The St. Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad, 1847-1881 by Alain Bernier

Guest blogger Alain Bernier returns to us to discuss another forgotten part of Quebec's railroad heritage, the St Lawrence & Industry Village Railroad! Once again, if you'd be interested in doing a guest blog yourself, feel free to reach out, we always appreciate those willing to help add relevant content to our site! 

The St. Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad, 1847-1881

© Alain Bernier, 2023

In Canada, as in many other countries, up until the second half of the 19th century, rivers and canals provided the main routes for long distance travel for goods and people.  Yet, the course of rivers did not always provide the shortest or most practical route between two destinations.  For example, to ship goods from Montreal, QC to upstate New York in the early 19th century, ships and barges had to navigate down the St. Lawrence River to Sorel, QC where they would enter the Richelieu River, going upstream to Lake Champlain.  The first part of the journey up the river would actually take them back towards Montreal, only a short distance inland.  Indeed, while the distance from Montreal to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu over land was under 20 miles, the journey between the same two cities on water added some 75 miles to the journey.  Although canals had commonly been used to shorten such routes, the advent of railroads promised to offer a more flexible and easily available alternative.  Indeed, in the early days of Canadian railways, they were seen as a complement to canals, not as a new separate means of transportation.  It is therefore unsurprising that the first railway in Canada, the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad, opened in 1836 to link La Prairie, QC (across from the Island of Montreal on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River) to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC in order to shorten the transit time on a vital trade link between Montreal and the United States.  A similar reason would lead to the construction, in 1847, of the fifth railway in Canada: the Chemin à rail du Saint-Laurent et du village d’Industrie (the St. Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad (SL&IVR)).  

The SL&IVR did not survive long as an independent railroad but its short history is quite interesting.  It resulted from the entrepreneurial mind of Barthélémy Joliette, a notary from the village of L’Assomption, QC and a direct descendant of Louis Jolliet, the renowned explorer of the Mississippi River.  In 1813, Barthélémy Joliette married Marie-Charlotte de Lanaudière, the daughter of the late Charles-Gaspard Tarieu Taillan de Lanaudière, Lord of the Manor of the Seigniory of Lavaltrie located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, some 30 miles downstream from Montreal.  As dowry she was bringing an undivided quarter of the Seigniory of Lavaltrie as well as a portion of the rights of the Lavaltrie family in the adjacent township of Kildare.  When the Lady of the Manor, Suzanne-Antoinette Margane de Lavaltrie, passed away in April 1822, Barthélémy Joliette was ready.

Though his marriage did not make him a seignior in title, the Lady of Lavaltrie was happy to let her husband take care of everything and Barthélémy acted, to all extent and purposes, like the de facto seignior.  While Pierre-Paul de Lanaudière, the new Head of the family and Lord of the Manor was content to reside in the manor and to misspend his portion of the seigniory’s revenues, Barthélémy Joliette along with his brother-in-law, Peter Charles Loedel (married to Marie-Antoinette de Lanaudière), had their mind set on developing the seigniory and making their share flourish. 

Unlike the typical seigniors who would essentially establish settlers on their land and live from the rents, taxes and benefits they derived from it, Barthélémy Joliette was an entrepreneur.  He was well aware of the potential of the unsettled wooden areas of the seigniory and of the township of Kildare.  He had big plans.

In December 1822, in order to be closer to the wooden areas primarily located at the far end of the seigniory and in the township of Kildare, Barthélémy started buying back plots of land that had been granted in that area but mostly left unattended.   In this part of the seigniory then known as the Nouveau Domaine de St-Paul (the New St. Paul Estate), he soon built a large stone building comprising a sawmill, a flour mill, two grain mills, a nail mill, and a carding and fulling mill.

Map showing the location of the Seigniory of Lavaltrie and of the township of Kildare c. 1850.

It shows the location of the Nouveau Domaine de St-Paul and its later expansion into the township of Kildare, as well as the location of the SL&IVR.  The tip of the Island of Montreal is visible at the bottom, the L’Assomption River 

is in the center, and the Richelieu River is on the right side .

This large and successful milling enterprise soon drew people looking for work and wishing to settle nearby. A map showing a few streets was drawn about 1824 and residential plots offered for sale.  Barthélémy himself chose to build his own manor in the new hamlet.  Within 10 years, a whole village had taken shape and in 1837, a second sawmill was built.

At that time, the few existing railroads were short local or regional endeavors like the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad.  They did not form a network, nor did they provide a significant alternative for long distance transportation.  The timber market was centered on Quebec City and that is where Barthélémy needed to send his lumber.  His only option was to float the lumber down the meandering L’Assomption River all the way to Montreal then down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City.  As can be observed on the previous map, this created an issue very similar to the one that had led to the construction of the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad.  While Barthélémy’s mills were located only 12 miles inland from the St. Lawrence River, the route over water added nearly 30 miles to the journey.  Barthélémy needed a railroad to bring his lumber directly to the St. Lawrence River.

Barthélémy associated with Loedel and several other investors and, on July 28, 1847, the St. Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad Company was incorporated by an Act of the Legislature of Canada-East (as the province of Quebec was then known) .  Before the end of 1847, subscribers were invited to purchase shares at the cost of 25 pounds sterling each, payable in 10 installments of 2 pounds 10 shillings over a period of no more than 18 months. This allowed many residents of the village of Industry as well as local farmers to buy shares, even if only 1 or 2 shares . Construction soon began and the line was completed in May 1850.  After considering a few possible alignments, the company had opted for a route through the neighbouring Seigniory of Lanoraie, connecting the village of Industry to the village of Lanoraie via the village of St-Thomas.  According to period newspapers, regular train service began on May 6, 1850 , including 3 daily roundtrip passenger services between the two termini.

To make the construction of the railroad as economical as possible, the SL&IVR purchased surplus wooden rails laid with strap iron that had recently been replaced with newer T-shape iron rails by the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad. The SL&IVR motive power and rolling stock were also purchased from the Champlain and St. Lawrence.  It included Canada’s first locomotive, the Dorchester, and Canada’s second, the Jason C. Peirce .  The Dorchester had been constructed in England in 1836 by the famed railway engineer Robert Stephenson.  The locomotives and rolling stock, including a passenger car and several flat cars, were shipped by barge to Lanoraie.  The 12-mile railroad was built according to the narrow gauge of four feet eight and a half inches .  It was built to the low rate of 1,000 pounds sterling per mile making the Quebec Mercury newspaper refer to it, in an article published in December 1852, as the “cheap railroad from the village of Lanoraie, upon the St. Lawrence River, to the flourishing village of Industry” .

The SL&IVR was not built for speed.  Trains maintained an average of 9 miles per hour with a top speed of 14 miles per hour, making the trip between the termini with stops in approximately an hour and a half.  Local accounts tell of a service so slow that passengers could alight to pick blueberries while the train struggled to keep up .  Unsurprisingly, lumber was the main outgoing freight.  Essential food and manufacturing implements made up the inbound freight.  While the railway was said to be a success from its inception, it is said that it only became really profitable in 1875 .  It is worth mentioning that since the SL&IVR was not connected to any other railway, its operations relied on shipping on the St. Lawrence River so it operated only during the shipping season when the river was free of ice.

Replica of the Dorchester at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum in St-Constant, QC.

Originally built with a 0-4-0 wheel arrangement, seen here, by the time it was purchased by the St. Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad, it had been rebuilt as a 4-2-0 .

Note the wooden rails laid with strip iron as they were originally used on the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad

and later on the St. Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad.

Barthélémy Joliette died on June 21, 1850 and did not witness the further development of his railroad company.

One of the first outsiders who envisioned the great benefits he could derive from the new railway was Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin the owner of lumber mills in Rawdon, a village located to the west of Industry Village, and of timber concessions along the Ouareau River.  He was faced with the same predicament Barthélémy Joliette had been: taking his lumber to the markets in Quebec City required navigating down the Ouareau River, then down the meandering L’Assomption River and finally down the St. Lawrence River.  It is not surprising that he decided to take example on Joliette and build his own railway from Rawdon connecting with the SL&IVR at the village of Industry.  To that purpose, in 1850 along with other investors, he incorporated the Industry Village and Rawdon Railway (IV&RR).  The construction was fraught with difficulties and the railroad never reached the village of Rawdon.  A section from Industry Village to Montcalm, some 6 miles from Rawdon, was inaugurated on December 4, 1852 but, by 1856, the company was bankrupt.  According to some accounts, a flood had washed away a bridge and the line was abandoned .  No matter how short lived this railway was, it appears to have benefited the SL&IVR since all the motive power and rolling stock were leased from the SL&IVR .

Another company who saw potential in associating with the SL&IVR was the Compagnie du Richelieu, a steamship line, established in 1845 as the Société de navigation du Richelieu (the Richelieu Shipping Corporation).  In its early days, its cargo and passenger ships navigated the Richelieu River.  Although the first couple years were very profitable for the shareholders, the company was facing significant competition on the Richelieu River and the future prospects were made even gloomier by the project of the Champlain & St. Lawrence Railroad to extend its line from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu all the way to the US border, as well as from the construction of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad to link Montreal, QC with Portland, ME .  Faced with low profits and a declining shipping industry on the Richelieu River, the Compagnie du Richelieu, between 1851 and 1853, progressively transferred its business from the Richelieu River to the St. Lawrence River .  In order to initiate discussions with the SL&IVR, the Compagnie du Richelieu fell back on no other than Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin, the president of the Industry Village and Rawdon Railway.  The discussions were successful and, in 1852, in exchange of 1,000 pounds sterling in shares, the SL&IVR granted the Compagnie du Richelieu the exclusive privilege of docking its ships at the SL&IVR’s pier in the village of Lanoraie to load or unload freight and to embark or disembark passengers to be transported by the SL&IVR.  A coordinated service was established between the two companies .

The last character of interest is Louis-Adélard Sénécal.  Sénécal was the crony and business partner of Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau who was elected Premier of the province of Quebec in October 1879.  Concerned with the huge amount of money invested by the province in the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway (QMO&OR) and with the condition of the railway, Chapleau made himself Commissioner of Railways and appointed Sénécal as General Superintendent of Railways.  In that position, Sénécal was all powerful  and his dealings with the SL&IVR (renamed the Joliette Railway Company (JRC) on October 31, 1879 ) were riddled with patronage, collusion and corruption.

The QMO&OR, completed between Quebec City and Montreal at the end of 1877, intersected the JRC (formerly SL&IVR) at what came to be known as the Joliette Junction, some 5 miles north of the village of Lanoraie, about halfway between the two termini.  The JRC was unballasted, in a bad state of repair with trains still rolling on wooden rails.  Its value was estimated at 44,000$.  Yet, the JRC had some value as a feeder line for the QMO&OR and, if extended six miles north of the village of Industry (by then renamed Joliette to honour the memory of Barthélémy Joliette), it would give access to a large gravel pit that would provide the best source of ballast between Montreal and Quebec City.  In May 1880, Sénécal urged Premier Chapleau to buy the JRC.  In the meantime, Sénécal bought enough stock of the JRC to take control of the company.  Sénécal was appointed to the company’s board of directors and he made sure obliging friends would be made president and vice-president.  The new administration of the JRC rebuilt the railroad with T-shape iron rails, diverting 7,805$ worth of government-owned rails.  They then offered the railroad to the government who purchased it in 1881 for 55,195$.  The president and vice-president, who were only frontmen, were paid 33,946$ and later testified that they had in fact reverted their stock to Sénécal and his partner, senator Alexandre Lacoste .

Once the line was acquired by the QMO&OR, the section from Joliette Junction to the pier in the village of Lanoraie was immediately abandoned.  Since the QMO&OR was now offering a direct connection with Quebec City and Montreal, the railway no longer depended on river traffic and could now operate year-round, making this section redundant.  In 1882, the remaining section of the former SL&IVR between Joliette Junction and Joliette along with the rest of the QMO&OR passed to the North Shore Railway.  It was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1885 . The CPR operated the section between Joliette Junction and Joliette until 1992 when it was ceded to the Chemin de fer de Lanaudière, a short-line railway still operating that section to this day.

Map showing the route of the SL&IVR, the Joliette Junction where the QMO&OR intersected the SL&IVR, as well as the section of the SL&IVR (by then the JRC) that was abandoned in 1881.

On the left, the dotted line is the route of the abandoned Industry Village and Rawdon Railroad .

A CPR commuter train at Lanoraie Station during a railfan tour in 1973.


The Lanoraie Station near Joliette Junction in 2004

© Jean-François Brulotte

140 years after it was abandoned, the section of the SL&IVR is still visible in the landscape between Joliette Junction and the St. Lawrence River.

The SL&IVR right of way also remains visible on cadastral plans as can be seen in the following three photos:

Source: Matrice graphique, Regional County Municipality of D’Autray


 Sources : Robert, Jean-Claude, Un seigneur entrepreneur, Barthélémy Joliette, et la fondation du village d’Industrie (Joliette), 1822-1850, in Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, Vol. 26, No 3, Décembre 1972, p. 380.

 Government of Canada, An Act to incorporate the St. Lawrence and Industry Village Rail-Road Company, 10-11 Victoria, Chapter 64, 28 July 1847, Montreal, Stewart Derbishire and George Desbarats, Law Printer to the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty.

 Robert, Jean-Claude, Un seigneur entrepreneur, Barthélémy Joliette, et la fondation du village d’Industrie (Joliette), 1822-1850, op. cit., p. 391, 392.

 O.S.A. Lavallée, La compagnie du chemin à rail du St-Laurent et du village d’Industrie : An account of the oldest constituent of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, whose centenary is observed in May 1950, in the newsletter of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association Inc., No. 8, May 1950, p. 2.

 Board of Railway Commissioners of Canada, Report of Samuel Keefer Esq., Inspector of Railways, for the Year 1858, Hamilton, Gillespy & Robertson, 1859, p. 7.

 Opening of the Industry and Rawdon Railway, in the Quebec Mercury (from the Montreal Gazette), December 16, 1852.

 Cartwright, Glenn F., Rawdon’s Railway Centennial, in Canadian Rail: The magazine of Canada’s Railway History, No. 540, January-February 2011, p. 32.

 O.S.A. Lavallée, La compagnie du chemin à rail du St-Laurent et du village d’Industrie : An account of the oldest constituent of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, whose centenary is observed in May 1950, op. cit., p. 2,3

 Cartwright, Glenn F., Rawdon’s Railway Centennial, op. cit., p. 33.

 Tulchinsky, Gerald, Une entreprise maritime canadienne-française – la compagnie du Richelieu 1845-1854, in Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, Vol. 26, No. 4, mars 1973, p. 568-569.

 Young, Brian J., Promoters and Politicians: The North-Shore Railways in the History of Quebec 1854-1885, University of Toronto Press, 1978, p. 112-113.

 An Act to Amend the Act of Incorporation of the “St. Lawrence and Industry Village Railroad Company”, in Statutes of Quebec, 42-43 Victoria, Chapter 50, 1879, p. 107.

 Young, Brian J., Promoters and Politicians: The North-Shore Railways in the History of Quebec 1854-1885, op. cit., p. 118.

 O.S.A. Lavallée, La compagnie du chemin à rail du St-Laurent et du village d’Industrie : An account of the oldest constituent of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, whose centenary is observed in May 1950, op. cit., p. 3.

Thanks as always for reading!


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