Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada

Closed Canadian Parks


St. Thomas


Pinafore Park
(1863 - ? - Present)

(Also referred to as
Pinafore Lake Park)

    Started in 1863 as a nature park, The St. Thomas Street Railway Company developed the Elm Street area in the 1890s as a way to promote business on its recently electrified tramway. The park was apparently named after the then-popular Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "HMS Pinafore".

    The company built picnic and other pavilions (some of which still exist today), an artificial lake (Pinafore Pond), and many flower gardens. The pond was used for skating and a block ice business in winter. As well, the run-off stream powered a mill through use of a waterwheel. Management was by J. Turton (or Turcan).

    There is no word yet on the middle years of this park or on its amusements. However, beginning in 1959 or 1960, the park began to run two narrow gauge (1130mm) trains as the "Pinafore Park Railway". They had come from The Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway where for the last decade or so of service had been known as The "Portage Flyer". That railway was first constructed to span the land between Lake of the Bays and Peninsula Lake, about 200 kilometres northeast of Toronto at a time when the lakes and rivers of that area were the only available transport routes. That 1.8 kilometre run, which included a switchback and a steep 7% grade, made it the smallest commercial railway in the world.

    It originally operated from 1904 - 1958, with two different sets of trains over that period. The first locomotives (from 1888) were wood-burning Porter models and were replaced in 1948. The Porters eventually ended up with Chicago industrialist, Harold Warp. He wanted them for a museum he was building in his hometown, of Minden, Nebraska.

    The replacements were one oil and one coal-fired unit. Both these engines had been built by the Montreal Locomotive Works in 1926 and were acquired from Nova Scotia, where they had been used in a gypsum quarry. (Most likely in Windsor.) Unfortunately, the newer locomotives were 1067mm guage, so all the wheels of the rolling stock had to be re-guaged.

    When these arrived at Huntsville, the oil-fired unit turned out to be too heavy and was stored, leaving just one engine. By 1959, the rail line proved unprofitable and was closed. The locomotives and rolling stock were sold to Pinafore park, which ran it on an 800-metre loop.

    The engines, which had a 0-4-0 wheel configuration, each pulled a single, open-air passenger car. They had been modified from 1894 horse-drawn Toronto streetcars, with one having a capacity of 80 passengers and a smaller 50 passenger couch rounding out the rolling stock.

    In 1984, the locomotives and cars were put up for sale and bought by the heritage group, Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway Society which wished to restore the portage railway trains. So they were returned to be close to their former community. Included were the locomotive, the remaining coach, a flatcar, water tower, and all of the track.

    The oil-fired unit began to run on a 1200-metre route at Muskoka Heritage Place. This attraction includes a museum, two stations, and two telegraphers' offices. The coal-fired locomotive is on static display, with the goal being to restore it to operating condition.

    Today, Pinafore is once again a nature park and sports facility. It includes a bandshell, ball stadium, tennis courts, hiking & ski trails, the lake, playground, swimming pool, picnic pavilions, and a wildlife sanctuary with aviary.

    A recent project is the creation of Memory Garden. It consists of an 8100-square metre area near Pinafore Pond that is set up as the park was in an earlier time. Stone archways mark the entrance to the garden, which when completed will consist of an Art Sculpture Area; a Bronze Sundial on a Pedestal with the inscription: "Grow Old Along with Me, The Best Is Yet To Be....."; a Victorian Gazebo; Seating Areas & Plants; and a 3 - 4 metre high Waterfall with a stream, leading via a series of pools into the lake where a boardwalk and observation platform complete the installation. Stone-like pathways connect the garden features giving an old world look as the park had in its heyday.

    Two recognition structures will commemorate those whom donated funds in aid of the creation of the garden. One will be a wall in the style of an old ruin, while the other will be a bronze oak tree fastened to the wall and having several hundred leaves for personalized engraving. Individual leaves may be purchased by those who wish to remember loved ones, commemorate special occasions, or simply donate to the garden itself.

    Thanks to Bernie Geiger, David Jeanes, and Bruce Ballantyne of Ottawa, Ontario and to Brian Westhouse, of Rexdale, Ontario for additional information on the park's train.

    Thanks to Ken Jones of Niagara Falls, Ontario for information on the present trains running in the area. See his site: -Niagara's Lost Amusement Parks

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