Book Review: Rails Across Ontario: Exploring Ontario’s Railway Heritage

Rails Across Ontario by Ron Brown

Rails Across Ontario: Exploring Ontario’s Railway Heritage by Ron Brown is a history of railroads and the infrastructure that came with the railways. Brown is a geographer and a freelance travel writer. His other books are about, among other things, Ontario history and railways.

Trains are magical machines. They linked the nineteenth century world and further linked the world into the mid-twentieth century when they were killed off by highways and air travel. I was a child at that tail end period and loved trains. Late nights in East Cleveland, Ohio I would stand at the rise overlooking the tracks and wait to watch the trains roll by. I traveled by train in the 1980s in central Europe. A few years ago at the state fair, I spend almost my whole time mesmerized at the train museum. Today, when I have to travel farther than my bicycle will carry me, I go by train.

Rails Across Ontario begins with a short history of the railway build up in Ontario and presents some of the challenges both geographical and financial. Railway towns are discussed in some detail along with bridges. Bridges presented a challenge especially when crossing commercial waterway. Brown discusses the engineering that allowed both trains and ships to pass. Many bridges have been abandoned but the Wasauksing swing bridge is still operational and a tourist site.

Like the bridges, railway stations and hotels are described and likewise general locations of each are given. There is a call to preserve the heritage and save the buildings. Some have been converted to other uses. Ottawa’s grand Union Station has been converted to a convention center. Many are protected landmarks, but sadly left to decay on their own. Many of the ancillary structures are preserved, from round houses still in use to coal chutes.

Brown gives general locations of all the structures and if you are a train enthusiast or historian you can easily find all the places. It should be an easy task for those in Ontario, but detailed mapping might be needed for visitors. Individually covering each station and bridge will allow the reader to plan a day trip visiting different locations. The book is written as a guide more than as a history. There are very few photos and no maps in the book to help outsiders locate the landmarks and very little on the engines that ran on the rails. All in all it is a good book for railway enthusiasts and probably as very good book for enthusiasts and historians in Ontario. Three stars on the understanding that the audience for this book is Ontario residents.

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