Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Canada Car & Manufacturing Company

Toronto Steel, Iron & Railway Works Company, Ltd

The Canada Car & Manufacturing Company was given birth by the Toronto Steel, Iron & Railway Works Company, Ltd. The latter was founded in the mid 1860s by two Toronto stock brokers and financial agents, John L. Blaikie and William Alexander. It produced mainly signals and track appliances. One piece of its stationary steam engines was manufactured by William Hamilton & Sons’ St. Lawrence Foundry.

Through the years Blaikie invented a number of articles and processes useful to the railway industry, but by the early 1870s the company’s revenues were declining and they were looking for other fields of opportunity.

In 1872, Blaikie and Alexander were approached by a group interested in establishing a railway car factory using their works as a basis. Blaikie and Alexander would receive stock in the new enterprise in exchange for title to their factory. There was just one little problem. Their factory had been built on five acres of military reserve land, and their lease would expire in just eight years. A longer lease would have to be negotiated if the deal was to be worthwhile. And the negotiations would be complicated by the fact that in 1870, the Province of Ontario had purchased the reserve from the Dominion with the intent of building a new Central Prison. Car factory or prison, which was it to be?

In the usual manner of business and political negotiations (and Ashdown goes through all the details), the car factory needed the facilities, and the authorities needed an activity for their convicts. After long and sometimes contentious negotiations, the final agreement was that —

1.   the car company would employ as many prisoners as the prison could provide, up to a maximum of 260.
2.   the car company would provide training in the various trades required.

the car company could use the manufacturing facilities being constructed as part of the prison.

4.   the government would provide heat, light, power, water, tracks and offices at the prison.
5.   the government would build stipulated iron-mongering equipment and facilities at the prison.
6.   the car company might utilize prison space for storing lumber and other material.
7.   the car company was not limited to the construction of railway cars.

It was 1871 before agreement was reached, and construction of the prison commenced, and October of 1873 before it was finished and the workshops turned over to the car company. During this time a great deal of renegotiation was carried on, and the car company ended up building and installing much of the track and machinery promised by the government.

Since the prison workshops would be connected to the car factory by only a road and a railroad track, the general plan was for the prisoners to build the trucks and woodwork for the cars at the prison and for the final assembly to be done in the car factory itself. The factory was thus set up to be primarily an assembly and finishing area.

Work continued during this time on the car factory itself, and was largely completed by the summer of 1873. It formally opened in February 1874 as the Canada Car & Manufacturing Company, Ltd. Unfortunately, during the several years of construction, and with the prisoner labor not yet available, the company lost several large orders for cars. It opened, however, with a substantial order for platform cars (flat cars) for the Great Western Railway and promise of a substantial order for trucks from the Intercolonial Railway, which was about to change its tracks from broad gauge to standard. It would be June, however, before prison labor would be available.

For much greater detail about this fascinating endeavor, see —

Ashdown, Dana William. Iron & Steam; A History of the Locomotive and Railway Car Builders of Toronto. Toronto, ON: Robin Brass Studio, 1999.

09 April 2006

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