George Laidlaw, Promoter

George Laidlaw, Promoter of Narrow Gauge Railways

George Laidlaw, the driving force behind the chartering of both the Toronto, Grey and Bruce (TG&BR) and the Toronto and Nipissing (T&NR) railways, was born in Scotland in 1818. After many years of adventuring around the world, he migrated to Canada in 1855 and took a position with Gooderham and Worts who were major grain merchants and distillers in Toronto.

Recognizing the shortcomings of water and road based transportation systems in the area at the time and the monopoly held by the Grand Trunk Railway, he saw the opportunity to promote and develop a competing railway in support of local business interests. He also saw an opportunity to tap into local source of funds as an alternative to the very expensive raising of money overseas as was the practice at the time. In the late 1860s, he heavily promoted the development of 3' 6" narrow gauge railways as an affordable alternative to the 5' 6" broad gauge railways popular at the time. By uniting prominent local businessmen behind this cause, he was instrumental in the passage of the statutes chartering both the Toronto Grey and Bruce and the Toronto and Nipissing in 1868.

He did not actively participate in the actual building of these railways but continued to be active as a promoter of many other initiatives until his retirement. These included the Credit Valley Railway which was planned to reach from Toronto to St. Thomas and the Victoria Railway, an extension of the Port Hope Lindsay and Beaverton Railway (later the Midland Railway) which was planned to reach from Lindsay to the Upper Ottawa Valley. He also proposed a grand scheme to consolidate the railways in Southern Ontario into an integrated competitive alternative to the Grand Trunk Railway. This was only partly successful and eventually this became the core of Canadian Pacific Railway operations in southern Ontario.

In 1881, Laidlaw retired to several thousand acres of property on Balsam Lake, near Coboconk, Ontario, the northern terminus of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway. He died there in 1889.