J.R. Booth of the Canadian Atlantic Railway, 1900-1925 National Archives of Canada / C-046480

By the time J.R. Booth had been self-employed for 20 years, he became dissatisfied at the speed with which his product traveled to markets. In order to solve the problem of slow transportation, Booth launched the Canadian Atlantic Railway in 1879. The Canadian Atlantic ran east from Ottawa, crossing the St. Lawrence River (over a bridge which Booth also built) and then connecting with the Vermont Central Railroad at East Alburgh, thus opening the Ottawa Valley up "to Boston and the world." The Canadian Atlantic Railway was completed in 1896 after 17 years of slow, labour intensive construction that proved extremely costly especially during the winter freeze. The Canadian Atlantic Railway extended over 400 miles and was the longest privately owned railway in the world. This line, which shortened the distance from Chicago to Montreal by 800 miles, was soon playing a vital part in the opening up of vast areas of eastern Canada.

Railway cars in a lumber yard after the Hull-Ottawa Fire of 1900, April 26, 1900 National Archives of Canada / PA-210342

To add to the value of his railroad, J.R. Booth built grain elevators at Depot Harbour, (near Parry Sound) and at Coteau, Duluth and Milwaukee. To ensure delivery of grain to Depot Harbour, Booth formed the Canada Atlantic Transit Company, which operated five large lake freighters on the Upper Great Lakes. His elevator at Depot Harbour had a total storage capacity of 1,250,000 bushels, and grain could be unloaded at the rate of 15,000 bushels per hour, two railway cars being filled in three minutes. During the late 19th century, Booth ruled the largest railway empire built in North America by any one man. In 1904, Booth sold his railway to the Grand Trunk Railway for $14,000,000. At the time of the sale, the rolling stock of the railway consisted of 67 steam locomotives, 41 passenger cars and 3,000 freight trains and miscellaneous cars.

In addition to his railways and steamships (or barge transport in Vermont), Booth's interests extended to the Canada Cement Company, the Dominion Forestry Association, and a variety of other activites that clearly made him one of the most powerful economic figures in Canada on throughout the early 20th century.