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Bytown and Prescott Railway

The Bytown and Prescott Railway was a railway built to join Prescott, Ontario, on the Saint Lawrence River, with Ottawa, Ontario, then called Bytown, on the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.

Thomas McKay and partners decided to build a railway from Bytown, Upper Canada (now Ottawa, Ontario) by the most direct route to the St. Lawrence river to transport logs, which hitherto had to be floated down the Ottawa River to Montreal and thence to Quebec City to be loaded onto ships bound for Europe.

The idea was to build the Bytown terminus on the Ottawa River just above the Chaudière Falls, saving the need to form log booms at that point. As the project progressed, however, the location of the Bytown terminus was shifted to a property already owned by McKay well below the falls (where the Department of Foreign Affairs now stands). This may have reduced the project's initial investment by its owner, but it seriously undermined the viability of the scheme. The re-located terminus meant that the logs had to be assembled into rafts to use the timber slide that bypassed the falls, and then promptly disassembled and lifted up a considerable cliff to the rail yard. Operation of the Bytown and Prescott (the terminus on the St. Lawrence) began in 1854, with the official arrival of the first train into Bytown on December 24th, 1854.

Eventually, the Bytown and Prescott Railway was absorbed into the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Ottawa terminus was in use as a secondary rail yard until the 1950s. The rails in Ottawa were finally lifted in 1966, the same year in which all rail traffic was removed from the downtown core of the city. The footings of the bridge crossing the nearby Rideau River are still evident. A small spur line still exists from Kemptville, heading south for a few kilometres.

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