting with some regret to those not very distant times, (only immediately previous indeed to Stephenson and Fairbairn’s enquiries in relation to the Menai Bridge), when the crossing of such a valley as the Humber would have been effected by a structure involving much more intricacy of design, vastly more material, and far heavier expense. There is one consideration, however, which may qualify our lamentations on past labours lost, and it is this, that although economically these structures are far more satisfactory than those in which engineers but recently indulged, they are undoubtedly less pleasing to the eye and altogether injurious as in connection with the picturesque, for their outline consists of two hard horizontal lines, without relief, break or beauty of any description, a form indeed which how grand soever the structures in themselves, will, I suspect mar every landscape and paralyze the hand of the most soulless artist.

We next came to the Mimico Valley Viaduct, 12 miles from Toronto, consisting of one centrespan of 60 and two sides of 30 feet each, giving a full length of structure of 162 feet, 28 feet above water line, and together, with an embankment of some 30,000 yards, constituting a crossing of 600 feet in length.

The next work of importance is that in the valley of the Etobicoke at Brampton, 20 miles from Toronto, which is 1500 feet wide, having two girder bridges of 60 feet span each.

At 27 miles from Toronto we come to the most important structure of the line, forming the crossing of the valley of the River Credit, 2000 feet in width between the banks. It consists of 8 spans of 96 feet each, giving a full length of structure of 921 feet, the remainder of the crossing being by embankment containing about 150,00 yards of material, about half of which is from a cut on the west side in indurated clay similar to the specimen which I present.

The piers and abutments of this structure are constructed entirely of a very beautiful quality of sandstone of fine close and hard grit, and of a very agreeable warm color. This stone is brought by tramroad from the Georgetown quarries, 4 miles distant, and as it has attracted much attention recently as a material available for Toronto works. I have secured a specimen for your inspection. Of this the piers and abutments are constructed in courses rising from 2.6. to 18. in height, with self face, quarter beds and joints and bold 3. drove arises at the external angles, with two bold plinth courses and tooled capping for girders.

These masses of masonry, of a description unsurpassed by anything I had previously seen in Canada, rise to a height of 115 feet above the water line, and this in connection with the great length (nearly 1,000 feet) results in an effect which is grand in the extreme, although of course the appearance is marred as yet by the incompleteness of the structure, the presence of temporary trustlework and the want of unity which the absence of the girders begets. On enquiry I find that the masonry, when complete, will consist of 13,000 cubic yards, and the weight of the wrought iron girders 405 tons. Much as one is gratified on a first view of the Humber viaduct on seeing that at the Credit one is tempted to regret the necessity existing there for the use of brick; for the Georgetown stone, built in the bold style adopted at the Credit, gives such complete assurance to the mind of permanent stability, and such satisfaction to the eye by the play of color on its face that it tends to dissatisfy one with a material in itself unimpeachable but relatively inferior. The girders to be used at the viaduct being of 96 feet span are of different construction to those we have already described. Instead of the two single web girders as at the Humber, here we have single tubular girders, 7.0 high and 7.0 wide, with the track on the top of it and projecting side paths as before, giving a full width of floor of 16.0, each girder weighing somewhere about 50 tons.

In the same style of masonry and of material from the same quarries we came at about a mile further westward, to a 25 foot arched culvert, with a vertical height of 60. to springing, and containing I was told, about 3,000 cubic yards, with an embankment over of about 194,000 yards, crossing a valley 1,500 feet wide. I observed here an excellent expedient for securing a double use to those culver’s, for after allowing sufficient height for the passage of the stream, by making a set off on the face of each side wall a bearing is obtained, joisting laid and planked, and a roadway thus provided above the waterway. We subsequently visited a 15 foot arched culvert of similar character 1.5 miles further westward, coming, at about 31 miles from Toronto, to what is called “The Lindsey cut,” a work which has given much trouble in consequence of the character of the material — hard cemented gravel — through which it is made. Of this I have secured a specimen, and although probably most of us have encountered material somewhat approaching it in difficulty of working, few of us have been tried by a cut in it such as this, 50 feet in depth and containing 173,000 yards.

In succession to this cut and immediately beyond it we entered another 60 feet in depth, containing, we were told, about 25,000 yards, in limestone rock, of excellent hydraulic quality, the cement from which, setting somewhat slowly but with great tenacity and hardness, has been generally used throughout the works.

Immediately beyond this again, after passing over the embankment filled from these cuts, we came to another (called Scots) which, contained upwards of 182,000 yards, it was a relief to find, of pure sand, although as it approached to quick, it seemed to give some indication of trouble.

Passing a 15 feet arched culvert similar to those already described, at 36.5 miles, we reached the summit between Toronto and Guelph, which is 991 feet above the level of Lake Ontario. Here is a cut in indurated gravel from which some 36,000 yards have been taken.

Three miles further westward is another 25 feet arched culvert, built in limestone of highly fossiliated character. The style of this masonry was even heavier than that of those previously visited, but like those, it was finished with bold self faces and drave arrises, the arch stones being,if I remember rightly, tooled. I name this because I think this style of masonry highly applicable to works of this nature, and far superior (by reason of the play about the face, relieved as it is by the wide arises which define the strict outline of all angles) to any higher finish or tooled faces which in my judgement impart tameness when adopted to massive structures.

At 40 miles from Toronto we come to the Eramosa Valley Viaduct over the river of this name and near the Village of Rockwood. The full width of this structure is 570 feet, comprising 8 spans of 60 feet each, the full width of valley being 1,200 feet, crossed at an elevation of 45 feet above water line. The stone used in this structure is obtained in the immediate vicinity; the whole district around it, on the east side of the river, presenting a bare broken face of highly fossiliated limestone rock, abounding, we are told, in caverns of large capacity and interesting character, well worthy of the visit, which want of time obliged us to decline. At Eramosa the style of masonry consists with that of the other structures, but the color of the stone, which varies from grey to purple, and passes in parts into a lighter ocbreous tint gives it a distinctive and peculiar aspect as compared with the other viaducts, and one which, altho’ preferred by some of my companions, I did not admire so much as the warm and even face of the Georgetown material.

The quantity of stone laid in the Eramosa structure, (the masonry of which is fully completed), was 5000 yards, the embankment, connected with it containing 80,000, and the weight of the metal in the girders being about 125 tons.

Passing on to Guelph, (where the road seems to me to have been located somewhat strangely, although doubtless with good reason, right through the heart of the town), we find the most peculiar structure on the whole line, and one indeed for which few, if any, precedents can be found. This peculiarity is due to the crossing of the Speed River at right angles on and over the line of a street which is approached at each end and on each side by the river by other streets, also at right angles. In crossing the river therefore at this point it was necessary to preserve the common road on the same side as that to be occupied by the railway and to connect that roadway at each end with the streets abutting upon it. This has been effected by the viaduct in question,which is 580 feet in length, comprising six spans of 60 and one centre span over the river of 80 feet. But instead of solid piers of the usual width, there are two rows of piers, leaving a transverse opening of twenty feet wide between them, spanned by short transverse wrought iron beams to receive the longitudinal girders or tubes in the direction of the rail and roadway, so that throughout the length of some 600 feet the railway will be above the road, for which a headway of about 20 feet will be left clear of the transverse beams before mentioned; in fact, except that this work is on terra firma, it illustrates the same conditions of use as the new Suspension Bridge at Niagara, with the carriage way immediately beneath the rail road. That any local necessity exists for retaining the road in its old position or for forcing the location of the railway to its site is not very apparent, but Municipalities are not always as considerate as they should be, and seem sometimes disposed to test their strength by the pressure of some unreasonable prejudice.

At 53.5 miles from Toronto, and 6 miles beyond Guelph, we visited what is called the “Jack Hillcut,” in indurated clay and hard pan, of a depth of 40 feet, and contents of 161,000 yards. So close and compact is this material that the sides of the gully stand for the full 40 feet at a perfectly fair and vertical face; and I traced on part of it which had been excavated from nearly two years since, the marks of the pick as sharp and clean as though they had been recently made rather than stood exposure for two winters.

In connection with these deep cuts, I availed myself of the opportunity for noticing the effects of the then recent heavy fall of snow in relation to the probable obstruction of traffic. The general depth of snow over the surface of the country was from two or three feet, and it drifted very considerable in places, sufficient to illustrate fully the circumstances of our average winters. I found almost universally that cuts from 5 to 15 feet were comparatively choked by drift, and that as the depth above 20 or 25 feet increased, the deposit was diminished. In the cut at Jack’s hill, 40 feet in depth, although the snow was two feet deep at the summit of the sides, there was certainly not more than from 2 to 4 inches in the bottom. This result has been attributed to active passage of the wind through the cut, although of course much must depend upon its direction as in relation to the bearing of the cut.

At 57.5 miles from Toronto we came to the Grand River Viaduct, consisting of three land spans of 60 feet each, and two over the river of 96 feet each. The full width of the valley is 2500 feet, of which the structure occupies 440 feet, the remainder consisting of an embankment containing 130,000 cubic yards, the grade line being at an elevation of 47 feet above the water. The piers and abutments are constructed of a grey limestone (from quarries in the township of Puslinch, 12 miles south-eastward from the works), and built of the same class as I have before described, the quantity of stone laid being 4000 cubic yards, and the weight of the metal in girders some 200 tons.

This was the last structure of importance which we visited. Passing through Petersburgh, however, we gained a point about 86 miles from Toronto which is the summit of the whole road, and 1003 feet above the level of Lake Ontario and 664 feet above Lake Huron. These levels give a difference in altitude above the sea of 339 feet between Lakes Ontario and Huron, and this difference consists, within one foot, of that ascertained by the surveys of the Northern Railroad Company extended from Toronto to the Georgian Bay.

It does not, however, agree with Bayfield’s observations as published in Scobie’s maps, — where the difference is shown to be 361 feet. The railway profiles, checked as they have been by each other, will probably be accepted as the more reliable, especially when we remember that Bayfield traced his levels through the St. Clair River, where we may conclude he made this error in exaggerating the fall.

Immediately to the southward of the summit, in the Township of Wilmot, and two miles west of Petersburgh, is a mound known a Earl’s Hill, said to be the highest point in Western Canada, and ascertained by the engineer of the Guelph Railway to be 1186 feet above Lake Ontario. I have not had an opportunity since my visit to that point of ascertaining the height of the Blue Mountains of Collingwood, but I am strongly disposed to believe that their altitude is considerably in excess of the of Earl’s Hill as reported.

Such is a brief sketch, descriptive of the principal structures and works of the Toronto and St. Mary Railway. I have not attempted to do more than give an idea of their character, which is so simple as almost to make their description monotonous.

One system and principle of construction being adopted throughout, the only special exception being the Speed Viaduct at Guelph, little remained to be told, after one had been described, beyond the extent, capacity and materials of each. Together they form as perfect a group of railway structure as I ever desire to see, for whilst their simplicity satisfies the feeling of the most prudent economy, their materials are so unexceptionable, the character of the workmanship so excellent, and the taste of their finish so fitting, that one is satisfied with them as works of the most substantial permanence. For my part I confess to having been most agreeable surprised when I found works of such a class constructed in connection with Canadian enterprise; and whilst the immediate object of this paper will have been served by directing the attention of the Institute to them, I shall be better pleased it if induces my engineering brethren to journey over the ground which I have travelled with so much satisfaction and not a little profit.

Daily Leader (Toronto), 18th November 1854


The Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada are prepared to receive Tenders for the supply of Fire-wood, to be delivered at the undermentioned places. Tenders will be received after the First Day of January next.

East of Toronto Whitby
Frenchman’s Bay
West of Toronto Weston
Bell’s Corners

The Wood is to be in proportions generally of one-third soft to two-thirds hard-wood, the latter to consist of Beech, Maple, Hickory, White Ash, or Cherry; no Elm or Black Ash will be received. The soft-wood to consist of Tamarack, Yellow Pine, or Hemlock. The precise proportions of soft and hardwood, that will be required at the different points, will be stated in the contracts. The tenders to state a different price for each.

The wood, of whatever demonations, is to be of good, sound quality, split for the most part from the body of the tree; and no branch-wood to exceed four inches in diameter, whether split or round will be accepted. All charred or half burned pieces will also be culled out.

The Cord is to contain 128 cubic feet, the Wood to be in lengths of not less than three and a half, or more than four feet. It is to be piled generally six feet high, with a space of not less than two feet between front and rear piles; and when the snow lies deep, as much of it will have to be removed, before laying on the Wood, as may prevent the piles from falling over in the spring.

The ground where the Wood is to be piled will be marked out at the several Stations, by an Officer of the Company, who will also act as Inspector, Culler, &c., and all rejected material will have to be removed by the party supplying it, immediately on receiving notice to that effect from the Agent of the Company.

The whole quantity at each place will have to be delivered and piled up on or before the first day of July next.

Payments will be made monthly, reserving ten per cent until completion of Contract, when a final settlement will be made.

Sealed Tenders, marked “Tenders for Firewood,” to be addressed to,

W. Shanly
Engineer’s Department, G.T. Railway, Toronto
Nov 17th 1854. – 426-R

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