New rail was just what the doctor ordered

Dr. J. P. Rutherford

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In this current age, medical doctors are not overly common on city councils, yet there was a time in Chatham’s history when there was rarely a council that did not have at least one, and in some instances, more than one serving as alderman or mayor.

The council of 1888 was not to be an exception.

The mayor that year was Dr. James P. Rutherford, who was born at Richmond, York County, in 1844.

He went on to medical school and graduated from Coburg University with a medical degree in 1867.

Rutherford then established a medical practice at McKay’s Corners and remained in that tiny Harwich community until 1877 after which he established a new practice in the town of Chatham and expanded his medical activity to include surgery. He later became the first Chatham doctor to use x-ray technology.

Rutherford’s career spanned more than half a century. He died shortly after he retired in 1918.

The doctor’s children included Dr. Reginald W. Rutherford and Dr. James Warren Rutherford. The latter later entered federal politics and became one of the most popular MPs in the history of the riding.

During the late summer of 1888, Mayor Rutherford and council learned that the long-standing rumors regarding the extension of the trunk line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, from London to Windsor, were true. This was good news, but there was also bad news. The CPR was planning to pass by Chatham four miles to the north.

The town fathers could well remember the great loss of business that had occurred, in 1870, when the Canada Southern (MCR) chose to bypass Chatham, travelling through Charing Cross instead, and this could not be allowed to happen again.

The town needed that second trunk line in order to enjoy the industrial prosperity that always accompanied superior shipping facilities.

The CPR was contacted and invited to bring their tracks through the town of Chatham and they agreed to do so, but for a price.

The CPR wanted a bonus of $40,000, which was the same sum the town had recently given the north-south Erie and Huron Railway.

The bonus vote was held on Nov. 29, 1888 and of the 600 people who voted, 400 approved while 200 cast negative ballots.

There was considerable opposition to the bonus, but due largely to the barage of positive publicity appearing constantly in the Tri-weekly Chatham Planet, the victory was assured.

With this victory Chatham would now be host to two trunk lines which would be interconnected to the Canada Southern by the Erie and Huron. Chatham manufacturers would now have access to rail freight competition from three sources and that made those of Chatham superior to most towns and even some cities.

By the turn of the 20th century, Chatham would undergo a tremendous economic surge and the arrival of the CPR would be a major factor.