Political Corruption in 1852 Owen Sound? Does it seem possible that this could happen in a pioneer community on the Georgian Bay shores?
Political scandals are a fact of life today. The media lives for events such as Watergate or the Whitewater affair. A review of events in Owen Sound in the 1850s suggests that an uncovered Political scandal occurred here in 1852.
The April 3, 1852, edition of the Owen Sound Comet reported that directors of the Toronto and Lake Huron railroad had decided to run a line from Toronto to Barrie. The next question: Where would the line's northern terminus be when it was extended past Barrie? The Comet said the railroad would run through Penetanguishene and Nottawasaga. Therefore, the editor of the Comet argued, Owen Sound would be the logical terminus.
Community leaders, recognizing that transportation connections to a larger market centre, especially Toronto, would mean growth and prosperity for the Owen Sound region, eagerly started planning strategy that would attract the railroad. As the rail terminus, Owen Sound harbour would experience increased shipping and traffic, helping Owen Sound achieve its goal of becoming a major port on Georgian Bay.
Discussions were held to plan the strategy necessary to ensure that Owen Sound was indeed chosen as the rail terminus. However, Richard Carney (later the Warden of Grey County in 1854 and Owen Sound's first mayor in 1857), a man with considerable influence was so confident of Owen Sound's selection that he convinced community leaders that a strategy was not necessary.
"Mr. Carney's idea was that there being no harbour at 'Hen and Chickens' (as Collingwood was then known), a bonus to assist the establishment of the Northern Railway need not be given on the ground that the company must be obliged to build to Owen Sound for the lack of harbour..." at Collingwood, The Comet stated. Following Carney's suggestion, the community did very little lobbying and did not offer a plan of bonuses or grants to the railway company.
However, Carney was wrong!
Collingwood lobbied extensively with the Toronto and Lake Huron Railroad and earned designation as the northern terminus of the railway. The decision agitated the Comet's editor who for several weeks published editorials and maps illustrating why Owen Sound would have been a better choice than Collingwood. Perhaps, if community leaders in Owen Sound had used some of the ammunition printed by the Comet before the decision was made, the outcome would have been different.
In April of 1853, the Comet reported that another railway had been proposed for Owen Sound. This time the line would run from Buffalo through Guelph to Owen Sound. However, this news was not received in a positive note.
It was reported in the Barrie Examiner that "Mr. Sheriff Grange of Guelph, has gone to Quebec, under the sanction of Mr. Carney of Owen Sound, to look after the interests of Buffalo and Guelph by endeavouring to get the sanction of Parliament... We are confident that parliament will sanction no line so injurious to the Grand Trunk as this would be."
The editor of the Owen Sound Comet angrily defended Richard Carney and extolled the virtues of a Guelph to Owen Sound rail line but denied any desire to have Owen Sound joined by a road of steel to foreign soil.
This proposed line from Owen Sound to Guelph and on to Buffalo did not meet with success primarily because of opposition from the Grand Trunk Railway and lobbyists from Toronto.
Owen Sound would have to wait two decades before the trains chugged into town connecting this Georgian Bay port with the lucrative southern market centres.
These events make one wonder if Richard Carney had another motive when he convinced the leaders of Owen Sound that they should not offer bonuses to the Toronto and Lake Huron Railroad.
Was he actually hoping that Collingwood would be chosen in order that his associates with the Buffalo-Guelph railroad would be able to get bonuses for building their railroad into Owen Sound?
Because information from that era is sketchy at best, one can only wonder.
But it is an interesting possibility that Owen Sound's first mayor had ulterior motives and the result was that Owen Sound was denied the benefit of rail connections for 20 years.
A version of this story about political corruption in 1852 in Owen Sound originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in 1996.
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