* * *
Map of the Northern and its various expansions, circa 1877. Rolph, Smith & Co. Engs on Stone - Toronto Public Library Public Domain.
Frederick Chase Capreol was quite the character in railway history, in which there are many eccentric businessmen and swindlers. Born in 1803 in Britain, Frederick Chase Capreol emigrated to Montreal in 1828 to work with the fur trade. After a brief return to his hometown of Hertfordshire, he and his wife settled in York in 1833. Capreol fancied himself something of a renaissance man dabbling in real estate and as a pedlar of Queen Victoria portraits as well as operator of an auction house.2
It was the auction house that made trouble for Capreol, although one might suppose that it was actually he himself that made the trouble. Dabbling in land sales Frederick Chase Capreol sought out a large section of land near the Credit River to purchase and auction off. The owner of the parcel was known to drink to excess and be "of unsound mind" so, as part of his negotiation strategy, Capreol had the land owner over to his estate to convince him to sell. For two days Capreol brought him one drink after another and eventually the papers were signed for the sale. The Court of King's Bench overturned the agreement due to the circumstances and the social elite and financiers of Upper Canada knew Capreol as suspicious and not to be trusted.3
Yet there is another story about Frederick Chase Capreol that deserves telling; in 1843 a friend of Capreol called Thomas Kinnear and his lover were murdered gruesomely. Kinnear was shot in the chest and his pregnant lover was found strangled with an axe in her head. When their bodies were found in the cellar of the Kinnear Estate it was immediately obvious who the culprits were. Kinnear estate domestic servants Grace Marks and James McDermott were thought to have committed the murder and feld. Capreol, upon hearing of the murder of his friend and the escape of the accused, implored the police to go after them. Displeased with their slow response, he took it upon himself to charter a locomotive and chase after Grace Marks and James McDermott himself. Capreol tracked them down in Lewiston, New York and apprehended them bringing them back to the Province of Canada to have them convicted in the court. Many things would come out in the landmark trial of Marks and McDermott. Ultimately McDermott was hung and Marks was spared the noose but sentenced to life in prison.4
Perhaps it was this chase that spurred Capreol's obsession with a railway, it was only five years later that he began promoting a railway to Georgian Bay. In 1849 Capreol became the director of the Toronto, Simcoe and Lake Huron Rail Road Compnay (would eventually become called Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway Company.)
Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Rail-Road Union Company circa 1850. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library. CA-1850-SHARES-SB.
The new director of the railroad company Capreol's first order of business was to find a way to fund the project. Rather than asking for a lump-sum from the British Crown, Capreol's bright idea was to host a lottery. It was announced on the first day of 1851 that 100,000 raffle tickets would be sold for $20 each and the prizes would be as follows:
* 2 magnificent allotments of $100,000 in stock $ 200,000.
6 splendid allotments of 40,000 in stock 240,000.
10 extensive allotments of 20,000 in stock 200,000.
16 large allotments of 10,000 in stock 160,000.
20 allotments of 5,000 in stock 100,000.
50 allotments of 2,000 in stock 100,000.
100 allotments of 1,000 in stock 100,000.
250 allotments of 500 in stock 125,000.
500 allotments of 250 in stock 125,000.
2500 allotments of 100 in stock 250,000.
5000 allotments of 50 in stock 250,000.
7500 allotments of 20 in stock 150,000.*5
Total the lottery would amass the 2 million dollars necessary to begin laying ties for the railroad and stock would be divided not according to how much one purchased but by random selection. Though it was a creative and unique idea that captured attention, it was dropped and Capreol once again was thought to be madder than ever continuing his legacy of unconventional and less than ethical means of business. After this debacle the rest of the directors midtrusted Capreol and he was removed from the management being referred to as "mad Capreol" by the business community in Upper Canada.6
Ultimately, it was a change in legislation that allowed for the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway to begin its construction. The Guarantee Act and the Municipal Loan Fund pioneered by Francis Hincks were instrumental in accumulating the funds for Toronto's first railway. The Guarantee Act was passed in 1849 and stated that a railway project "over 120 kilometres long would be eligible of a government guarantee on the interest of half its bonds as soon as half the line had been completed." Essentially, the government of the Province of Canada would have stake in half of any line over 120 kilometers providing half of the funding. This change in legislation cut the amount of funds the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway had to come up with in half.7
The Municipal Loan Fund was another policy created by Francis Hincks, who had great interest and investment in the Canadian Railways at the time, and was passed on November 10, 1852. This act allowed municipalities to borrow money for capital projects on the credit of the Province of Canada. The idea was to increase capacity for cities and towns to improve infrastructure and make Canadian municipalities more desirable. By 1855 over 7 million dollars had been borrowed by municipalities after promoters of railway companies pushed towns to borrow to pay them for their projects. The lending was stopped in 1854 after little return on investment made it impossible to defend as an economic policy.8
Both policies fell out of favour eventually as they were high risk and economically irresponsible. The railways that benefitted from such policy, including the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway, made little money and left the Province of Canada with worthless shares and in debt to the British Crown.9
Despite a long and arduous journey of financial upheaval and questionable leadership, the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway was opened on May 16, 1853 and service expanded to a variety of locations over the next year. The port on Lake Huron was finally complete in early 1855. The pride of finishing the railroad would only last a short time however. Poorly built, the railway was in frequent disrepair and accumulated debt consistently. Despite their best efforts the directors were not able to recoup the losses and the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway was eventually absorbed into the North Western Railway Company.10
Lady Elgin, Engine No. 1 of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Railroad. Photo from Library and Archives Canada.
This Story Location brought to you by the Toronto Railway Museum. Discover Toronto's rich and fascinating railway history at the museum, located at the John Street Roundhouse in downtown Toronto. You can also take a virtual tour and two audio guided tours of the museum and its exhibits in the On This Spot app. For more information visit TorontoRailwayMuseum.com
1. Toronto Railway Museum, "Toronto's First Railway." Online.
2. Cooper, Charles, "The Northern Railway of Canada Group." Online
3. Baskerville, Peter, “CAPREOL, FREDERICK CHASE,” Online.
4. Katz, Brigit, "The Mysterious Murder Case That Inspired Margaret Atwood's 'Alias Grace'" Online.
5. Cooper, Charles, "The Northern Railway of Canada Group." Online
6. Cooper, Charles, "The Northern Railway of Canada Group." Online
7. Fahey, Curtis. "Guarantee Act." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Online.
8. McCalla, Douglas. "Municipal Loan Fund." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Online.
9. Fahey, Curtis. "Guarantee Act." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Online.
10. Cooper, Charles, "The Northern Railway of Canada Group." Online
Baskerville, Peter, “CAPREOL, FREDERICK CHASE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 4, 2022, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/capreol_frederick_chase_11E.html.
Brown, Robert R., "Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway." Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (No. 85 Spring 1952). 35-41.
Cooper, Charles, "The Northern Railway of Canada Group." Charles Cooper's Railway Pages (2014) https://www.railwaypages.com/northern-railway-of-canada-group
Fahey, Curtis. "Guarantee Act." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published February 07, 2006; Last Edited March 04, 2015.
Katz, Brigit, "The Mysterious Murder Case That Inspired Margaret Atwood's 'Alias Grace'" Smithsonian Magazine. November 1, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/mysterious-murder-case-inspired-margaret-atwoods-alias-grace-180967045/
McCalla, Douglas. "Municipal Loan Fund." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published February 07, 2006; Last Edited March 04, 2015.
Toronto Railway Museum, "Toronto's First Railway." March 3, 2021. https://torontorailwaymuseum.com/?p=807#:~:text=Toronto's%20First%20Railway%20Complete&text=It%20would%20be%20the%20first,(present%2Dday%20Aurora).