Railway Garden in Port McNicoll

Tay Township, 142 km north of Toronto (and said to be named after one of Lady Sarah Maitland’s lap dogs), includes Port McNicoll.

In 1912, the CPR connected Port McNicoll to Orillia in the southeast and transferred its steamships (luxurious twin ships Assiniboia and Keewatin, and freight ships Manitoba, Alberta, and Athabaska) from the steeper and more distant Owen Sound. Port McNicoll, named after a vice-president of the CPR, became the “Chicago of the North” once the CPR moved its grain routes wholly into Canada.

In the 1920s, tourists replaced immigrants as the majority of passengers on the CPR’s fleet and many of these tourists stopped to admire Port McNicoll’s railway gardens.

(After the Keewatin retired from service November 29, 1965, it went to Saugatuck-Douglas, Michigan on June 27, 1967 to become the Keewatin Maritime Museum. The rest of the ships succumbed to fire or the scrap heap after the Depression.)

Richard Kay, who established Port McNicoll’s CPR Gardens, and John Bell worked on the gardens together until Kay’s death. Bell’s greenhouses, “heated with steam from the CPR’s laundry,” supplied the sunflowers, hollyhocks, sweet William and geraniums:

Work began on the flowerbeds in March of each year…They were watered and manicured each night by six men, and were a perfect place for CPR passengers to pause while waiting for their ships to board.

By Oana Capota


  1. Gayle MacDougall says:

    Great Photo montage. Wonderful information. I currently live in the Bell (gardener’s) home in Port McNicoll. I would love to find more historical content on this home and the CPR connections. Great to see our Canadian past brought to life.
    I have taken photos of the Port McNicoll’s Grain silos when they were intact and as each one was destroyed until at 6:45 a.m. they were all gone as the sun rose – very poigant.

    All the best, Gayle

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