The Iron and the Fire by Thomas McQueen

Written on the Opening of the Eastern Section of the Great Western Railroad, 1st November, 1853

Advertising poster for the Great Western and Michigan Central Railroad,  late 1850s
Artistic licence places the bridge much closer to the Falls as is the case. Construction of the bridge was completed in 1855
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Hurrah, for the straight, hard iron road !
‡‡For the fire-horse swift and strong !
Hurrah for the pond’rous chariot-train
‡‡That fleetly speeds along !
Through wood and wold—through hill and dale,
‡‡Past hamlet, hut, and hall,
The snorting fire-horse flys apace,
‡‡With a swift adieu to all.

Trees, rocks, and streams seem darting past
‡‡Like shadows on the wind—
The earth itself is rushing on,
‡‡To recede fast, fast, behind !
Away ! away bounds the mighty steed,
‡‡While wondering crowds admire
And, breathless, gaze on the fearful force
‡‡Of iron moved by fire.

The horse—the horse of our grandsire’s days,
‡‡With bones and muscles strong—
And the camel tall, and the elephant,
‡‡Could drag huge loads along ;
But the iron-horse, from the hand of man,
‡‡Impelled by mind and steam,
Whirls mountain chariots through the air
‡‡With the swiftness of a dream !

Speed on, strong horse ! with thy tidings glad,
‡‡Through wood and wild, speed on—
Thou bear’st abroad in triumphs now,
‡‡The conquest Mind has won ! —
The marvels, mysteries, magic, spells
‡‡Of a darker, bygone day,
Before the fact of the iron-horse
‡‡Must quickly pass away—

And fleet and far o’er the iron road
‡‡Strong thoughts shall soon be borne,
To burst the bondsman’s irksome chain,
‡‡And blast the tyrant’s scorn :
Intelligence, and power, and peace,
‡‡As the Maker, God, designed,
Like a rainbow wreath shall gird the earth,
‡‡As the heritage of Mind.

Land of the wood, and ocean lakes—
‡‡Of the wild beasts’ dark abodes !
Lands where the shirtless savage raved
‡‡Wild mummeries to his gods !—
Land of the savage now no more !
‡‡Blest, peaceful, prosp’rous land !
Thy wealth and freedom are secured
‡‡By a massive iron band !

The red man’s rude and murderous bow—
‡‡His flimsy bark canoe—
His frantic worship—war-whoop wild—
‡‡And nostrums not a few—
From Art and Commerce fled away,
‡‡Yielded to mental force :
And Science now, on her iron road,
‡‡Sends forth her iron-horse.

Hail, Canada ! Thy fame, in part,
‡‡Is shadowed here to-day,
When sounds the steam-car’s whistle loud
‡‡Round our commercial Bay,
And hark ! the whistle sounds again ;
‡‡Crowds press, with keen desire,
To witness Mind’s stupendous power
‡‡In iron and in fire.

Source: St. Catharines Journal, November 17, 1853.  p. 1

At the time of writing this poem, McQueen was the editor the the Hamilton Canadian newspaper. Read more about Thomas McQueen here

From Holt, William J. (ed) Niagara Falls, Canada: A History of the City and the World Famous Beauty Spot; an Anthology. Niagara Falls: Kiwanis Club of Stamford, 1967, p. 62 :

“The coming of the Great Western Railway in 1853 brought boom times to the village of Elgin, Canada West.* Hundreds of jobs were created in construction and railroading in Elgin, resulting in a startling population increase from 100 in 1853 to 2000 in 1857. The Great Western, in 1845, took over a charter granted in 1834 to the London and Gore Railroad, which gave it authority to build from any point on the Niagara River to the Detroit River. The construction of the Suspension Bridge at Elgin and its charter provision for a top deck for railroad traffic made Elgin the obvious choice.

Samuel Zimmerman had the contract to construct the portion of the line between Hamilton and Niagara Falls. Construction began in 1851 and the first run to Niagara Falls, with a steam engine and six passenger cars, took place in November, 1853. A gala party was planned at Zimmerman’s Clifton Hotel to mark the arrival of the first train and even though the last few miles of the trip were made by road, after the locomotive broke down, the party was held.”

It is possible that this poem was read at the gala.

*Elgin was a small village where the present day Via/Go railway station and the Niagara Falls bus terminal are located, a few blocks from Niagara Falls City Hall. It amalgamated with the village of Clifton in 1856, and in 1881 was renamed the Town of Niagara Falls. In 1904 the Town of Niagara Falls and the Village of Niagara Falls (formerly Drummondville) were amalgamated to form the City of Niagara Falls.

The Train to South Dakota by Jane Urquhart

urquhart train

urquhart train
Ad for the Great Western & Michigan Central Railroad Line. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The train
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡to south dakota
and grandmother sits
on red plush seats
her eldest son

at home he spends his hours
with his face against
the slippery necks of horses

at home
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡and here
he cannot speak

he cannot speak the landscape
passing by the windows
or nights when view
becomes reflection

and other faces in the glass
with his own

he cannot say
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡the moon is in the water of
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡the ditch beside the tracks

so all through the journey
grandmother listens
to the abandon of the whistle

and listens day and night
to the wheels
beneath the train

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡which say

someone there will fix him
someone there will fix him


Source: Urquhart, Jane. False Shuffles. Victoria: Press Porcépic, 1982. Section entitled The Undertaker’s Bride. 

Click to see more of Urquhart’s The Undertaker’s Bride poems 

The Test of Cantilever by James Walton Jackson

Sketch of the testing of the cantilever bridge 1883
Sketch of the testing of the cantilever bridge 1883 Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

Lo! Cantilever stands the test,
See! see! it bears upon its breast
Fully twenty locomotives’ weight,
Nor bends beneath the heavy freight.
See! twenty engines safely ride
Across Niagara’s seething tide –
Across the mystic iron span –
Last product of the god-like man.
“The Cantilever bridge is strong!”
Exultant shout the wondering throng.
Lo! fifty locomotives screech,
Two nations’ praise blends each with each,
Resounds the East, resounds the West,
The matchless triumph each attest.
The loud applause – the palm each yields
To Cantilever and to Fields.

First published May 10, 1884 in …ridge Journal