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Trains and Telegraphs

Learn From Home Activity

In partnership with East Gwillimbury Public Library

Background Information

When the railroad arrived in East Gwillimbury, Holland Landing and Mount Albert were two communities that saw growth in their local businesses. In Holland Landing, the first train arrived in 1853 via the Northern Rail Road. Later in 1875 the extension of the Lake Simcoe Junction Railway to travel through Mount Albert was approved. 

The arrival of the railroad brought about a great amount of fanfare, even for the Village of Sharon. Many residents would flock to the nearby train stations in Holland Landing or Mount Albert, and some even went to Newmarket to watch the trains arrive and leave the stations.


The station house in Holland Landing had been constructed on Concession 1, Lot 106, a portion of which Henry Chapman had sold to the Northern Rail Road. Chapman would go on to serve as the first Station Agent when the line opened. 


At that time, first class tickets from Toronto to Newmarket sold for one dollar and second class were 75 cents. Nearly everybody travelled second class to save 25 cents. In her "Story of Sharon" series, Ethel Willson Trewhella recorded the recollections of David Hughes of Sharon, who "recall[ed] the first ride which he shared with his brother, John, to Toronto about 1856. He describes the coaches as being lighter and shorter and not so elaborate as those of the present. The engine had a tall smoke stack with netting over the top to prevent sparks from flying about. Hundreds of cords of wood were stacked conveniently to fuel this black monster belching smoke and noise, and beaming fear into the watchers..." (Newmarket Era, Jan. 31, 1952). In the same report, she also notes that the arrival of the train signaled the decline of business in Sharon which was not along either of the routes running through the community. This meant that the community would only remain accessible via roads, which as noted in our Transportation program, were not in great condition. 

For many of the communities along the train route, the train also replaced the four horse stage coaches, which had traditionally been responsible for delivering the mail from Toronto and among the northern communities of York County. 

While the Village of Sharon did not have a route running directly through its community, this did not mean that its members were completely detached from the train. In fact, David W. Hughes who operated the General Store had also been trained in telegraphy. Telegraphy is the also known as the practice of sending long distance codes or ciphers for the transmission of information. One of the best known examples of this is Morse Code, invented by Samuel F.B. Morse in the 1830s. 

As reported by Trewhella, Hughes "had studied telegraphy and had been associated with the Grand Trunk Railway at night duty. Later he joined the Northern Railway Company and eventually began for himself in Sharon, where he was telegraph operator and trained various young men of the village to do this work whenever he might be absent. Two of these boys were Robert Morin and Ed Noble. Telegraph lines had followed the railway, but no line was opened through Sharon until about 1870. 

Holland Landing with Station - 1861.jpg

It is believed from anything found that David Hughes was the first operator. The line went from Sutton through Sharon, Newmarket, Aurora, Tottenham, Alliston and Rosemary, connection being made with Toronto. In 1883 the office at Sharon was closed, but there were still three points open as communication between Newmarket and Sutton. Mr. James E. Kavanagh tells that shortly after his father became post master, he, the son, applied to the telegraph company to establish an office in the post office. This the company did and he was appointed agent, though only 14 years old. They retained the telegraph office until the Kavanagh family moved to Toronto" (Newmarket Era, March 6, 1952). 

While we no longer have these train stations in Mount Albert or Holland Landing, the many recollections of early community members allow us to imagine what it could have been like to see the travellers and businessmen arriving in their developing villages. 

Curriculum Connections

Social Studies - Grade 1: Strand A. Heritage and Identity: Our Changing Roles and Responsibilities (A1.2, A2.1, A2.2, A2.5); Strand B. People and Environments: The Local Community (B1.1, B1.2, B2.1, B2.2, B2.5, B3.1)

Social Studies - Grade 2: Strand B. People and Environments: Global Communities (B3.6)

Social Studies - Grade 3: Strand A. Heritage and Identity: Communities in Canada, 1780-1850 (A1.1, A1.2, A2.1, A2.2, A2.6, A3.2, A3.3, A3.4); Strand B. People and Environments: Living and Working in Ontario (B1.1, B1.3, B2.5, B3.1, B3.5)

Language - Grade 1: Oral Communication (1.1, 2.7)

Language - Grade 2: Oral Communication (1.1, 1.3, 2.7)

Language - Grade 3: Oral Communication (1.1, 1.3, 2.7)

Language - Grade 4: Oral Communication (1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.7)
Science and Technology - Grade 3: Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Strong and Stable Structures (1.1, 2.3, 3.5), Understanding Matter and Energy: Forces Causing Movement (2.2, 2.4, 2.5, 3.1, 3.4)

The Arts - Grade 1: Visual Arts (D1.1, D1.3, D1.4, D2.3)

The Arts - Grade 2: Visual Arts (D1.1, D1.3, D1.4, D2.3)

The Arts - Grade 3: Visual Arts (D1.1, D1.3, D1.4, D2.3)


Together with the East Gwillimbury Public Library we've created activities for you to learn more about trains and telegraphy while testing your skills cracking codes.

Using the key below, try to decipher the two messages below. You can also use the key to create your own messages! Send them to us on social media @SharonTempleNHS, @eg_public_library (Instagram) and @EGPublicLibrary (Twitter) and use #STLearnFromHome to see if we can Crack The Code!

Once you've cracked the codes, be sure to tune in to the East Gwillimbury Public Library's Facebook page to watch Sarah Harrison, Customer & Community Service Specialist, as she creates a train themed activity! The video will go live on Tuesday, May 19th at 4:30 pm. 

Want to continue learning about Trains and Telegraphs? Sarah has compiled a number of library resources on our topics that can be accessed from home. Visit the EGPL's Stay at Home Library for more!

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