Once-thriving Mosborough now marked by white sign

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

It is likely that the name Mosborough will elicit only a blank stare from the majority of Wellington County residents.

This was not the case between 1875 and the 1920s, when Mosborough boasted a railway station staffed full time, and a post office. The location is easy to find. Mosborough was in Guelph Township, on the western extension of Speedvale Avenue from Guelph, at the point where the road crosses the railway.

The key figure in the history of Mosborough was Joseph Hobson. A reasonably prosperous immigrant, he purchased a total of 278 acres of land from the Canada Company in 1840 on Concession 4, Division B of Guelph Township, paying about $5 per acre. 107 acres were on the south side of the road (Lot 7); the balance on the north side (Lots 8 and 9).

In the early 1850s survey crews showed up in the neighbourhood, plotting a route for the Grand Trunk Railway between Guelph and Stratford. Their preferred route bisected Hobson’s farmland south of the road (Lot 7), then crossed the road, cutting across the corner of his farm on Lot 8.

The contractors for the line, Gzowski and Company, paid Hobson $450 for a right of way 110 feet wide through his land that totalled 5.56 acres.

The railway opened from Guelph to Stratford in November 1856, but there was not yet a station in Guelph Township.

The beginnings of a hamlet had appeared by the late 1850s: a tavern at the intersection a short distance east of the Hobson property, and a modest blacksmith shop. Soon the area acquired the name Balmoral, which appears on some older maps.

Hobson and his neighbours to the east made some modest plans for a hamlet. An 1858 map shows about a dozen small parcels of land divided from the farmland along the rail line. However, the owners failed to sell most of the land, and no subdivision plan was registered.

Traffic on the Grand Trunk line picked up in the 1870s, when this railway elbowed its way into the grain trade from the American midwest. In the 1870s the Grand Trunk was the only railway that operated from Michigan all the way to the Atlantic (via Montreal and Portland). Although no actual figures have survived, a reasonable estimate of traffic between Stratford and Guelph would be about 18 freight trains each way daily in the peak season. As well, there were four daily passenger and mail trains each way.

This was a phenomenal traffic density for a single-track line. Early in 1874 the Grand Trunk decided to add a passing siding between Breslau and Guelph to open up what had become a nine-mile bottleneck. The railway budgeted $10,000 for the work at Balmoral, which included a passing siding, a siding for loading and unloading cars, a weigh scale, and several storage and outbuildings. Balmoral station opened in November 1874, in temporary quarters.

The staff consisted of a station agent and a night operator, who directed trains into the passing siding as necessary. The Grand Trunk did not retain personnel records, but in 1881 the agent was American born John Strickland, and the night operator was 21-year-old William Mark, who boarded at the Manderson farm nearby. Obviously, the railway considered this to be a training position.

Meanwhile, Hobson and his neighbours had circulated a petition to have a post office opened at Balmoral. Postal authorities agreed to the request, and the office opened on May 1, 1875.

The original name, Balmoral, could not be used because there already was a post office of that name, located in Haldimand County. The name Mosborough was used. It came from the old Hobson family homestead in Derbyshire, England.

The Grand Trunk had no difficulty with the new name. Balmoral station became Mosborough less than six months after it opened. Hobson received the appointment as postmaster, but it is unlikely that he actually did the routine work in the office. He remained postmaster until his death in 1900.

More negotiations with the railway men took place in 1875 for additional land. The Hobson farm was now run by Joseph’s 41-year-old son, John. The Balmoral area had become a prosperous agricultural area, and the Grand Trunk could see a profitable opportunity there.

The nearest stations, Guelph to the east and Breslau to the west, were too far away to be convenient. In their lust for the long distance grain trade, the railway had neglected local business, and in 1875 and 1876, prodded by shipper complaints, management took steps to correct the situation.

In two separate purchases, John Hobson sold the Grand Trunk an additional 1.82 acres, in the triangle formed where the railway crosses the road, on the south side of the Speedvale Avenue extension. The Grand Trunk built a permanent station on the property in 1876.

It was a plain wooden building, 18 by 59 feet in size. One source states that the post office, until 1901, was located inside the station building.

Farmers in the Mosborough area generated a steady flow of shipments: livestock, grain and turnips. Hobson himself led the list: his 270-acre holding included three houses and nine barns, and he employed three or four men full time in farm work.

There were also incoming loads of lumber and, from the 1880s, coal. The oldest Grand Trunk timetable I have, from 1889, shows two trains of the four in each direction stopping at Mosborough. These handled mail and express as well as passengers.

After a few years of watching the flow of traffic to and from Mosborough station, John Hobson built a store near the station, with living quarters for the proprietor. Hobson rented the store to a succession of proprietors, beginning with Levi Elsley, and followed by his brother George Elsley, and by James Cleghorn in 1894. For a time a tailor worked out of the store. The bread sold at the store arrived daily from a bakery in Kitchener.

In 1894 a group of families from the Mosborough area organized a church congregation. They built a small wooden church to the west of Mosborough station, on the corner of the boundary road with Waterloo County. It was a small congregation, with no resident minister. Visiting clergymen or lay members preached the sermons.

John Wallach thought that life at Mosborough should be enlivened, and in 1900 organized the first in an annual series of horse shows. The first of them was held in the station grounds. The United Farmers of Ontario built a storage shed at the station for its members in 1919.

The few years after the First World War saw the peak of activity at Mosborough station. By the mid-1920s, trucks had made significant inroads into local freight traffic. As well, motor cars made farmers more mobile, and it became easy to transact business in Guelph.

The Post office closed in October 1923. Mosborough had survived the rash of closings in the 1912 to 1915 era that had resulted from the introduction of rural mail delivery, but by the 1920s revenue had declined so much that the office could no longer be justified.

Though both passenger and freight business continued to decline through the 1930s, Canadian National (which absorbed the Grand Trunk in 1923) kept an agent at Mosborough until 1944.

Following the closure, the railway sold the station building in 1945, replacing it with a small shelter. Mosborough remained in the passenger timetable until 1953. Two trains each way would stop for passengers who waved a flag on the platform.

Mosborough store survived both the post office and the station. William Telford bought the business in 1924. He added a small warehouse and gas pumps. If the locals were going to Guelph, at least he might be able to sell them fuel. The store closed in 1949 after Telford’s death.

Much of old Mosborough can still be detected, if the observer ignores the traffic roaring through on the road. Canadian National still lists Mosborough in its employee’s timetable, and occasionally two trains meet there.

A white sign beside the track marks the location of the old station.

Next week: Another Hobson from Mosborough: Joseph Jr.

*This column was originally published in the Wellington Advertiser on Feb. 22, 1999.

Thorning Revisited