Two lines – The Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich (later the Buffalo and Lake Huron) Railway and the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) – arrived in Stratford in 1856. This marked the beginning of its history as a railway hub. Following their arrival, engineers, brakemen and conductors began to relocate to Stratford. Thirteen years later the GTR took over its competitor.
Romance and the railway combined to shape the future of the small community. When railway director T.H. Roberts arrived in Stratford looking for a potential location for new GTR locomotive repair shops in 1870, he was smitten with the mayor’s daughter, Sarah Daly. They were married and the shops came to Stratford. The shops had a commanding influence on the town for 100 years.
The shop buildings throughout the city were huge, situated on an 18 acre site. By 1907 they were capable of housing and repairing as many as 22 locomotives at once. Among the largest buildings in Canada, the shops were outstanding example of state-of-the-art ironwork and engineering.
With easy access to rail lines, Stratford businesses were able to expand their markets. Whyte Meat Packing Company eventually became part of Canada Packers. Alexander MacLaren developed a new product known as MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese, which was a soft, processed cheese sold in porcelain containers and became phenomenally popular. By 1892, MacLaren established a branch factory in Detroit and within the decade had established offices in Toronto, New York, London, Chicago, Detroit, Mexico, China, Japan and Africa. The building that housed The Mooney Biscuit and Candy Co. had its own spur line and produced up to six tons of biscuits and chocolates daily.