Sternwheeler SS Strathcona and V&S locomotoive #3 at the Sidney Docks circa 1902 Courtesy of BC Archives
Though the Victoria and Sidney Railway Company’s (V&S) did not serve the harbour directly it was a significant transportation enterprise that did impact on the harbour.
Early transportation of agricultural produce on Vancouver Island was by oxcart travelling dirt roads. In 1891 former B.C. Premier Amor de Cosmos proposed an integrated British Columbia steamship and rail network including a Victoria – Sidney rail connection. Victoria’s City Council voted it down 6-3. In 1892 the Victoria and Sidney Railway Company (V&S) presented a local rail plan hinging on bond guarantees and tax exemptions from Victoria. The plan was approved and V&S became the first of three railways to serve the Saanich Peninsula into the first decades of the twentieth century.
The V&S route was surveyed by John Gray with Victoria’s terminus located near the new City Hall and its northern terminus at the intersection of Beacon Avenue and First Street in the recently incorporated Town of Sidney.
In September 1892, Mr. Thomas W. Paterson’s crews began clearing the right-of-way and in 1893 rail bed construction employing nearly 200 men began. Trestles were built across the Colquiz River and Snyder’s Ravine while pains were taken to protect Victoria’s Beaver Lake reservoir. In September 1993, the steamship Rathdown delivered the project’s 6426 rails, 48 cases of spikes, along with 500 insulators, and three tons of telegraph wire to Sidney. On October 3, the first rolling stock arrived, including Locomotive #1, a 40-ton 2-6-0 Mogul class locomotive built by Kingston, Ontario’s Canadian Locomotive Company. She was immediately put to work laying rail towards Victoria. V&S’ #1 was the first of three locomotives to serve the line.
On May 11, 1894 the first V&S train departed Victoria carrying passengers for “an inspection of the line” and on June 2, the service officially inaugurated with carriages adorned with flowers and patriotic bunting.
Completed at a cost of nearly $316,000, V&S spurred growth and settlement along the Peninsula. It was dubbed the Cordwood Limited due to its initially profitable role in delivering cordwood to wood-burning Victoria. The establishment of a mail service tripled the number of trips to twice-daily on weekdays with scheduled departures from Victoria at 7am and 4pm and from Sidney at 9am and 5:30pm. The round-trip fare was fifty cents. The only station between Victoria and Sidney was at Royal Oak at the Royal Oak Inn (Hotel) constructed by Louis Duval to cater to both rail and road travellers.
The Sidney and Nanaimo Navigation Company
In 1898 a mainland connection was established in partnership with the Sidney and Nanaimo Navigation Company (SNNC) employing their steamship MV Iroquois. The maritime connection to Sidney increased passenger and freight volumes and provided SNNC passengers with scheduled transportation to Victoria aboard V&S’ 5:30pm train.
Great Northern Railway
In 1902 Great Northern Railway purchased V&S though they soon realized the region’s small population, increasingly unreliable rolling stock, declining cordwood market, continuing road development, and the 1911 sinking of Iroquois made the railway increasingly unprofitable. In 1913, B.C. Electric opened the Saanich Division Interurban Line and in 1917, Canadian Northern Pacific opened a railway linking Victoria to Patricia Bay. In 1919, with the end of government subsidies, V&S ceased operations and most of V&S’ rights of way were paved for automobile use.