The Forgotten Railways of Eastern Ontario

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Railways have always had a real fascination for people, and, for those who have explored the topic, it becomes a genuine passion. Local filmmaker, D’von Wallace, owner of Eleuthville Media, has found that out for himself over the past months. D’von had been working on a series of short films called “10 Minutes in North Grenville”, and his next subject in the series was the railways of the municipality. It quickly became clear that ten minutes was simply not enough time to do justice to the role railways had played in the story of this municipality, and, you might say, many branch lines opened up as he explored the past.

Finding a depth of material, both archival and in the lives and memories of railway people, D’von realised that a new series was needed, and the first of his “Forgotten Railways of Eastern Ontario” videos has recently been completed. It covers the history of Bedell and Kemptville Stations, and the remarkable lives of those who worked there.

The film tells the story of the two railway lines that went through the area: the Bytown and Prescott, opened in 1854, and the Canadian Pacific in 1884. There is some very rare footage of Bedell Station in its busy days, showing the trains, tower, water tower and rail system, all clearly described by long-time rail worker, Sam Gaw.

His memories of working at Bedell, including recollections of the Hobo Jungle of the 1930’s, and the escape of a German pilot during the Second World War who jumped a prisoner of war train as it passed through and made it all the way back to Germany, all add to a fascinating insight into an age that is past.

Historical background is provided by Dr. David Shanahan, Historian with the North Grenville Historical Society, and an account of how the rail bed through Kemptville has been adapted for use in the Trail System is explained by Karen Dunlop and Mark Guy of the Municipality staff.

D’von has produced an invaluable account on video of the importance of railways in the story of North Grenville, and it is one that will be housed in the NG Public Library and with the NG Historical Society, as will much of the archival material used (and unused) in the video.

D’von is now moving on to other Eastern Ontario railways, and he is quite overwhelmed by how much information is available to him in his research and production. Each video requires about three months to research, even before putting the film together. Editing and post-production takes up more time, so D’von sees himself working on the series for a few years to come.

People like Sam Gaw have a tremendous store of knowledge and memory to share with future generations, and D’von’s work will keep those memories alive. Memories of the Silk Trains that carried silk from China across Canada and through Bedell to the manufacturers in the United States and Europe; of the timber barons and the settlers, the hobos and the prisoners of war; all a part of the story of the Forgotten Railways of eastern Ontario.

The Bedell and Kemptville Stations episode is now available for viewing at: www.eleuthvillemedia.ca/forgotten-railways-in-eastern-ontario.

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