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The General and the Peanut Line

The “peanut line”, more familiar to the residents of South Glengarry, than those dwelling in the two northern Townships, was the creation of the Glengarry& Stormont Railway Company.

This company was formed in 1912, in response to dissatisfaction with freight charges imposed by the Grand Trunk Railway and expressed by the growing manufacturing industry in Cornwall. Toronto Paper and Canadian Coloured Cottons were among the companies complaining. Courtaulds would also become a major customer of the G&SR when the Cornwall plant opened in 1925.

The G&SR was incorporated in 1912 with the primary objective of providing Cornwall manufacturers with an alternative rail transportation route. This was to be a spur line running from the Canadian Pacific Railway mail line at Coteau Junction through the Townships of Lancaster and Charlottenburg to the Cornwall terminal on Pitt Street at 6th and the freight sheds adjacent to Sydney Street.

There were to be five passenger stations on the new line enabling access to both Montreal and Cornwall for residents of Glen Brook, Williamstown, Glen Gordon, North Lancaster and Bridge End. Not only did this enable the transport of local produce, but enabled children to attend high school in Williamstown.

The Sun Life Assurance Company became the lead financier and by May 8th, 1913 funding was in place and construction commenced on the line. At this point the General, a newcomer to Glengarry, enters the story. The name C.L. Hervey, a civil engineer, headed the list of people involved in this new company.

Chilion Longley Hervey (1872 – 1952) was born in Paris, Illinois. His father was from Maitland, Ontario. Hervey was educated at Port Hope, St John’s Military Academy and Rose Polytechnic in Indiana. He worked as an engineer building railways in the United States, Canada and Cuba. He took some time out to exercise his military skills in the Spanish-American War (1898-99) during which he became a sergeant.

The “peanut line” was completed in November 1914, and Hervey, who now resided outside the village, was entertained to a celebratory lunch in Williamstown. By this time the line was unofficially open for freight and a passenger train service commenced on 20th March 1915, with the completion of the stations. Canadian Pacific took a 99 year lease on the G&SR on 1st June 1915. The Line became the Cornwall Sub-Division of the CPR.

As the construction of the line progressed, Hervey was busy promoting another railway line in the area, running from Cornwall to Hawkesbury via Martintown, Alexandria and Vankleek Hill. This line was not built, resources being needed elsewhere for the war effort.

In the spring of 1915, the British War Office requested that Canada provide two railway construction companies. The Canadian Pacific Railway responded to this request by forming the Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps consisting of 500 “picked” men. Hervey volunteered for the Corps and was placed in command of one of the Companies. He was immediately given the rank of Major. By August 1915, Hervey and his men were in France. The Canadian railway building skills were legendary, particularly when it came to building trestle structures to replace destroyed and damaged bridges. The CORCC also pioneered narrow gauge railways (700mm wide) to rapidly replace destroyed roads and regular rail tracks. In this the Canadians played an enormously important role in the wartime logistics.

In January 1917, Hervey was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, commanding the 4th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops. This unit participated with great vigour in the battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Hervey was Mentioned in Despatches on three occasions. During the German spring offensive in 1918, Hervey’s troops were advancing their narrow gauge railways, when they were called upon to cover the allied withdrawal. The Railway Troops distinguished themselves during this action and for this Hervey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

Hervey’s expertise in battlefield logistics was universally recognized and in June 1918, he was recalled to the War Office in London and promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. He was also decorated by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

Following the War, General Hervey returned to his home near Williamstown, to his wife and four children. He had been of great service to Canada. It appeared that his railway building career was over. He would set about “naturalizing” himself as a Glengarrian. He was a war hero and a political career seemed like a good place to start his new life.

In October 1919 federal election, the General ran as the Independent Conservative candidate for Glengarry-Stormont. He was narrowly defeated. He ran again in the 1921 election as a Conservative, only to be defeated for a second time by J.W.Kennedy, the Progressive candidate. The General received support from the towns and villages, but he could not secure the rural farm vote.

Meanwhile, the G&SR “peanut line” continued to thrive throughout the General’s retirement and no doubt he benefitted from his earlier participation in the company. It seems a sad coincidence that the year the General died, 1952, the last CPR passenger train ran on the line. General Hervey died at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He was buried at Maitland, Ontario.

The decline of the “peanut line” was spurred by the closing of the old Cornwall station in 1969 and the removal of the tracks east to Augustus Street. In February 1987, the freight sheds burned down. In November of that year, a locomotive suffered the indignity of being knocked off the tracks by a gravel truck while crossing the newly paved Boundary Road. With closure of Courtaulds in 1993, the CPR had lost its major customer and so decided to abandon the sub-division in 1995, removing the tracks three years later in 1998.

Robin Flockton

November 23, 2015

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