In 1831, the new Welland Canal built under the direction of William Hamilton Merritt was completed. As a result of this new mode of transportation, business along the Portage Road diminished. In order to compete with the canal, the businessmen of the Portage Road formed the Erie & Ontario Railroad Company.
The original application for a charter to form the Erie & Ontario Railroad Company was turned down by the Provincial Legislature in 1832 and 1833.
On April 16th 1835, the Erie & Ontario Railroad Company received a government charter to begin operation. Construction soon began on their railroad and it would be the first railroad in Canada.
At a general meeting on September 7 1835, civil engineer, James Archibald of Luzerne, Pennsylvania was awarded the contract to build this railroad. The railway was completed within five years after construction had started.
On July 3 1845, the Erie & Ontario Railroad began operations from Chippawa to Niagara. The railroad gauge was much wider for horse drawn carriages and shared track from Stamford to Clifton with the Great Western Railroad (Canadian National Railroad).
The carriages were box like compartments with doors on each side along with running boards to allow easier access. The seats ran across and each carriage had room for about 20 passengers. Luggage was carried on the roof and the driver had an outside seat at roof level. The carriage had four wheels and was pulled along at 13 km/h.
The start of the railroad was at the Queenston depot, located at the north-east of the rivers edge,which is today York Road at Front Street. The team of three horses used to pull the railcars up the escarpment were switched for a fresh team consisting of one or two horses to continue the remainder of the journey. This stop over became known as the Stamford Halfway.
The next stop occurred on Concession 2 (Stanley Avenue) at Ferry Road (Ferry Street). This was the rail depot owned by Lanty McGilly. Here passengers destined for the USA would disembark and would transfer to a stagecoach which would take them to the Maid of the Mist dock. The Railroad Hotel was built on the north-west corner to cater to the railroad passengers (Current site of Napoli Pizzeria). It was owned and operated by Adam Fralick. The Railroad Inn was demolished in the mid 1940’s.
The railway followed a general path along the current Canadian Pacific Railroad line. The train stopped at the Pavilion Hotel to allow passengers to get on or off. The Chippawa terminal was located at the dock along the Chippawa Creek (current site of Front Street at Norton Street). Here steamboats from Buffalo brought daily passengers to Niagara Falls.
This railroad could not operate during the winter. This coincided with the cancellation of steamboat services for the season. This railroad became known as the Erie and Ontario Railroad Coach.
In 1852, the Erie & Ontario Railroad applied for and was granted a revision to its charter allowing for a change to steam power. In 1853, the Erie & Ontario Railway relocated its tracks from bush lands to pass through the new centers of the settlements. This relocation resulted in the Erie & Ontario Railway passing much closer to the Niagara River from Chippawa to Clifton
The original railroad was rebuilt for steam operation using a narrower rail gauge. The route was changed to provide for a gentler grade at Queenston and to be located closer to the Railway Suspension Bridge in Niagara Falls.
Samuel Zimmerman of Clifton took over financial control over the Erie & Ontario Railroad and began by invest money into extending the rail line to Niagara (Niagara on the Lake).
The newly relocated railroad line followed a path very close to the current Canadian Pacific Railroad. The new Erie & Ontario rail line ended at Victoria Avenue at B ridge Street where it joined with the existing Great Western Railroad.
In 1854, the Erie & Ontario Railroad extended its service northward from Queenston to Niagara on the Lake. This extension allowed the railroad to connect to an already established Lake Ontario steamer service docking at Niagara on the Lake. In the same year, the Great Western Railroad proposed to buy the Erie & Ontario Railway but their share holders did not approve.
Following Zimmerman’s death, the Erie & Ontario Railroad changed its name to the Fort Erie Railroad Company.
In 1862, the Fort Erie Railroad Company was purchased by William Thompson and in 1863, the company became known as the Erie & Niagara Railroad.
In 1864, the Erie & Niagara Railway was extended southward from Chippawa to the Fort Erie ferry dock. From here, the Railroad provided passenger service to the many crossing passengers crossing the Niagara River by ferry boat from Buffalo.
The Buffalo-Fort Erie ferry boat service continued until 1873, when the International Railway Bridge spanning the upper Niagara River between Buffalo and Fort Erie was built.
In 1864, there was one train trip per day running from Buffalo to Niagara on the Lake. The train would leave Buffalo at 7 a.m. and would arrive at Niagara on the Lake by noon. A return trip was made beginning at 2 p.m. arriving back in Buffalo at 7 p.m.
In 1869, the Erie & Ontario Railroad became the Niagara division of the Canadian Southern Railroad. In order to access the American market, The Canadian Southern Railroad formed a partnership with the Michigan Central Railroad. The Canadian Southern Railroad had a rental agreement with the Great Western Railroad to use their rail line and to cross their railway suspension bridge at the Niagara border.
In 1873, the Canadian Southern Railroad was running three trains per day between Fort Erie and Niagara on the Lake.
The Canadian Southern Railway began advertising the Falls View and all day trains were stopped 15-20 minutes at this location for sightseeing purposes. Fast trains were stopped for 5 minutes before continuing.
In 1878, the Erie & Niagara Railroad became part of the Canadian Southern Railway. The Canadian Southern Railroad built two railway stations along its route in Niagara Falls. The main station was called the “Clifton Station”. It was a large two storey train station located on Queen Street at Park Street (the parking lot of the former Rosberg’s Department Store). The second station was the “Niagara Falls Station” but became known as the famous “Victoria Park Station”. It was located at the top of Ferry Road (Clifton Hill).
By 1882, the financial cost to cross the Canada-USA border using the Great Western Railroad suspension bridge was too excessive for the financially strapped Canadian Southern Railroad. By agreement, the assets of the Canadian Southern Railroad were taken over by the Michigan Central Railroad. The Michigan Central Railway had leased the railway for 21 years. Before the original lease expired, the Michigan Central Railway renewed its lease for use of the rail line for 999 more years. This lease still exists today although many changes of ownership have taken place.
In 1883, the Michigan Central Railway built a double track from Welland to Niagara Falls where it connected to the Grand Trunk Railway (formerly Great Western Railway) in order to provide passenger train service to the USA via the GTR’s International Suspension Train Bridge at the base of Bridge Street.
A dispute over the use of the Grand Trunk Railway Bridge by the Michigan Central Railway ensued. This directly resulted in the Michigan Central Railway building the International Railway Bridge spanning the Niagara River Gorge just south of the Grand trunk Railroad Bridge.
In 1883, the rail bed of the Michigan Central Railway leading to the new bridge followed a route that brought the tracks past the front (east side) of Loretto Academy. This resulted in a portion of the original Portage Road in that area to be closed to accommodate the Michigan Central Railroad. All Michigan Central Railroad trains stopped at Falls View for at least 10 minutes to allow everyone to view the majestic Falls of Niagara. The Michigan Central Railroad built two additional train depots: the Falls View Station and the Wesley Park Station.
The former Erie & Ontario rail line continued to operate until the mid 1920’s before passenger service was terminated. This rail line continued to function for freight train service until the rail line was closed completely in 1959.
In 1925, the Michigan Central Railroad discontinued rail service from Fort Erie to Chippawa.
In 1929, the New York Central Railroad leased the Michigan Central Railroad for 99 years. On January 2 1930 the New York Central Railroad began operations along the former Michigan Central Railway right of way through the center of Niagara Falls.
In mid 1940’s the New York Central Railway tried to abandon this rail line to Niagara on the Lake however it remained in service until 1959. Although passenger service had ceased after 1926, only freight continued to be transported.
On March 20th 1950, the New York Central Railroad roundhouse at Montrose Road was gutted by fire.
On April 8th 1960, a rock slide along the Niagara Escarpment destroyed seventy feet of track belonging to the New York Central Railroad from St. David’s to Niagara on the Lake.
In 1968 the New York Central Railroad was purchased by the Penn Central Railroad.
In 1976, the Conrail Railroad was established and began operations after acquiring the assets of the Penn Central Railway and a number of other railroads.
In 1983, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway purchased the Conrail system.
The City of Niagara Falls planned on the relocation of the rail line in order to ensure safety for all of its passengers, but this never happened.
In 1965, rail relocation was estimated to cost $7.2 million dollars.
In 1970, rail relocation was estimated to cost $9 million dollars.
In 1972, rail relocation was estimated to cost $10 million dollars.
Between 1999 and 2001, the City of Niagara Falls in association with the Province of Ontario and Casino Niagara (Falls Management Company) negotiated a purchase of this 10.6 kilometre (6.5 miles) long by 30 meters (100 feet) wide railway right of way from the Canadian Pacific Railroad for $39.5 million dollars.
The deal was closed on December 19th 2001.
All Canadian Pacific Railway trains are now being re-routed along the Canadian National Railway line crossing the Niagara River by use of the International Railway Bridge Buffalo to Fort Erie.
Today, a stone cairn is located at the corner of Stanley Avenue and Morrison Street that commemorates the Erie & Ontario Railroad as the first railroad in Upper Canada and the third in the Province of Ontario.