MacTier celebrates a century thanks to the
July 10, 2008
Source: The Muskokan
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MacTier, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, was a late
When most of Muskoka had already been settled for a generation or
more, MacTier was just emerging unto the world. And unlike so many
communities in Muskoka, MacTier was not built upon the dreams of
land hungry homesteaders or the aspirations of lumber companies
eager to exploit the forests of the region.
Instead, MacTier owes its very existence to the railroads. Without
steam trains and their periodic need for servicing and refueling,
MacTier wouldn’t exist today.
The community lies within a region that was isolated by geography
from the rest of Muskoka. This meant that the area was all but
ignored throughout the 19th century.
It was the Canadian Pacific Railway which first brought attention to
the region in the early 1900s. CP Rail was famed for its
transcontinental line, but it also maintained thousands of miles of
secondary tracks that spread out into every corner of the nation.
In 1905, work began on a line to extend due north from Toronto to
join the transcontinental line near Sudbury, thereby linking
Canada’s largest city with its most important railway. Three years
later, in 1908, the line was complete.
A divisional point, a place intended to serve both trains and work
crews, was established exactly halfway between Toronto and Sudbury.
This became known as Muskoka Station.
Muskoka Station was a vital railway facility. Here steam engines
were taken off for maintenance at a roundhouse, coal could be
secured from extensive warehouse facilities, and a ready supply of
water was available from large tanks. Work crews, maintenance staff,
and administrative employees were accommodated in boarding houses
lining the tracks.
Soon a village began to develop around the bustling railway yards.
The first evidence of an emerging community was the opening of a
general store by Hugh Anderson, formerly a CPR conductor. Anderson
arrived in Muskoka Station on November 10 with $662 worth of stock.
He immediately cleared an area measuring 12 by 16 feet of snow,
trees and debris and, on his own, raised a building. It was a
primitive structure — little more than a rough lumber shell with
tarpaper on the outside and white building paper on the inside — but
when it opened on November 16, 1908 it served notice that Muskoka
Station was bound to grow.
Anderson had aspirations for himself and Muskoka Station. Initially,
villagers would have to trek to Foot’s Bay on Lake Joseph to get
their mail; an inconvenience that few appreciated, especially in
light of the fact that mail-carrying trains passed through town on a
daily basis. Ever ambitious, always enterprising, Anderson used his
connections with grocery wholesalers in Toronto to get him an
audience with officials at the Post Office Department and he made a
pitch for Muskoka Station’s own post office.
The government bureaucrats were swayed by Anderson’s eloquent
arguments and in 1909 the young village got its post office, with
Anderson himself, naturally enough, serving as postmaster.
It wasn’t long before the Post Office Department began to regret the
decision. Mail addressed to the village of Muskoka Wharf routinely
ended up at Muskoka Station, and vice versa, resulting in headaches
for postal employees. To rectify the situation, Muskoka Station was
renamed MacTier in honour of A.D. MacTier, the general
superintendant of the CPR’s Eastern Division.
Another prominent early inhabitant who left a mark on MacTier’s
history was Charles Robert Clerk, an Anglican priest who arrived
tending to the spiritual needs of the labourers laying the CPR’s
tracks. After the line had been completed and the labourers moved
on, Clerk elected to remain and administer to the permanent railway
employees of Muskoka Station.
Initially, services were held in the railway boarding house, but
later a log chapel was built for the tiny congregation. Clerk was
tireless in bringing God to the people of this wild and untamed
region, and it was through his efforts that funds were raised for
All Saint’s Church. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see
the church built, dying a year earlier in 1911.
In 1918, MacTier’s first school opened on the location where the
temporary library currently stands. A year later, Freeman Township
was incorporated as a municipality with MacTier as its principle
hamlet. The influence of the railway in local affairs is best seen
in the makeup of the first township council: the first reeve was a
railway conductor, and all of the councillors were railway
In fact, the railway maintained a strong presence in the community
for nearly another half century. By the 1950s, however, the CPR
began to scale back its operations in MacTier. The roundhouse,
workshops and station were closed and torn down. CPR’s pullout
signalled the end of a proud era. No longer a railway town, MacTier
would have to discover a new identity for itself.
MacTier had already slowly begun to diversify its economy, with
logging taking on importance and with the advent of the Mollard
cranberry marsh, Ontario’s first, in 1947. But it was only after the
railway’s pullout that a concerted effort to transform the town took
It was a difficult, often painful transition, but today MacTier is a
vibrant community and a beloved recreational centre that bursts to
life anew every May with the coming of cottage season.
Nevertheless, an appreciation of its rich railway past remains
apparent even today. Here more so than almost anywhere in Muskoka,
railway heritage is embraced.
You don’t have to look long and hard to see this pride on display.
Immediately upon entering you notice a sign that proclaims this to
be the former location of Muskoka Station. Elsewhere, in Arbour
Park, you’ll find the distinctive “yellow caboose” museum maintained
by heritage-minded citizens. A new library, designed to look like
the old railway station, is currently under construction.
A weekend of special events celebrating the community’s 100th
anniversary and its railway history is scheduled to run from August
1 to 3.
Trains may no longer stop at MacTier, but they continue to run
through the community’s consciousness.