St. Thomas, the Railway Capital of Canada
Aerial photograph of St. Thomas, ca. 1960s. Courtesy of Elgin County Archives.
St. Thomas has long been known as the Railway Capital of Canada. Beginning in the nineteenth century, the city was a hub for a number of prominent railways, linking the American industrial east with the agriculture of the west. By 1914, eight different companies brought in over 100 trains every day, to three different stations.
The impressive international headquarters for the Canada Southern Railway was completed in 1873, and remains a St. Thomas landmark. In the extensive yard were machine and engine shops. This is where freight and passenger cars were built and locomotives repaired and even manufactured.
The age of steam brought prosperity to St. Thomas, quadrupling the population and providing the main source of employment for the city and surrounding county.
St. Thomas achieved international notoriety when the world’s largest elephant, Jumbo, was killed here in a tragic collision with a Grand Trunk train in 1885.
With the decline of the railways, St. Thomas has become a centre of manufacturing and industry, as well as a tourist attraction with the Iron Horse Festival and the annual visit of Thomas the Tank Engine attracting thousands each year. Its vibrant main street, Talbot Street, one of the longest in Canada for a city of this size, boasts a wide variety of independent shops. Downtown buildings are decorated with a series of paintings illustrating the significant events in the town’s history.
Today, St. Thomas is home to the Elgin County Railway Museum, the Elgin Military Museum, the Elgin County Archives and Museum, and of course, the North America Railway Hall of Fame, located in the historic Canada Southern Station.