Yours to Discover: Tourism in Ontario through Time: Impact of Improved  Transportation: The Spread of the Railway - Page Banner

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Ontario's developing population, with more leisure time and wealth at its disposal, had an increased desire to escape the growing city centres. This became easier with the web of railway lines which opened up the hinterlands of southern Ontario to sports and outdoor enthusiasts, resort hotels, and early cottagers.

The first railways were built in the 1850s to connect Montreal to Toronto and Ottawa to Prescott. Expansion was rapid and the railway map below shows the extent of completed railway routes in 1875 and charts the routes for planned railway systems.

Railway map of province of Ontario shewing lines chartered since Confederation by the Dominion and Ontario, 1875
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Railway map of province of Ontario shewing lines chartered
since Confederation by the Dominion and Ontario, 1875
Reference Code: A-6
Archives of Ontario, AO6551


Routes and fares for trips to summer resorts were published in pamphlets that were widely available from ticket agents in urban centres.

Photo: Grand Trunk Railway steam train, 1904
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Grand Trunk Railway steam train, 1904
John Boyd
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 7-3, 647
Archives of Ontario, I0003292

Phamphlet: Grand Trunk Railway routes and fares to seaside summer resorts
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Grand Trunk Railway routes and fares
to seaside summer resorts [no date]
Rail & Nav Pamphlets, Box 14, A-1
Archives of Ontario Library Collection

Steamboat and Railway Timetables, Toronto, 1904
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Steamboat and Railway Timetables, Toronto
and Summer Resort Guide, 1904
Rail & Nav Pamphlets, Box 24 D
Archives of Ontario Library Collection

Steamship lines and railroads coordinated their schedules so that passengers could move easily from train station to pier.

The poster below, from 1896, advertises a new route to the Muskoka Lakes and Georgian Bay that used a combination of rail and stagecoach.

A new route to Muskoka Lakes and Georgian Nay via Maple Lake, Tourist and Royal Mail Coach, 1896
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A new route to Muskoka Lakes and
Georgian Nay via Maple Lake,
Tourist and Royal Mail Coach, 1896
Archives of Ontario Poster Collection
Reference Code: C 233-1-3-2056
Archives of Ontario


Large and imposing railway stations such as this one, at Front and Yonge streets in Toronto, for the Great Western Railway were built in the main cities to handle the traffic. By 1890 nearly every town had a station for freight and passengers.

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Great Western Railway Station located at
Front and Yonge streets, Toronto, 1867
Photographer unknown.
William H. Hammond fonds
Reference Code: F 4436-0-0-0-19
Archives of Ontario, I0021822

Photo: Great Western Railway Station located at Front and Yonge streets, Toronto, 1867

Plan of the front elevation of a freight and passenger station for the Simcoe Great Western Railway Glencoe and Fort Erie Loop Line, [1870]
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Plan of the front elevation of a freight and passenger station
for the Simcoe Great Western Railway Glencoe and Fort Erie Loop Line, [1870]
Francis Shanly
Francis Shanly fonds
Reference Code: F 647, Series A-17, AO4156
Archives of Ontario, I0026638

Photo: Niagara Falls - aerial view of train station, [191-]
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Niagara Falls - aerial view of train station, [191-]
Harry Beattie
Black and white negative
Reference Code: C 278-1-0-7-1 A-1089
Archives of Ontario, I0021284


Many took the train to Bala on Lake Muskoka and transferred to a steamship to get to the resorts and cottages on the lakes.

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Summer visitors arrive at Bala, Muskoka, 1916
John Boyd
John Boyd fonds
Reference Code: C 7-3, 13521
Archives of Ontario, I0003551

Photo: Summer visitors arrive at Bala, Muskoka, 1916

Photo: Canoe Regatta, in Bala, Muskoka, 1913
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Canoe Regatta, in Bala, Muskoka, 1913
John Boyd
Black and white print
John Boyd fonds
Reference Code: C 7-3, 3326
Archives of Ontario, I0003458