EDITOR’S NOTE: In January, we published a photo of the last train that travelled through Stittsville. The photo shows a man waving at the train as it’s about to cross over Stittsville Main Street. The man waving was Phil Barton, and he was greeting his best friend Lorne Blackburn, the train’s engineer. Here’s a story about that final train trip.
On September 16, 1870 the first steam train passed through Stittsville. It travelled along a newly completed railway line that connected Brockville and Ottawa. The massive locomotive, named the “H. H. Abbott,” was built of shining steel with brass and red painted trim. It was decorated for the occasion with Union Jack flags along with red, white, and blue ribbons. One month before, a huge forest fire had destroyed much of Carleton County, so this gleaming new train would have stood out set against a blackened, charred landscape.
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The new rail line had a huge impact on the lives of Stittsville families. The rail line provided an economic boost to the small community, allowing its farmers and tradesmen to do business on a much broader scale. Trains remained Stittsville’s principle means of out-of-town travel and transport until automobiles became popular in the 1950s. Stittsville Station was demolished in 1969, but trains continued to pass through the village until 1990.
On the morning of January 14, 1990, nearly 120 years after the first train passed through Stittsville, Lorne Blackburn arrived at the Ottawa Station and climbed aboard Via Rail engine 6409 for the last time. Lorne would make history as the engineer of the last train to ever pass through Stittsville. Amongst the onlookers in the crowd was Lorne’s son Steve, who recently shared his father’s story and a collection of personal photographs with the Museum.
He recalled his father’s career with Via Rail, working as an engineer on Route #1, the westbound train destined for Vancouver, British Columbia. The train, named “The Canadian,” would pass through North Bay where Lorne and the team from Ottawa, would switch with a second crew, who would continue the journey west. Lorne would then return to Ottawa on the Route #2 train that was travelling east.
The crew from Ottawa included Lorne Blackburn and Ron Irvine who worked as a conductor. The team from North Bay included Bernie Fitsmorris as engineer and Don Green as the conductor. Apart from working together on the “The Canadian,” and sharing this last journey together, all four men decided to retire from Via Rail together following this milestone trip.
Thank you to the Blackburn family for sharing this piece of Stittsville history with us at Goulbourn Museum.
(This article originally appeared on the Goulbourn Museum’s blog and is republished here with permission. Writer Sarah Holla is a cutorial assistant at the museum.)