History of the PPJ Railway
As an important supplier of wood to the railroad industry, the Montreal Northern Colonization Railroad Company's decision to install a part of the Trans-Canada Railroad in Pontiac made sense. To guarantee the laying of the rails, Pontiac had to purchase $150 000 worth of shares, which was an enormous amount of money in that era. Council adopted the motion and when bad luck struck the firm and it collapsed under suspicious circumstances, Pontiac was released from its obligation.
The provincial government took possession of the railway, and promised Pontiac a railroad. The railroad called the Pontiac Pacific Junction (PPJ) was incorporated in 1880 with a charter authorizing the construction of a railroad from Aylmer to Pembroke. This charter was to encourage the provincial government to complete the original line from Montreal to Pembroke, which was necessary to link Pontiac to the vast Pan-Canada network. However, it rapidly became obvious that the provincial government was bankrupt and the PPJ had no other choice than to find the essential funds elsewhere.
The acronym PPJ inspired the phrase «Push, Pull and Jerk».
Pontiac Council was once again asked for a contribution of $100,000 for the construction of the line. Since the railroads of that era depended exclusively on public funds, the question had to be voted on and validated by the majority of voices. The evident advantages of a railroad might give the impression that the vote would be easily won. However, this didn't happen. The construction of the PPJ happened in a troubled atmosphere. The population was divided, even in families. The opposition won the first part of the fight, but for all that, the promoters didn't admit defeat. The Council was reunited in September after the farmers who had opposed the project were gone out to the woods. Now that the influence of those opposing the project was reduced, the vote was favourable! It is not surprising that the mention of the railroad continued to anger some people for years.
However, there was more bad luck to come. In 1884 Pontiac was opposed to covering the interest on the $100,000 bonds. Suddenly realizing the impact of such a levy on a sparsely populated region, the Council decided not to honour its contract under the pretence that the PPJ hadn't respected its obligations. The Pontiac Pacific Junction, or the "Push, Pull, and Jerk" as locals affectionately called it, appealed to London's Private Council, which concluded that Pontiac's claims were unfounded and that the region was therefore obligated to respect the clauses of the contract. The PPJ had just made a bitter enemy, but it had won.
While local conflict between men persisted, the railroad continued to grow. It reached Quyon in 1885, Shawville and Fort-Coulonge in 1886, and finally, Waltham, in 1888, where it stopped, having not reached Pembroke.
Despite the heavy debt that the county had to carry, its inhabitants soon began to enjoy the benefits of the railway. Towns and villages along the route grew and prospered. Logs, which were previously exported by water, were now sawn on site and shipped as timber. Farmers had access to external markets and a dairy industry was born. Twenty stations were built along the line making the railway a convenient and inexpensive means of transportation to Ottawa.
Local wheat represented an important crop until the 1930s, but in 1934, wheat prices collapsed when improvements to the transportation system made it cheaper to import grain from western provinces. The trend towards greater industrialization and specialization was felt in all sectors in Pontiac. Small farmers that had devoted their life to mixed farming found themselves without a market and several young people migrated to the cities. At the end of the Second World War, large grist mills and flour distributors had the lion's share of the flour market. In 1944, the Clarendon mill closed its doors.
For much of the 20th century, the Waltham subdivision was a busy and profitable line. But passengers inevitably declined with the improvement of roads and the growing popularity of automobiles. The two daily passenger trains became one and in 1955, it combined passengers and cargo. Canadian Pacific proceeded to dissolve most of its leasing companies in 1958, acquiring all their properties and assets and passenger service was discontinued in 1959. However, the line was still essential to Hilton's iron mine in Bristol. It wasn't until 1977 when the Bristol mine closed that rail service ended in Pontiac.
In 1984, less than 100 years after its construction, the railroad was dismantled from Wyman to Waltham. The line between Wyman and Aylmer met the same fate in 1987.
An important page of the Pontiac's history was turned.