100-year-old rail ties unearthed in LRT construction

Wooden rail ties that date back to just before the turn of the 20th century have been unearthed under the asphalt of King Street West by light rail transit construction crews, who have closed down the street between Union Boulevard and Victoria Street.

Wooden rail ties that date back to just before the turn of the 20th century have been unearthed under the asphalt of King Street West by light rail transit construction crews working between Union Boulevard and Victoria Street.

"We’re discovering it everywhere we’re working on the route so far. Our expectation is that it runs all the way along King," said Avril Fisken, a spokesperson for Grandlinq, the consortium in charge of LRT construction.

"There are no concerns around disposing of it. We have had an archaeologist look at the site and has concluded that there’s no historical significance from an archaeological perspective."

Fisken added that there will be no delay in construction as the ties are easily removed.

They were part of an expansive trolley network that ran from the north wards of Waterloo, through what was then known as Berlin, with connections to Galt, Preston and Hespeler, according to University of Waterloo historian Geoff Hayes.

Karen Ball-Pyatt, a librarian at Kitchener Public Library, said the first four kilometres of the railway line opened in 1888 and that rail cars were being pulled by horses. The first electrified car ran in 1895 and street railway operations ceased in December 1946.

The railway line was built to bring workers to the factories that dotted King Street and produced goods such as rubber, felt and furniture, said Hayes.

"Running a trolley line down King Street would have been able to give working class people in those areas a chance to get to work, without having to worry about cars, without having to worry about horses," said Hayes.

"The Kaufman family owned the Kaufman rubber factory at the corner of King and Victoria, and there was another big rubber tire factory on the kitty corner where the pharmacy school is now. And those were just starting at the turn of the century."

The trolley was also a cheap, efficient way for people to pursue leisure activities. The popularity that cars gained in the 1950s was the cause of its demise.

"The trolley that lies buried under King Street used to supply the old manufacturing base in Kitchener, which is now gone. And what we’ve seen grow up in the last 10-15 years is a new technology base, based on web production, applications, various things like that," said Hayes. 

"In that sense, it’s maybe not ironic, but it’s interesting that we are adapting that kind of LRT concept to move people around in a new economy."


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