Montague, not unlike any other town on the Island, often found itself at the mercy of decision makers far removed from the daily realities of the town’s citizens. Such was the case as the nineteenth century drew to a close, and the rallying cries for Montague to join the modern world by means of a railway grew increasingly louder.
The Island itself has a long and storied history surrounding the railway, and it is true that for the people on the Island at that time the railway was more than just a modern convenience, it was a crucial and essential life line which served to connect a town to the rest of the world. In fact, the key condition which Prince Edward Island set forth in its conditions of joining Canadian Confederation was that the federal government of Canada would complete the intra-provincial railway project already under way.
This project, initiated in 1871, had served almost to bankrupt the fledgling province, and thus the government of Canada consented to financing and completing the provincial railway as a condition of Confederation; however, it was stipulated under the Prince Edward Island Terms of Union that “that the railways under contract and in course of construction for the Government of the Island, shall be the property of Canada.”
But the implementation of a railroad on Prince Edward Island soon turned out to be of little benefit to the people of Montague, for as they were not part of the main West to East line which had been drawn out by the province they were to be neglected by the the encroaching tracks. Historical notes from the beginning of the twentieth century record that by 1901 the village of Montague Bridge (as Montague was then known at the time) was demanding for it to be connected to the nearby Georgetown line, which was already demonstrating the potential economic and touristic boom which could was found to be resultant of the line.
At public meetings, it was made clear by the public that: “The area’s travelling facilities [are] decidedly behind the age… many persons [are] deterred from coming to the village on account of our not having railway communication…” It was already well known that Montague was becoming a commercial centre. In 1888, it had been chosen as the site of a new Customs House and Post Office, and it was strongly felt that the addition of a rail line would aid in the rapid growth of the town.
Public pressure continued to mount as the benefits of the Island railway system continued to be made clear. According to Historic Places, “continued agitation of local political figures such as Senator Robertson eventually led to the call for tenders for the Montague railway on October 5, 1904. By July 1905, newspapers were reporting that construction was proceeding well. A bridge was being built over the Brudenell River and into the village of Cardigan. By October, the last of the rails were being laid and work on the interior of the new station building was beginning.”
The grand opening of the station was Dominion Day, July 1st 1906, and it was on that day that the train rolled into town for the first time. It was a momentous day in the town, and a large crowd had gathered to celebrate the occasion. To commemorate the event, the public was invited to board the train for a ride to Georgetown and back, something which was remembered fondly in the area for years to come.
The benefits to the town were almost immediate. Montague, always much noted for its beauty, soon found itself recommended highly by tourism publications and brochures of the time. In fact, in the oft-celebrated Summer Provinces by the Sea handbook, it was reported that Montague features “a very pleasing picture presented by the flocks of sheep and young, sportive lambs feeding in the fields just recently harvested, together with the smiling “stooks” of grain, and the never-failing dark green belt of trees for a background.”
Further reviews were equally as positive, claiming that “for sheer beauty the Montague River district is surely second to none, and without fear of contradiction it may be termed picturesque and charming. The six-mile run from Montague Junction to Montague through beautiful woodlands, with occasional prospect of hill, valley and stream, is most enjoyable; and lovely Montague, and quaint Georgetown with its wide, quiet, and pleasant streets and modest little shore bungalows, are both places that should be seen by all.”
The Station continued to be a central focus of Montague’s economic, social, and cultural development as the town continued to grow. Notable among these events was the 1910 visit of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919), who would be defeated in the election of September 21, 1911 – mainly over the issue of Reciprocity with the United States.
As could be expected, the train proved to be an integral part of the community throughout the booms and busts of the twentieth century, but, just as was the case among all Island communities, with the introduction of the passenger automobile, coupled with the furtherance in the development of Island roads, the need for mass rail transit soon fell to the wayside.
It is then, in this instance, that the people of Montague are to be commended, for they had the prescient foresight to recognize the heritage value of their beautiful Railway Station. By 1984 the station had been purchased from the government by the Town of Montague, and had been renovated into an innovative welcome center for tourists to the area.
Further, with the complete removal of the Island’s rail lines in the 1990s, the entire framework of the province was reshaped with the creation of the Confederation Trail, which now spans the Island from tip to tip, including all of the branch lines, such as can be found in Montague. Now, whether by walking or cycling, one can explore the natural and cultural history of the Island from along the trail.
To learn more about the history of the railway in Montague, to view the Montague Train Station building, or to tour the Confederation Trail by bicycle, visit the Station Street Adventure Company in Montague, Prince Edward Island.