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RAILWAYS, STATIONS, AND LINEAR PARKS, PART 1

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Author: 
Matthew Farfan

A number of railway companies built lines in the Laurentians during the railway boom of the second half of the nineteenth century. In time, two companies would serve the region -- Canadian Pacific, and, to a lesser extent, Canadian National.

ANTOINE LABELLE AND LE P’TIT TRAIN DU NORD
Curé Labelle (Photo - Le P'tit Train du Nord)It was thanks to the tireless efforts of Curé Antoine Labelle (1833-1891), an influential priest in Saint-Jérome, who saw the railway as a means of populating the north with French-Canadian Catholics, that construction of a railway line was commenced from Saint-Jérome northwards. In 1891, the line reached Mont-Rolland. By 1892, it had reached Sainte-Agathe; by 1909, Mont-Laurier. This line, which would come to be dubbed Le P’tit Train du Nord, would contribute immensely to the development of industry and tourism in the Laurentians, and indeed to the settlement -- particularly to the northern part -- of the region.

Station, Piedmont. (Photo - Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club)The heyday of the P’tit Train du Nord was from about 1920 to 1940, when skiers by the trainload would travel north on special “snow trains” to enjoy the snow and trails of the Laurentians. In 1935, 40,000 skiers visited the Laurentians in this fashion. By about the 1950s, however, railway service had begun to decline. This was due largely to improvements in the road network between the 1950s and 1970s, especially the construction of the Laurentian Autoroute.

Passenger service on the P’tit Train du Nord was interrupted in the early 1960s, was revived in the 1970s, and finally ceased for good in 1981. Freight service was terminated in 1989, and the rails were removed the following year.

In a relatively short time, the railway, which was such a major influence on the history of the Laurentians, has nearly vanished from the region’s landscape. Fortunately, however, important traces of this legacy remain in the form of railway stations and a breathtaking 200 km linear park.

Station, Ste-Agathe. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)PRESERVATION
Thanks in large part to local preservationists, a number of historic train stations in and around the Laurentians have been preserved and restored to their former grandeur. In 1985, the Mouvement de survie des gares began organizing to save surviving stations from demolition. Renamed the Corporation des gares des Laurentides in 1987, the organization included committees in eight towns -- Mont-Laurier, L’Annonciation, Sainte-Agathe, Mont-Rolland, Prévost, Saint-Jérome, Sainte-Thérèse, and New Glasgow. L’Annonciation’s station was the first among this group to be restored. In 1988, it was transformed into a tourist information bureau, exhibition hall and museum.

References:
http://www.rootsweb.com/~qclauren/trains.htm
MRC d’Antoine-Labelle, Guide d’interpretation du Parc lineaire Le «Petit Train du Nord», 1996.
Le Réseau des gares des Laurentides, «Historique des gares des Laurentides,» 2002.
Association touristique des Laurentides, Laurentides – Official Tourist Guide 2004.

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