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Chapter 10
Rails through Richmond Hill
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
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
The Radial Railway Arrives
A Ride on the Big Green Cars
Stops along the Line
Bond Lake Park
Through the Highlands of York to Bond Lake Park
Radial Days in Richmond Hill
Summer Romance at Bond Lake Park
Electrical News at the Turn of the Century
Electric Lights for the Village
Steam!
Heritage sites in New Gormley
" Gormley Gleanings"
The Belated Arrival of the Age of Steam
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
12 The Village Transformed
Epilogue
Appendices
Table of Illustrations
Index

The Belated Arrival of the Age of Steam

The Canadian Northern (later Canadian National) Railway station at Richmond Hill.
The Metropolitan Railway had little time to enjoy its domination of Richmond Hill-to-Toronto passenger and freight traffic. By 1904, construction was underway on the James Bay Railway - later known as the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, then simply the Canadian Northern, and surviving today as the Canadian National line through Richmond Hill.

The James Bay Railway, running north from Toronto around the east side of Lake Simcoe, through Parry Sound to Sudbury, was built to give the transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway access to southern Ontario. The long-awaited James Bay/ Canadian Northern and the electric radial line were both owned by companies controlled by the same transportation entrepreneur, William Mackenzie. But that mattered little to Richmond Hill. The important point was that steam was coming!

First freight at the new Richmond Hill station in November 1906 - a load of coal and lumber
As construction began through Langstaff,Richmond Hill, and Gormley in 1904, village council helped the cause by purchasing property for a station and a grain elevator. By August 1906, the station on the north side of Centre Street East was almost completed. In November, regular passenger service began and the first car of commercial coal was unloaded. Before long, this steam line captured most of the Richmond Hill-to-Toronto freight business from the electric line, although the radial retained most of the short-distance passenger travel along Yonge Street.

Just as stagecoach and electric rail travel had benefited Yonge Street and the centre of Richmond Hill, the steam railway helped open up the east side of town. Centre Street East was widened, village boundaries were extended eastward to include the station and the grain elevator, and eventually the land along the CN line developed as an industrial area between Elgin Mills Road and Major Mackenzie Drive.

In the early years of Richmond Hill's steam railway, however, the Canadian Northern/ Canadian National station drew most of the attention. The clapboard building was painted red with dark green trim. It included a waiting room and agent's office, with a separate living area for the agent and his family in another part of the building. Yerxa Byron ("Y.B.") Tracy was the local CN agent from 1911 to 1953, a one-person operation who sold tickets, carried baggage, handled express and freight business, and even hand-delivered telegrams.

Tracy had a particular affection for youngsters, teaching Sunday School and leading youth groups. He encouraged kids to gather at the station grounds to play baseball, football, and other games. A nearby creek was dammed up to supply water for the station's water tank, where local kids would go for a swim after playing around the station property for a while. Tracy even allowed kids to ride a handcar on the siding near Ramer's Fuels.18

Declining business persuaded Canadian National to close its Richmond Hill station in 1968. Eleven years later, the building was moved to Richmond Green(Elgin Mills Road and Leslie Street), where today it serves as a clubhouse for the Richmond Hill Minor Soccer Club. That location is about halfway between the centre of old Richmond Hill and the community of Gormley - where the James Bay/ Canadian Northern Railway had a dramatic impact during the first decade of the twentieth century.

"Gormley Station from the South," showing the business and industrial centre of New Gormley early in the twentieth century. Buildings include, from left to right, blacksmith shop, David and Jacob Heise's double house, driveshed, railway station, North American Cement Block and Tile Company office (in background), and grain elevator.
The original settlement of the Gormley area began with the arrival of a number of German Mennonite families from Pennsylvania one hundred years earlier. Gormley's Corners - at the intersection of Woodbine Avenue and Stouffville Road beyond the boundaries of present-day Richmond Hill - was named after its first postmaster, James Gormley, in 1854. Construction of a Methodist Church in 1873 on land donated by John Leary marked the beginning of "New Gormley" or "West Gormley," which was closer to the corner of Leslie Street and Stouffville Road and within today's Richmond Hill.

Cober's store in New Gormley.
It was not until the James Bay/ Canadian Northern Railway arrived, however, that New Gormley really started to grow. Following their original survey of Gormley in the winter of 1903-04, the company purchased rights-of-way from John Leary and Peter Doner, laid its tracks through 1905, ran freight and passenger service from 1906, and completed its Gormley station the following year.

New Gormley became a busy and industrious community. The early morning train to Toronto brought farmers from miles around with wagons and sleighs loaded with thirty-litre (eight-gallon) cans of milk to be shipped to the city. Soon the community housed a general store, a blacksmith's shop, a garage, a planing mill, a grain elevator and feed mill, and a cement block and tile company. By the 1920s, New Gormley even boasted a ruler factory and a farm implement dealership. Many fine red-brick, two-storey homes were built along the main street - a sure sign of prosperity and respectability. 19

Aerial view of Richmond Hill, 1919. National Archives of Canada PA 22796
This picture of sunny prosperity clouded over when motor trucks appeared on the scene following the First World War. Now there was no need for businesses to centralize around the railway station, and eventually, most of the industries and services linked to the railway moved or went out of business. 20 The Gormley railway station was demolished in the early 1970s.

At the end of the twentieth century, New Gormley is a quiet residential community with most of its original homes still standing.

Notes

18. The North Star,February 7, 1979.

19. Gary Nagata,A Brief History of New Gormley(Richmond Hill: Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee,1990),pp. 3-7.

20. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

 


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991