At the foot of Parliament Street by the railway tracks in the 1880s, the unmistakable smell of burning coal from the railroad mixed with the smell of whiskey. Tis was the site where William Gooderham and James Worts, grain merchants and distillers, built their factory in the 1830s. By 1856, it was the largest distillery in the world, and the man who worked as their wheat buyer, George Laidlaw, had a big railway dream.
Laidlaw was a true railway visionary. He realized, while working at the distillery, that Ontario needed additional rail lines to help its growing businesses and population. Te distillery needed them in order to bring in grain, and the people of Toronto needed them in order to break a frewood monopoly. In one famous pamphlet, Laidlaw promoted the shortcomings of Ontario's transportation system and set forth his ideas for cheaper railway lines, built to the narrow gauge of 3'6", compared with the provincial gauge of 5'6". One of the lines he proposed would travel north from Toronto to Nipissing.
Although the government provided some funds, the largest investors in the project were Gooderham, Worts, and Sir Henry Pellatt who built Casa Loma. Named the Toronto and Nipissing (T&N) Railway, the line extended 90 miles (145 km) northeast from Scarborough through Linsday to Coboconk. Despite the dream of opening up the northeastern reaches of the province for trade and trafc, it never was completed to Nipissing.
When it was opened on August 14, 1871, a floral arch stretched over the tracks at Uxbridge so the train could pass under it with great pageantry on its way to Toronto. Te southern terminal of the line was at Parliament St. just south of King St. where a station, a large yard and docks were constructed opposite the Gooderham Distillery.
Te railway was an instant success, and within 10 years of opening, the Toronto and Nipissing was converted to standard gauge. Te lines were well used for many years, as Laidlaw had predicted. Although the railway is now considered a "lost railway" in Toronto's history, the story (the tracks that remain behind the distillery that still carry CN trains in and out of Union Station) is a reminder of a true railway visionary.