Carley – Reviving Rural Roots

by Jennifer Mueller, Ottawa

The hamlet came into being when the Canadian Pacific Railway constructed a line from Toronto to Sudbury in 1907. The CPR built a station, water tank and residence on what is now the Warminster Side Road (near the 7th Concession) to refuel steam engines and serve local farm families. The CPR named the station Carley after a local family. In 1909 a stock yard was added to the station grounds to allow farmers to ship hogs and cattle.

A real community developed around the railway station. Within a few years local farm families had their own post office, a winter ice rink for hockey players and a football team. Telephones were installed in 1911, and Carley gossip appeared regularly in the Orillia newspaper. A general store, boarding house and brickworks followed by the 1920s.

In 1911 the community decided to construct a school. The McDuff Bros. of nearby Coulson built a one-room schoolhouse out of concrete, using their state of the art cement machine. The school officially opened in 1913 with Miss Maud Bell of Carley as the first teacher. She taught 20 pupils in grades 1 through 8.

This little school quickly became the social center of the community. Carley did not have its own church, and the school was used by traveling associations for religious meetings. It was also the site of Sunday School and school picnics. Large crowds attended these gatherings which included races, games, a luncheon and sometimes ice cream. The school grounds were also used by area youth for sporting activities, including Carley’s own basketball team.

View more pictures here.

In 1939 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, (now the Queen Mum) toured Canada. When the Royal Train stopped in Carley to take on water, hundreds of people treated the royal couple to a light show of huge bonfires and car headlights. The Queen was said to remark “Aren’t they beautiful? This is the prettiest sight of the trip.”

By the late 1930’s, Carley and many other rural communities were in decline as people left the farm for the city. Cars and better roads lessened reliance on the railway, and in 1931 formal passenger service at Carley ceased (although informal service lasted several more years). Freight shipments continued, however, until diesel engines made water stops unnecessary. In 1960 the station finally closed and torn down.

A few years later, the Carley school closed – victim of a provincial policy of school consolidation which resulted in the closure of one room schoolhouses across the province. The last 15 students, taught by Robert Ritchie in 1965. Since that time the school has continued to function as a community center, hosting family reunions, euchre tournaments and craft shows.