Wednesday, February 28, 2007 Barrie Advance

Allandale station gets a new lease on life.

Andrew Hind

Enlarged Image not Available
Photo courtesy Simcoe County Museum and Archives.
This is what the Allandale train station looked like in the latter years of the 19th century.

By Andrew Hind: special

Time Warp

The Allandale train station is destined to once again become a cornerstone of the community, anchoring an ambitious plan to redevelop 'Old Allandale'.

If the plans reach fruition, it will signal a reprieve for a 150100-year old building whose future has hung in the balance far too long.

Railway history in Allandale begins back in 1853, when the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway (OS+HR), the provinces first, finally extended from Bradford to Allandale and there built a complex that would serve as a vital nexus in the line.

The business owners of Barrie were extremely upset that the terminal was not built in their community, and fought for over a decade to get the line extended the additional mile to the heart of Barrie's merchant district.

Initially, the Allandale station was an unimpressive little board-and-batten building. Despite its modest size and appearance, the station brought economic vitality to what heretofore was a modest farming community. Indeed, most of the businesses in Allandale were tied to the railway line.

The 1890s were a troubled decade for the station. The tracks were damaged and rail cars tossed aside during extensive flooding on June 5, 1890 that caused the line to be shut for several days. In 1893 the station itself was burned to the ground, replaced by yet another simple structure.

Then, in 1896, there occurred another washout that made that which occurred years earlier seem negligible by comparison.

The station was damaged, vast sections of track were wiped out and fissures opened in the ground, and trains tossed around like toys.

Better years were ahead, however. In 1905, the Grand Trunk (which had bought-out the OS+HR) decided an upgrade of its Allandale facilities was in order. The end result was unique. There were three buildings rather than one, each of which was centered on a specific function.

The main structure comprising an agent's office, baggage storage area, a waiting room, a men's smoking room, and a nursery that allowed mothers a moment of respite. The most interesting feature was its rounded bay and large windows on the south side, allowing for a pleasant view of Kempenfelt Bay lying before it.

Following that was a restaurant that was connected to the main building by a breezeway.

Most rail station restaurants were modest affairs, offering little more than sandwiches and refreshments, but since many passengers who frequented the Allandale station were wealthy vacationers on their way to cottages and resorts in the Muskokas, such meagre facilities would hardly have been appropriate.

Instead, the architects opted for an elegant restaurant with a uniformed staff, seating 50 at tables and a further 60 at the bar. Large windows that stretch nearly to the roof offered natural lighting and a view of the bay.

The final building is a two-story brick office, also connected by a breezeway. Allandale was an important divisional point for the Grand Trunk, and so the office had to be large to house the sizable staff required to run the yard.

For the next half century, with a brief interruption as a result of the Depression, the Allandale station remained vibrant and busy. By this stage Allandale was, for all intents and purposes, a "company town"—almost all men were employed at the yard or in businesses serving the railway.

Things began to change in the 1950's, however, when the yard ceased to function as a divisional point and the staff was removed to Capreol.

Architectural changes were likewise made at this point, destroying much of its distinctive nature. The restaurant was turned into a soda bar and its high domed ceiling covered over. A two-story observation tower was also removed, and the roofline was simplified.

More changes over the ensuing decades as the station found itself marginalized. By the 1990s, it stood vacant and overgrown, its future undecided and uncertain.

For a time it looked as if CHUM might come to the rescue and redevelop on site for its VR station, but due to altered corporate plans they decided to jettison the building in 2004, leaving the aging structure in limbo once again.

Now, exciting plans are in the works to allow the historic building to recapture its rightful place at the heart of Allandale.

Redevelopment will see it included as yet determined combination of retail, restaurant, art gallery and museum spaces, which will be integrated with a new GO station due to resume services in 2007.

The fate of the Allandale station no longer hangs in the balance; indeed, its future looks brighter than at any point in perhaps the last century.

To Do: Visit beautiful Allandale Station Park, which was developed in 1994 out of the former CNR service yards.

Note that part of 1903 Master Mechanic's and Stores Department building was incorporated into Southshore Community Center.

For more information on the Allandale Station, and more than fifty other heritage rail stations across Ontario, read Ron Brown's The Last Stop.

Stations: Allandale