The "Oats, Straw and Hay" Railway
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.
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.
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.
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991