Britt-Byng Inlet 100 years: Crossing the
June 11, 2008
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cannot sense today the incredible feelings the residents of Byng Inlet
and Byng Inlet North (later Britt) must have had that late spring day of
June 15, 1908 when the CP Rail line between Toronto and Sudbury opened.
Suddenly, the shackles of isolation were broken and the two shoreline
communities became connected to an outside world, regardless of ice and
bad weather. From May 1868 to June 15, 1908 the residents were prisoners
to the packet steamer schedule and fares, and to winter with its frozen
In those days before global warming, the last packet steamer of the
season would call no later than mid-November and not return until the
ice abated in late May.
The railway’s advancement came in stages led first by the surveyors and
engineers. This was followed by the workers blasting a track bed from
both the north and south until they came to the Magnetawan River.
Here a huge timber trestle was constructed from the north shore to the
main river channel, where a bridge spanning just over 875 feet connected
the south shore.
The predominant settlement, Byng Inlet, was on the south shore, but the
railway station was built south east of the village, a distance of about
Built in 1908, the station was a two storey wood-framed building
measuring 22 feet by 50 feet long and boasted an 11-foot high ceiling on
the main floor.
Taxi and ferry services
The local entrepreneurial spirit of the village quickly seized the
opportunity presented and a teamster soon had a taxi service from the
village to the station while another created a ferry service between
Byng Inlet North and Byng Inlet.
Almost overnight, the shoreline communities began to change in response
to the railway.
The Inlet’s hospital on Hospital Island would soon close due to the
ability to treat patients in Parry Sound and Toronto. The satellite
office of Parry Sound dentist, Dr. Cunningham, closed and patients road
the rails to his office.
A Wal-Mart type effect
Local merchants first experienced the Wal-Mart type effect as residents
could, by riding the rails, check styles, fashions and, most
importantly, prices. Competition finished off the Company Store and the
last packet steamer left Byng Inlet permanently with the navigation
season’s close in 1916.
William E. Bigwood, President of the major Inlet lumber mill, Graves,
Bigwood & Co., recognized the power of rail. He switched from water
transportation to box cars to take his lumber to southern markets.
On the train's return, he filled flat cars with logs from the Pointe au
His lumber barges were soon sold, leaving him his tugs for towing log
booms from the Spanish River area and for moving log booms within the
Company doctor, Dr. John Allen Oille, noted the lighter side of the
railway’s coming in an after dinner speech to a group of University of
Toronto medical students. He had the occasion to have a patient arrive
to pay her bill carrying a large wad of cash.
Inquiring, he quickly deduced that on this particular Sunday, the lady
had been harvesting the CPR work crews.
Had a revolver
Worried about a woman with so much cash walking home in the evening, she
calmed him by showing off her revolver, of which there was little doubt
of her ability to use it.
Steam locomotives of the day consumed coal and Byng Inlet had a deep
water port. With the railway now across the Magnetawan River, heavy
equipment moved in and built, in 1910, a large coaling yard, which
opened for its first ship in 1911.
Tankers a delight
As diesel replaced coal, the coaling operation was dismantled in 1956;
however the CPR continues to invest in the community by recently
upgrading its dock adjacent to their tank farm. Three oil tankers on
average per season are a delightful sight to residents and visitors
Four hundred and some feet of ship by 65 feet wide navigating Byng Inlet
can make the waterway feel very narrow.
More than one ship’s captain has lost fingernails during the inbound
The railway has also rescued people.
In one winter, a group of young ladies were hiking north from Pointe au
Baril beside the tracks, very much frightened with the realization that
they were being stalked by a pack of wolves.
Fortunately a train was heading north and the girls successfully flagged
it down and hitched a ride into the Britt station.
In 1868, the Inlet community was given its identity when the Byng Inlet
post office opened on July 1.
The north shore post office opened June 10, 1885 bearing the name Byng
Inlet North but it was the CPR who ultimately gave the north shore
community its current name of Britt, after Thomas Britt, fuel
superintendent for the CPR in Montreal.
In September 1927, the north shore community and its railway station
both became Britt instead of Byng Inlet North and Dunlop respectively.
It is an understatement to say that the impact of the CPR was not
profound to the Inlet.
Continued investment by the CPR continues to benefit the shoreline
communities and watching the oil tankers is a great tourist draw.
The Inlet welcomes the CPR’s second one hundred years of crossing the
Magnetawan at Byng Inlet.