5 February 2011
Author on Track to Launch Book
on Electric Railways
Kitchener Ontario - At 79, author John Mills has lived through much of the history that has
fascinated him since boyhood, particularly the advent and subsequent disappearance of the electric rail lines.
"I've been interested in street cars all my life," said Mills in a phone interview from his Toronto apartment. "Since I was a small boy."
But his is more than just a passing interest. Mills has spent years researching and compiling information and recently released "Ontario's Grand River
Valley Electric Railways": The story of the area's streetcars, trolley coaches and interurban railways, published by Railfare DC Books.
The hefty history book, which will be launched Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Waterloo Region Museum, is the culmination of his life's work and is a reworked version
of Traction on The Grand, published in 1977.
"I wanted to correct some errors, improve it," he said, adding he wanted this new edition to be "amplified."
Mills is a man of few words, at least in conversation, but in his book he supplies extraordinary detail, particularly about the electric rail lines that
transported people and freight in and around Guelph, Waterloo Region, Brantford, Woodstock, and beyond. It concentrates on the areas along the Grand River.
There is the section about the Berlin & Waterloo Street Railway, a line started in 1886 and consisting of horse-drawn rail cars.
"A year after opening, the little company owned eight cars, both open and closed, 17 horses, and three large-covered sleighs for winter use," he
writes, adding "half-hourly service was provided."
From those meagre beginnings, Mills takes readers through the advent of electric rail systems and when electric was replaced with diesel, detailing the
derailments, the battles with Mother Nature, particularly one brutal ice storm in 1946, and the gradual disinterest in passenger rail travel as cars became
Mills was born and raised in Toronto. After completing a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Toronto in 1952, he stayed on in an administrative
capacity in the university's faculty of arts and Science. There he had access to a treasure trove of artifacts and documents in the university's library. He
became a founding member of the Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association, which operates a museum on the Guelph Line, east of Eden Mills. He said he is
no longer an active member of the group, but still has close ties.
Mills has authored several books covering transportation history. In this latest book, he had some help from Ted Wickson, who compiled dozens of photographs
and detailed maps of rail lines. Another of his just released works is titled Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, an illustrated history of
electric transit in Canada's Niagara Peninsula.
In the author's preface, Mills said he is grateful that his original 1977 version has been rescued "from the doldrums into which it threatened to
decline" and that he now has a renewed hope for future volumes as the public interest in its railway history is piqued.
Ontario's Grand River Valley Electric Railways
Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2 p.m.
Waterloo Region Museum
10 Huron Road Kitchener