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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Heritage Essex celebrates 150th anniversary of first train rolling through town


by Sylene Argent

In May of 1873, residents of the still very young Village of Essex gathered around the small wooden train station to watch in awe as the very first train screeched to a halt upon the tracks the Canada Southern Railway began to lay just a year earlier.

Essex was still in its infancy then, as pioneers started to settle along Talbot Street just 50-years before. The introduction of the railroad significantly contributed to Essex’s growth, which led to earning town status in 1890.

On Sunday, Heritage Essex, which maintains the Essex Railway Station, hosted a community celebration, recognizing the 150th anniversary of the first train coming into Essex.

Marnie Aldridge, Manager at the historic Essex Railway Station, was pleased to offer station tours, allow visitors inside the caboose onsite to see a model train exhibit and other artifacts, and offer live music from local band “The Boys of Rhythm,” who focused on playing train-related tunes.

The event also allowed Heritage Essex an opportunity to introduce a new train painting display that will allow individuals to gather around it to take photos. It is hoped the new addition will add a fun activity when events are held and help drum up buzz as individuals place their photos online.

The train-themed display will have “Essex” added upon it in the near future.

In addition, Essex author Laurie Brett was onsite with her history book, “The Rising Village: An Early History of Essex, Ontario,” which chronologizes the early origins of Essex Centre, including the local train-related history.

Bob Mitchell is a Director for Heritage Essex, but his love for trains goes back into the early days of his childhood. His grandfather was a Station Agent in Indian Head, Saskatchewan for CPR. His mother, having a pass for the railway due to her father’s position, took young Mitchell to stay with his grandfather for the summer between the ages of three and seven as he said Polio in the Windsor-Essex County region at the time was bad.

He remembers sitting in his grandfather’s station, hearing the rumble of the trains rolling it, and developed a love for all things locomotive.

“I’ve got that in my blood,” he said, wearing a pair of coveralls and hat he used to wear as a volunteer with what used to be the Salem and Hillsborough Railroad. He volunteered there for seven-years when it operated 14-miles of track in New Brunswick. He discovered the place when he worked for Black’s Photography and was transferred to Moncton.

“I couldn’t stay away,” he said, noting it no longer runs trains, but it now operates as the New Brunswick Railway Museum.

Information Mitchell provided notes Essex’s fieldstone station was originally built in 1887 by the Canadian Division of the Michigan Central Railroad. The line stretched from Niagara Falls and crossed the Detroit River in Amherstburg.

In 2012, the tracks were uprooted, officially ending the railroad history locally.

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