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Train, with schedule for P.E.I. railway

Prince Edward Island TrainCanadian history is inseparable from the history of the railway. The CNR is seen as the most fundamental expression of our attempt to build a nation, knitting together far-flung territories and different peoples with a band of iron. In the province of Prince Edward Island, our history is linked just as closely with the railway, but this connection is less of a success story. The CNR was a grandiose dream, which ended by uniting a country despite the odds. The P.E.I. Railway was a project as fully ambitious for a small colony, but the odds were not as much in our favor. The ill-conceived railway construction ended up bankrupting the then-independent colony August 1960and compelled it to accept the Confederation agreement it had refused only six years earlier. Today, there are few parts of the country as proudly Canadian as Prince Edward Island. But back in 1873, the Island's entry into Confederation was interpreted as a forced marriage, and the overwhelming factor forcing the hand of politicians was the railway debt. The railroad certainly worked towards nation-building in our province: it left us with little choice but to join Canada.

At the start of the 1870s, the Island was a thriving and independent British colony, made prosperous and even a little bit overconfident by the shipbuilding boom. By 1873, it had to throw itself on the mercy of the federal government to offload over three million dollars worth of debt. What happened in between was the building of the P.E.I. Railway. Many of the difficulties the government experienced can be traced back to the shortcomings of the original contract, which agreed to pay the contractors per mile of track laid and failed to specify an exact route. As a result, the builders went around instead of through obstacles, and engaged in under-the-table dealings to determine where the track would make its bends. Portion of a railway schedule.

The result was one of the most winding and circuitous road beds in Canada. The constant need to veer left and right posed real challenges for the crew of the old steam engines, who would have to re-adjust the steam pressure to take each bend at the right speed. Adding to this already formidable task was the fact that, despite the yeoman service of rail foremen, every spring thaw would change the rails into a province-wide series of dips and humps. When the Island was converted to diesel in 1950, not many thought they would miss the unpredictable old steamers. But they soon discovered that the steam engines were not only sometimes easier to repair, but also possessed a romance and personality that the quiet, efficient diesel could never replace.

The P.E.I. Railway | The Age of Steam | The Age of Diesel | Keeping Tracks

Kensington Train StationIf the railway was important in determining the fate of our province, it exerted an even greater influence on the development of Kensington. The same railway that was the undoing of the province was the making of our community; it can honestly be said that, without the tracks, there might not be any town at all. Before the arrival of the rails in the 1870's, the town was no more than a village at a crossroads, with a couple of inns for travelers. It was a far from obvious decision to route the rail lines through Kensington, as communities with water frontage-- such as Margate-- were the real commercial centres in the region at the time.

But thanks to a little backroom wheeling and dealing, the big bend bypassed Margate and the commerce followed the tracks right into Kensington. Businesses clustered around the town's train station, the final version of which is a beautiful stone structure completed in 1905. Perhaps the saddest day in the history of the building came on August 25, 1900 when it housed the dying David Pound, injured in a terrible train crash outside the town. While trains may no longer pull in and out of the yard, an engine will always remain there, thanks to those who rescued Engine 1762 to serve as a perpetual reminder of our rich railroad past. Once a bustling railway hub, now a heritage destination, Kensington station remains at the core of the community.

Why Kensington? | The Station | David Sabey Pound | The Moving of 1762

Be sure to visit our railway museum in the                        gallery.