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Blight of Bonuses, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

The benefits of all this railway building were somewhat counter balanced by the financial burdens which they laid upon the municipalities which were served. No construction was undertaken without liberal gifts of money, and many municipalities, in their anxiety to secure railway accommodation, gave far beyond their means.

The Midland Railway took $80,000 from Ops and Lindsay, $100,000 from the town of Peterborough, $60,000 from the township of Hope and the amazing sum of $680,000 from the little town of Port Hope.

The Toronto and Nipissing Railway received $386,500 in municipal bonuses, of which $44,000 came from Eldon, $15,000 from Bexley, $15,000 from Somerville, and $12,500 from Laxton, Digby and Longford.

The Victoria Railway secured $214,000 in such grants, $85,000 being paid by Lindsay, $15,000 by Fenelon Falls, $15,000 by Somerville, $7,000 by Verulam, and $55,000 by Haliburton county.

The Whitby Railway, as already stated, drew in $85,000 from Lindsay and adjacent municipalities.

Local tax rates long recorded the chilling effect of these expenditures; and many years passed by before the general increase in prosperity, due to improved transportation, vindicated in some measure the prophetic rashness that had plunged into debt.

If we once grant that the railways, though perhaps prematurely and unnecessarily multiplied, were yet needed for the development of the countryside, it is hard to imagine any better plan for their financing than that of municipal bonusing. Little capital, either foreign or domestic, was available for investments in such enterprises. Government grants were certain ultimately to return to the tax payer with horns on; and as railway construction was even more feverish in the rest of the province than in this county, a blanket government subsidy to all companies would have borne unfairly on Victoria. Municipal bonuses were paid by those immediately served and though the levies caused temporary distress, the steady economic benefits of the railways gradually brought relief.

The Battle of the Barricade

An incident which is unique in the history of local railways occurred in Lindsay on November 13, 1877.

A long strip of land lying between King Street and the river and stretching east from Lindsay Street for several rods, had been occupied for more than ten years by a siding of the Midland Railway. The railway company therefore claimed possession.

In 1877, Thomas Fee, a local lumberman, bought this parcel of land from Robert Lang, an official of the Lindsay Land Company, and proposed to erect a mill on the site.

As the railway was obdurate, Fee decided to take the law into his own hands. On the night of November 13th, he and Lang gathered a bodyguard about them, took possession of the lot, and set up a strong fence across the siding which ran into it.

Mr. Burton, the railway agent, then brought out an engine and prepared to batter his way through the barricade. The defenders then drew revolvers; a battle seemed imminent; and Lang, who happened to be a Justice of the Peace, climbed on top of a dry goods box and read the Riot Act. Burton accordingly withdrew and telegraphed his troubles to the Head Office at Port Hope.

Morning saw Fee and Lang entrenched with a force of 50 men; but a train which arrived from Port Hope at noon brought in an army of 100 section hands, gathered up along the line. The engine was thereupon driven resolutely through the fence, and a melee ensued in which the railway forces were victorious.

This astonishing breach of the peace was afterwards investigated by Judge Molesworth. It was found that the land in dispute had been conveyed to the government Board of Works by William Purdy in 1843. It therefore formed no part of the Purdy estate taken over by Lang and the Lindsay Land Company in 1856, and belonged in 1877 neither to Fee nor to the railway but to the government.

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