Blackwell named for railway boss

Wagon teams loaded with sugar beets line up at the Blackwell Station, circa 1920. Blackwell was names for Thomas E. Blackwell, general manager of the Grand Trunk Railway. Photo courtesy Don Craig, Glenn C. Phillips, Sarnia: More Picture History.

George Mathewson

Sarnia has two roads called Blackwell – Blackwell Road and Blackwell Sideroad – and like the crosshairs on a gun sight they intersect at the Blackwell train station.

Or, more precisely, where the Blackwell train station used to be.

The station and community that grew up around it were named for Thomas E. Blackwell, general manager of the Grand Trunk Railway in Canada from 1858 to 1862.

In an annual investors report in 1859, Blackwell proudly proclaimed that with the completion of Victoria Bridge in Montreal his company had finally completed a 1,000-mile line stretching from the upper Great Lakes to the East coast.

He mentions Sarnia frequently in a clear, upbeat writing style. Here, people and freight had to be river-ferried to and from Port Huron, so land was bought in what’s now Point Edward for the “transshipping,” he said, predicting it would become “one of the largest commercial depots in the province.”

A photograph from 1862 reveals Thomas Blackwell to be a dapper man in mutton-chop sideburns, seated at desk, pen in hand and looking pensive.

He had reason to be. As railways go the Grand Trunk was a financial disaster.

A faction of shareholders in Britain had long grumbled about cost overruns and corruption and that same year demanded Blackwell be fired for incompetence.

Still, the track to Toronto was critical to the development of Sarnia. Located along it were two stations – Blackwell, a hundred metres west of Blackwell Sideroad, and Perche (Perch in English) near Waterworks Road.

Blackwell Station was destroyed in 1877 in a fire started by a passing train, and a smaller building replaced it.

Freight trains stopped at the hamlet to load gravel from a pit north of the station, and if you look today you can still see a sudden drop in elevation behind the homes on Lakeshore Road.

Blackwell was a flag stop until passenger service was discontinued in 1952.

The rail line is now the Howard Watson Nature Trail. And the long-gone station is marked by a bench, a plaque and several stands of purple lilacs, brought by early settlers to the colony, that bloom each spring in profusion.