January 1900, No. 3 Railway Station Report

Toronto Union Station

Shannon Ricketts

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Railway Station Report
Title: Toronto Union Station,
Toronto, Ontario

Source: Shannon Ricketts, Architectural History Branch



Between 1914 and 1927 a new union station was built in Toronto to replace one situated below Front and just west of York Street (Figures 1 and 2 ).J. Castell Hopkins, The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1901 (Toronto: The Annual Review Publications Co., 1902) (hereafter cited as Canadian Annual Review), p. 206. The older station had been built in 1873 by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), and subsequently enlarged by the GTR and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) for use as a union station (Figure 3).The CPR line into Toronto had been constructed in 1887. Richard Bébout (ed.), The Open Gate: Toronto Union Station (Toronto: Peter Martin Assoc. Ltd., 1972) (hereafter cited as Open Gate), p. 23. By the turn of the century this expansion proved inadequate to process the growing volume of passengers and goods, and a new union station was planned on a much expanded scale.

Since its opening in 1927, Union Station has operated as one of the most significant hubs in the Canadian transportation network. In 1973 the Toronto Historical Board included Toronto Union Station in its first list of major heritage buildings in the city, and in 1975 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) declared it to be of national architectural significance as one of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts railway station design in Canada. Following the passage of Bill C-205, this paper has been prepared in order to assist the HSMBC in assessing the heritage value of Union Station.

Historical Associations


The building of the present Toronto Union Station was, in its day, a mega-project of a size and complexity previously unmatched in railway terminal construction in Canada. Begun in the first decade of the twentieth century, it was part of the last great phase of railway station construction, and was the largest of a number of union stations constructed by Canadian railway companies during that period.John Witham, Canadian Pacific Railway Stations, 1874-1914 -Historical Report, Screening Paper, Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, "C", May 1974 (hereafter cited as CPR Stations), pp. 9-11. As a joint project of the CPR and GTR (later subsumed by the Canadian National Railways Company [CNR]) the station reflects the maturation of Canada's rail network in the twentieth century.

Toronto was a significant nodal point within the Canadian rail system. Situated along the east-west rail route, its own economy was spurred by rail service. The vibrant growth of Toronto's industry and trade, in turn, created a demand for increased rail facilities. The need for ever larger terminals to process growing numbers of passengers and quantities of freight was a condition experienced across the continent.Carroll L.V. Meeks, The Railroad Station: an Architectural History (Secaucus, N.Y.: Castle Books, 1978) (hereafter cited as The Railroad Station), p. 110. In Canada, totals for passengers and freight transported by the CPR and the GTR increased from 16,577,518 tons of freight and 10,552,173 passengers in 1901, to 24,107,366 tons of freight and 15,507,965 passengers in 1904.In 1901 the CPR carried 7,155,813 tons of freight and 4,337,799 passengers; the GTR carried 9,421,705 tons and 6,214,374 passengers. In 1904 the CPR carried 11,135,896 tons of freight and increased to 12,971,370 tons and 9,256,494 passengers. Canadian Annual Review, 1901, pp. 372-3; Ibid, 1904, pp. 487-90.

The resultant pressure on railway facilities made the concept of two or more lines sharing the cost of one large terminal increasingly popular. Not only did union stations reduce the cost of construction and maintenance to individual companies, but the concentration of facilities in one location was more convenient for the public. In addition, shared terminals obviated inter-company competition for superior locations. Not surprisingly, companies which were already established on prime sites resisted the loss of their locational advantage. They often agreed to union stations only on condition that they maintain ownership of the facility, with the ability to set fees for usage by other railway companies.CPR Stations, p. 9.

Shared terminals also made possible a consolidation of the maze of railway tracks that were proliferating in many larger cities by this time. By 1900 growing public concern regarding the aesthetics of towns and cities was extending to railway facilities. Attention to urban beautification was part of a widespread reform movement that was attempting to ameliorate the more negative effects of rapid industrialization and urbanization affecting North America from the 1880s to the 1920s.Edwinna von Baeyer, The Battle Against Disfiguring Things: an Overview of the Response by Non-Professionals to the City Beautiful Movement in Ontario from 1880 to 1920, Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada Bulletin, Vol. 11, no. 4 (Dec. 1986), pp. 3-9. The Board of Railway Commissioners heard many cases concerning the unsightly and inconvenient intrusion of trackage into Canadian urban centres and considered the establishment of union stations for Ottawa, Toronto, Brandon, Regina, Edmonton and Marysfield, Saskatchewan.The Board of Railway Commissioners was formed by an Act of Parliament on 1 Feb. 1904. The Board's mandate was to regulate rates, safety, and the construction of railways to the mutual benefit of the railways, business interests and the public. RG46, Vol. 4, volume 10, pp. 4592-4594 of the hearings of the Board of Railway Commissioners, 15 Sept. 1904. Cited in CPR Stations, p. 10.

With the development of new transcontinental lines (the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific-National Transcontinental) there was a growth in the number of union stations. New union stations in large centres included the Winnipeg Union Station, constructed in 1908, and the Ottawa Union Station, constructed 1909-12. The CPR had shared railway stations in the past. In 1887 they had agreed with the Canada Atlantic Railway to jointly build a station at Saint-Polycarpe, Que. where their rail lines intersected.

At Toronto the CPR had previously paid a rental fee for usage of Grand Trunk stations. In 1892 the CPR and the GTR co-operated on the construction of a union station in Toronto. When this became out-dated and a new one was proposed in 1904, it was decided to form a joint company for the sole purpose of constructing and operating the station. Conceived in the last days of the heyday of rail development, Union Station manifests the ultimate development of the railway station as a co-operative venture between railway companies, national and municipal bodies.

Local History

For so large an undertaking a sizeable site was needed. This became available in 1904 when a huge fire gutted a large part of Toronto's manufacturing and warehouse district. 122 buildings burnt in a fourteen acre area along Front Street. The railroads lost no time in negotiating for control of that valuable land. With the GTR making the first agreement with the city, the GTR and the CPR reached a tentative agreement by 1905. In 1906 an act of the Federal Parliament created the Toronto Terminals Railway Company (with the CPR and the GTR each controlling half interest) with a mandate to construct a new station and rail yards south of Front Street (Figure 4).Open Gate, p. 15.

By the time construction began in 1914, the volume of rail traffic passing through the old Toronto terminal numbered some 130 through trains, 10,000 pieces of baggage and 1500 parcels per day. Eight years later New York's Grand Central Station was only recording 133 through trains daily, with a lesser amount of baggage.The Union Station, The Architectural Forum, March 1924, p. 101. Designs for the new station, largely drawn up in 1913-1914, responded to such statistics. The immense building, measuring over 750 feet along Front Street, was planned to accommodate up to 240,000 people per day.The building contained some 10,000,000 cubic feet. Toronto Union Station, Built 1915-1921, Placed in Operation, Canadian Railway and Marine World (hereafter cited as CRMW), 30 Sept. 1927, p. 506.

Despite the high level of traffic, the city of Toronto was surprisingly small to warrant such a mammoth terminal.In 1901 the population of Toronto measured 208,040. Canada. Census and Statistics Office, Fourth Census of Canada, 1901, Vol. 1, pp. 218-19. Although its absolute size was still smaller than that of Montréal or many of the major metropolitan centres in the eastern United States, Toronto's growth-rate during the second half of the nineteenth century had been explosive.In 1851 the population was only 30,755. Census of the Canadas, 1851, Vol. 1, p. 30. Much of this growth was due to the city's success as an industrial centre, and this, in turn, had been made possible by rail service. As urban historian Peter Goheen explains:

Toronto's industrial prosperity would have been impossible without the system of transportation which made it possible for the city's industries to serve efficiently and compete for sizeable trading hinter1and.Peter G. Goheen, Currents of Change in Toronto 1850-190O, in Gilbert A. Stelter and Alan F.J. Artibise, The Canadian City: Essays in Urban History (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart in association with the Institute of Canadian Studies, Carleton University, 1977) (hereafter cited as The Canadian City), p. 65.

In addition, Toronto was important as a through point along the westward rail route. Not only freight, but also thousands of immigrants passed through the Toronto terminals. Some stayed to supply labour in the city's factories, and many continued on to take advantage of prairie lands made accessible by the recently constructed CPR rail lines.Between 1894 and 1904 the CPR enjoyed an 100% increase in passenger traffic. Robert McMann,  .. A Kind of Monument to a Time When the World Ran on Steel Rails, in Open Gate, p. 27.

Consequently, when Union Station was in the planning stages the city of Toronto was intensely concerned with the project. In addition to the station building itself, the city was also interested in the yards. Wishing to regain access to the waterfront which for some years had been blocked by east-west tracks, the city involved itself in the planning of grade separations which would allow north-south underpasses beneath the east-west trackage. The CPR, however, did not agree with the initial plan put forth by the City Engineer's Department recommending elevated tracks on an earth-filled viaduct with twelve subways joining north/south streets to the waterfront, and through tracks into the station with an access subway under them.Ibid., p. 28. Such a plan would have involved the alteration of existing CPR freight yards, as well as being very costly to the railways.At an estimated cost of six million dollars, only one third of this amount was to be born by the city. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

The battle over the grade separation issue raged on for several years. By 1911 an Act of the Dominion Parliament had created the Toronto Harbour Commission, a five-member board who also had to be consulted on grade separations along the waterfront. Finally, in 1913, a new viaduct plan was approved by the Board of Railway Commissioners who issued a work order for a fourteen million dollar station. By April of 1914 the Toronto Terminals Railway Company had assembled a team of architects to design and construct the station.Ibid., pp. 28-29. Preliminary work was begun on the site in September of that year.

Meanwhile Britain had declared war in Germany. Canadian troops left Toronto from the old Union Station while work on the new station progressed slowly. Hampered by delays in the delivery of materials during the war, the exterior was not completed until 1918. By 1920 the CPR and the CNR were occupying office space in the building, and the Post Office had taken possession of the east wing for which it had previously negotiated. The old arguments over grade separations continued between the Harbour Commission, the City and the railways. In 1924 a final plan was approved by the Board of Railway Commissioners, and work on the necessary viaduct, bridge, grading, platforms, and trackage commenced. At long last, on 11 August 1927, the station was opened for business—twenty-three years after its inception. The subways connecting the north/south streets with the waterfront were not completed until 1930.Ibid., p. 39.

By the mid-twentieth century the introduction of diesel engines had increased rail speed and efficiency, and reduced the need for the elaborate yard facilities previously required to service steam engines. At the same time, automobile and air travel were reducing the demand for rail service. In response, CN and CP consolidated their passenger service in 1977 as VIA Rail Canada Inc. In Toronto continued population growth created a need for a rail commuter service. This was instituted by CN/CP in 1967 as the GO Train service.Margo Teasdale, Planning For Heritage Railway Stations, The Ontario Heritage Foundation and the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture in co-operation with Canadian National Railways and VIA Rail, Vol. 1, 1987, p. 7. While these new developments have necessitated some alterations to Union Station and its yards, the station continues to function as the major nexus between the city's intra- and inter-urban rail systems. In 1987, approximately 107,465 passengers using either VIA, GO, or the Toronto subway system passed through Union Station on a daily basis.Telephone communications with the Public Relations Departments of VIA, GO and the Toronto Transit Commmission, 10 January 1989.

To Torontonians, Union Station has served as a magnificent gateway to the city, and memorializes the growth and development of the industrial base upon which the economic strength of that metropolis has been built.


Aesthetic/Visual Qualities

Union Station's successful use of monumental design, classical detailing, and formal setting makes it one of the most outstanding examples of Beaux-Arts railway architecture in Canada. Designed by a team of architects assembled by the Toronto Terminals Railway Company in 1913-14, the station was actually constructed between the years 1915 and 1920.Douglas Richardson, A Blessed Sense of Civic Excesss, in Open Gate, p. 67. The team consisted of the Montréal architectural firm of Ross and Macdonald, CPR architect Hugh G. Jones, and an associate architect from Toronto, John M. Lyle. Existing documentary evidence does not specify individual design contributions, and John Lyle himself simply referred to the project as the work of three collaborating architects who were still friends.John Lyle, Address on Canadian Architecture, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Journal, February 1927, p. 66. The Montréal architects, however, seem to have prepared initial designs before appointing Lyle the local associate responsible for supervision of the construction as well as assistance in all discussion and preparation of plans  .. These terms of reference were found in the Minutes and Papers of the Toronto Terminals Railway Company, and are quoted in Geoffrey Hunt, John Lyle: Toward a Canadian Architecture (Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, 1982; (hereafter cited as John M. Lyle), p. 86. The actual building differed considerably from those first plans.

All the architects on the team were of considerable note within the profession, and had experience with large firms working in the prevailing Beaux-Arts style. George Allen Ross and Robert Henry Macdonald of the firm of Ross and Macdonald had just completed the Ottawa Union Station, designed in the Beaux-Arts style, before taking on the Toronto project (Figure 5).Leslie Maitland, Government Conference Centre (former Union Station), 2 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, Building Report 88-28. Hugh Griffith Jones had been employed by the CPR as an architect since 1908.The Canadian Who's Who, Vol. II, 1936-37 (Toronto: The Times Pub. Co. of England, 1936), p. 569. John Lyle had trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and by the time he had returned to Canada and set up his own practice in Toronto he had acquired a solid training in Beaux-Arts design, experience with some of the leading American architectural firms, and perhaps most significantly, a fully developed personal philosophy of Canadian architecture. He saw himself and like-minded architects as inspired traditionalists melding the best of the classical heritage with local vernacular and decorative influences.Dana Johnson and Nathalie Clerk, John M. Lyle, Agenda Paper, Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, June 1982 (hereafter cited as Lyle, Agenda Paper).

By the early years of the twentieth century the influence of Beaux-Arts design was being felt in Canada. White classicism, as it was popularly known, had been fashionable for some time in the United States, having been officially sanctioned and thoroughly advertised by the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.This outline of the Beaux-Arts style is much indebted to Nathalie Clerk, Le Style Beaux-Arts au Canada, unpublished manuscript, Ottawa, Canada, Canadian Parks Service, n.d. The almost exclusive use of large-scale, classically ordered designs for the Chicago exhibition buildings, and their formal setting in spacious, axially-designed grounds, appealed to the contemporary desire to reflect an old-world civility and grandeur in often hastily and meanly built new world communities. This concept of civic grandeur demanded not only impressive public buildings, but also appropriately designed settings.

The philosophy of Beaux-Arts design had evolved through the teachings of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Founded in 1819, the Ecole stressed rational planning and the use of large-scale, classical detailing. Heroic proportions were especially suitable for the many public structures (hospitals, libraries, legislative buildings, etc.) needed for the burgeoning populations of America and Canada. The scale, the sense of drama, and the rational planning of the Beaux-Arts approach to architecture was also appropriate to the large railway stations which were being built in America by the turn of the century. New York's Grand Central Station (1907-13, Warren and Wetmore) and Pennsylvania Station (1906-10, McKim, Mead and White) were successful and influential examples of Beaux-Arts planning in railway design (Figure 6).

Toronto's Union Station is the largest and most elaborate of the Beaux-Arts stations built in Canada. Its imposing façade, which stretches 752 feet along Front Street, culminates in a central entry porch fronted by giant columns with what appears to be almost a separate structure rising up behind the entablature (Figure 7).Martin Weaver, Union Station Gets the Cinderella Treatment, Canadian Heritage, Aug./Sept. 1985 (hereafter cited as Union Station Gets the Cinderella Treatment), p. 38. On either side of the central colonnade three-storey wings punctuated with fourteen bays of severely delineated fenestration terminate in corner pavilions (Figure 8).

This programme reflects several of the Beaux-Arts design tenets. The size of the structure, enhanced by the rhythmic repetition of classical motifs down the length of the façade, successfully creates the sense of stately drama appropriate to its imperial allusions. The latter is even more overtly recalled in the central mass which recreates the great halls of the Roman thermae. The device of using an ancient precedent for contemporary structures was typical of Beaux-Arts design, and had been used a few years before in Pennsylvania Station where McKim, Mead and White used the Baths of Caracalla as the inspiration for that station's great ticket lobby.

At Toronto the use of the same device conveyed the majesty of imperial Rome as well as clearly expressing the interior plan on the building's exterior—both aspects of design central to Beaux-Arts philosophy. The manipulation of classical forms, however, went far beyond the creation of an archaeologically derived pastiche of design elements. Of central importance to the architects was the expression of confident power appropriate to the age of steam. As architectural historian Douglas Richardson has pointed out in his study of Union Station, the use of a Roman order of columns whose massive limestone shafts remained unfluted is one of several design decisions motivated by the desire to express undiminished vigour (Figures 9 and 10).This type of column derives from the Temple of Apollo at Delos. The originals had partial fluting at their base and may, in fact, have been unfinished, but architects since the eighteenth century had been using the order to convey a feeling of power. Open Gate, p. 81. At the same time, overt Roman references such as the original gable roof on the central space could be moderated—in this case to a lower hip roof—in order to ensure unification in overall massing (Figure 11).

This sense of total unity is achieved on the façade by a skilled modulation of detailing. Having established a dramatic focus in the colonnaded entry porch with the higher central mass projecting behind it, the wings sweep outward, echoing the rhythm of the columns in the stacked windows which are slightly recessed between severely smooth pilasters. The façade terminates in slightly projecting pavilions where paired pilasters reach from the ground to the frieze on either side of a two-storey, arched opening (Figure 12).

The station was planned to be approached from Front Street. The spectacle of its massive façade was to be followed by entering under the colonnaded porch via either of the large doors flanking this area, and proceeding into the monumental ticket lobby. The lobby, which appropriately has come to be referred to as the Great Hall, is 88 feet high at the apex of its vaulted ceiling (Figure 13).Ibid., p. 86. Its magnificent proportions (almost equal width and height; both approximately one third of its length) are enhanced by the diffused light falling from the clerestory windows and from the giant thermal windows on the north, east and west walls (Figures 14 and 15). The latter are lit artificially from corridors located behind the windows which connect offices extending around three sides of the hall at the upper levels. The ceiling, originally designed as flat and coffered as in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, was subsequently altered to a coffered segmental barrel vault (Figure 16.Ibid., pp. 74-75. This increased the sense of height and avoided the potential harshness of dark corners caused by the abutment of flat surfaces.

The care in the choice of materials for this ceiling typifies the attention given to the finishing of the ticket lobby in general. The vault, which is tied into the roof girders above it, is constructed of Guastavino tiles (Figure 17). The Guastavino system used broad thin terracotta tiles laid flat with the curve of the vault in two or more layers and laminated together so as to cover the joints of the adjoining layers. This created a cohesive vault which was remarkably strong.The crossing dome of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York was constructed of Guastavino tiles in 1909, and they were used in the Boston Public Library, the Riverside Church in New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. George R. Collins, The Transfer of Thin Masonry Vaulting from Spain to America, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 27, October 1968, pp. 176-201. The system was used in many large structures in the United States in the early years of the twentieth century, and is believed to have been previously used in Canada in Ottawa's Union Station and in the Chateau Laurier Hotel.Personal communication with Professor Stanley Loten, Carleton University School of Architecture, 15 December 1988. In addition to the strength of this system, the surface of these ceramic tiles was reflective so that the light from the clerestory windows bounced off the ceiling, enhancing the overall quality of soft, refracted light throughout the lobby.

The lobby walls up to the architrave are faced with Zumbro stone which is a reflective, fossilized stone complementing the Tennessee marble floors.Open Gate, p. 2. The latter are laid in a herring-bone pattern within a grid which echoes the coffering of the ceiling. Above the architrave, the attic level and the vaults at each end of the lobby are finished in a light-coloured plaster (Figure 18.Union Station Gets the Cinderella Treatment, p. 37. The cornice of the entablature is carved with the names of Canadian cities served by the two railways (Figure 19). This insertion of Canadiana into the decorative programme is typical of the beliefs held by John Lyle. He espoused the development of a form of decoration expressive of Canada.Lyle, Agenda Paper. At Union Station the indigenizing of ornament is in its incipient, literal stage. Paralleling the naming of Canadian places on the interior was to have been a programme of free-standing sculptural figures on the exterior cornice over each end of the main entry porch. These figures—unfortunate victims of cost-cutting—were to have represented men significant in Canada's railway history.Open Gate, p. 89. All that remains of this symbolic gesture are the names of Canadian railway men engraved on the frieze on the end pavilions.

Representative Qualities

The size and sophistication of Toronto's Union Station make it a unique example, not only of union stations, but also of early twentieth century railway station construction in large urban centres. Throughout the nineteenth century railway stations had been built in a number of styles including variations of Romanesque Revival, Chateauesque, and Italianate. After the turn of the century, however, Beaux-Arts design was regarded as the only manner grand enough and exuberant enough to reflect the confidence of the new age.

Canada has a very early example of Beaux-Arts railway design in the Winnipeg CPR Station (Figure 20; 1904-5, Edward and William Maxwell). While this brick and stone structure retains some picturesque qualities more typical of nineteenth century architecture, Winnipeg's next large station, the Union Station (1908, Warren and Wetmore), was much more severely classical. It exhibits the central colonnade along the façade, the large-scale thermal windows and prominent entablature that became typical of such stations. The former Union Station (now the Government Conference Centre) in Ottawa (Figure 21; 1909-12, Ross and McFarlane and Bradford Lee Gilbert) follows this formula with the addition of colonnading along the exposed elevation facing the Rideau Canal. Three such grand stations were built in Vancouver (Figure 22; the CPR Station—Barott and Blackader, 1913-14; the Great Northern Station—F.L. Townley, 1915; and the Canadian Northern Station—R.B. Pratt, 1919). Of this group of stations Toronto Union Station is the most successfull in conveying the impression of grandeur so central to Beaux-Arts ideals.

Functional/Technological Qualities

Union Station was designed to process up to 10,000 people per hour.Ibid., p. 70. Efficient traffic flow was an obvious priority. An article in The Architectural Forum of 1924 explained:

The effort in planning was, as far as possible, to arrange all portions of the station in such a sequence as to allow passengers to transact their business and pass to or from trains with a minimum of cross traffic current or retracing of steps  ..  The sequence for outgoing passengers is: ticket office, information booth, parcel claim counter, baggage checking counter, telegraph and telephone, newsstand, train waiting room for non-waiting passengers, and ticket examination booth at the foot of each platform stair  ..  Incoming passengers leave the train platforms by separate exit stairs and passages and pass through the low level concourse and up ramps under the colonnade to the street.The Architectural Forum, March 1924, p. 102.

Consequently, the lobby is relatively unencumbered by intrusive structures. At either end staircases allow access to lower levels, and in the centre an information kiosk provides a point of reference within the huge space. Ticket counters line the north wall between the entry doors (Figure 23). Axial planning is utilized to lead the traveller from the ticket counter either directly across to the ramped entry to the trains centrally located through the south wall, or to the waiting room at the west end of the hall (Figure 24 and 25). The original counters and information kiosk have been replaced. Contemporary substitutes are somewhat clumsy attempts to match the elegance of their surroundings.

The east wing, originally occupied by the Post Office, is now leased to Scotia Bank which has constructed a glass entry walk over the interior light-well into what is now bank offices.The Toronto Terminals Railway Company took back possession of the east wing after fire largely gutted its interior in the late 1970s. They then leased the main floor and above to Scotia Bank who renovated this section of the building for use as bank offices. Personal communication with Norman Sclodnick, Supervisor, Property Management, Toronto Terminals Railway Company, 11 December 1988. The waiting room on the west end of the lobby echoes the ticket lobby on a more modest scale (Figure 26). It is rectangular, suggesting a basilica with side aisles separated from the nave by square columns. The ceiling of the central area is lit by a large skylight (supplemented by artificial lighting above the glass). The walls and columns are rough sawn stone as in the main lobby.The walls have a dado above which they have been recently painted using a faux-marbre technique in an attempt to disguise remnants of blue paint which was used to enliven the room during a previous "renovation". Union Station Gets the Cinderella Treatment, p. 37. Originally, women's restrooms extended off the north end of this room while men's facilities (including barber shop and baths) were off the south side and a restaurant at the west end. This area was refurbished in 1967 to accommodate CN Rapido and Turbo passengers. A new stairway from the south side linked it to the tracks.Open Gate, p. 48. Currently the south side accommodates all washroom facilities, as the north and west sides have been taken over for use as offices.

The west wing is otherwise taken up with the offices of the Toronto Terminals Railway Company. Construction is now underway to link this wing by an enclosed overhead walkway via the Canadian Express Building across York Street to the Marathon Realty tower at the foot of University Avenue, the CN/CP Telecommunications building and the hotel/convention complex further west. This pedestrian link will enter Union Station at the main floor.Personal communication with Norman Sclodnick.

With the establishment of the GO commuter service the lower concourse underneath the east wing was devoted to GO passengers (Figure 27).Richard Bébout, Progress and History: The Future of Union Station, in Open Gate, p. 97. This area had previously been part of the Post Office with a separate immigrant waiting room next to the exit concourse (Figure 28). Commuters now normally access this area from the tunnel connecting the north side of Front Street to the station, or they pass directly from train to subway at this juncture (Figure 29). Consequently, a large portion of the day-to-day traffic never passes through the main lobby.The tunnel was constructed in 1930 to link the newly-built Royal York Hotel with the station. Ibid., p. 4. At the same time the departure concourse was enlarged to accommodate both arrivals and departures (Figure 30). Offices and concessions which previously separated arriving and departing passengers were removed to allow more space for the joint function.Ibid., p. 48.

The relationship of headhouse (the station building proper) to the trainshed (the track-covering for arriving and departing trains next to the headhouse) at Toronto Union Station is typical of North American practice as opposed to that of Europe. While the latter tended to use impressive vaulted metal and glass enclosures stressing the technology of the trainsheds, North Americans were more concerned with the station as a civic monument. For this reason the headhouse became a significant architectural statement in many American and Canadian communities.Ibid., pp. 68-69. The trainshed at Toronto Union Station is a flat-roofed, steel-frame covering known as a Bush type (Figures 31 and 32).Trainshed, Toronto Union Station, CRMW, no. 386, April 1930, p. 197. To ensure maximum efficiency the trackage was designed as through tracks (in contrast to stub-end trackage which required departing trains to back out of the trainshed). Union Station is the only large railway station on the continent which provides for through-train traffic.Toronto Union Station (Toronto: Toronto Terminals Railway Co., n.d.), p. (2).



Union Station occupies an entire city block on the south side of Front Street between York and Bay streets. The clear spatial definition provided by these boundaries was underscored by the widening of Front Street at this point by 25 feet. The building was then set back 72 feet from the original street line fronting it and 50 feet from the side streets (Figures 34 and 35).Open Gate, p. 72.

The impulse to create a monumental setting for this major public building derived from the Beaux-Arts tradition. In keeping with this philosophy, a proposal to create a broad avenue running from Front Street to Queen midway between Bay and York was presented to the City in 1909 by the Civic Improvement Committee of which John Lyle was a member (Figure 36).John M. Lyle, p. 83. The proposed Federal Avenue would have been anchored on the north by a civic plaza bounded by Osgoode Hall and the former City Hall (the present site of Nathan Phillips Civic Square) and on the south by Union Station. It was to have created a processional route with vistas culminating in magnificent architectural monuments. The plan was still being discussed after the First World War. In 1921 John Lyle further suggested setting aside a semi-circle of land in front of the station for a triumphal memorial arch which should make an effective entrance motif to our city.John Lyle, Monumental Architecture and Town Planning, Construction, Vol. 14, May 1921, p. 137.

Although this type of urban planning was based on European precedents, more immediate inspiration came from the Park Avenue setting of New York's Grand Central Station, and from the Chicago Plan proposed by Daniel Burnham in 1909.John M. Lyle, pp. 83 and 87. These reflected the Beaux-Arts penchant for axially-planned urban settings climaxing in formal, processional routes leading up to stately, classical-revival buildings. In North America this emphasis on massed urban beauty evolved into the City Beautiful movement. In discussing this movement urban historian Walter Van Nus has cogently summarized their precepts:

No longer should beauty be confined to scattered and isolated buildings, its effect more often than not spoiled by an ugly setting.Walter Van Nus, The Fate of City Beautiful Thought in Canada, 1893-1930, in The Canadian City, p. 162.

Although Federal Avenue was never built, a degree of coherence was achieved in the setting for Union Station by the construction of the Dominion Building, just east of the station on Front Street at the foot of Yonge (Figures 37 and 38). This building, which served as a customs house, replaced an earlier one built on the same site. Originally the location was close to the main public wharf as well as to the GT and the Great Western Railway stations. By the time the Dominion Building was constructed (1929-31 and 1934-35) harbour infill had pushed the waterfront further south. However, the site did retain its locational link to other major clients, the railroads. The building is a monumentally-scaled, Beaux-Arts structure whose curved, Queenston limestone façade complements that of Union Station.Dana Johnson, Dominion Building, 1 Front Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, FHBRO Report 83-31 (hereafter cited as Dominion Building). As Douglas Richardson has stated  .. " together these buildings cup and hold the full width of Front Street and bring it to a triumphal conclusion".Open Gate, p. 84.

To provide accommodation for travellers the Royal York Hotel was constructed soon after the station's opening. It was also designed by Ross and Macdonald (Figure 39).The Canadian Who's Who, Vol. 11, 1936-37 (Toronto: The Times Pub. Co. of England, 1936), p. 663. Positioned directly across the street, this multi-storey hotel replaced the old Queen's Hotel, and was linked to the station by a pedestrian tunnel beneath the street. More recently, mammoth glass and steel complexes have been built further east along the north side of Front Street, flanking the elegant stone Bank of Montréal building on Yonge and Front streets. Leon Whiteson and S.R. Gage have pointed out in their commentary on the architecture and neighborhoods of Toronto, that the formal dignity of Union Station, the Dominion Building, the Royal York Hotel and the Bank of Montréal provides an anchor for any historically sensitive re-development of the area.S.R. Gage and Leon Whiteson, The Liveable City: The Architecture and Neighbourhoods of Toronto (Toronto: Mosaic Press, 1982) (hereafter cited as The Liveable City). Together this group of buildings preserves the formal quality desired by the architects. And as architectural historian Dana Johnson has remarked the two monumentally-scaled buildings on the south side of Front Street—the Union Station and the Dominion Building—represent a relatively rare attempt at Beaux-Arts planning in a Canadian city.Dominion Building.

The area immediately south of the station is taken up by railway yards. Along with the headhouse, both CN and CP had erected new express handling and terminal facilities including roundhouses, turntables, machine shops, coach repair shops, coal-, sand-, and ash-handling plants, water-tanks, stores buildings, storage areas, and one of the largest heating plants in Canada.Open Gate, pp. 43-44. Completed by 1931, there would be no major change to the yards until the construction of the elevated Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway. Robert McMann, in his study of the station and its yards, asserts that  .. " it was to be the greatest piece of railway engineering that the Toronto area would witness until the early 1960s.Ibid., p. 33. This area is now in the process of change. The heating plant has been closed down, and the servicing yards for VIA are located in Mississauga.Personal communication with Norman Sclodnick.

Community Status

In 1968 the Metro Centre plan proposed the re-development of the railway lands in downtown Toronto. Union Station and a large part of its attendant yards were to be demolished to make way for a new transporation terminal and a number of highrise office towers. Citizens committed to the preservation of the station building formed the Union Station Committee. They succeeded in obtaining not only a stay of execution for the structure, but also federal assistance for the rehabilitation of the building. This was carried out in 1984-85.Union Station Gets the Cinderella Treatment, p. 36. Meanwhile, with the Metro Centre Project on hold, CN proceeded to erect on land west of the station a mammoth communications tower—at 1,815 feet the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time of its construction (Figure 40).The Liveable City, p. 30.

The plan for the development of the waterfront lands is the most recent in a series of attempts to maximize usage of this area. In the early nineteenth century lake Ontario reached just below Front Street. The northern edge of the harbour was gradually filled in, providing approximately 600 acres of land, the majority of which was controlled by the railways (Figure 41 and 42).Stephen McLaughlin, A Visual Introduction to the Toronto Waterfront, in Toronto Yesterday, To-day and Tomorrow, Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Conference of the Heritage Canada Foundation (Toronto: Heritage Canada, 1983), p. 57 The manner in which this area can best be used for the construction of new commercial and residential structures is now under consideration. Union Station will be on the northern boundary of this sector. Having served as the southern gateway to the city for over half a century, it now has the added potential of serving as a link between north and south, old and new.

End notes


  1. Union Station, Toronto, view of façade from the northwest. (Michael Bowassa, 1988.)

  2. Union Station, Toronto, ca. 1935, view from the northeast. (National Archives, Picture Collection, PA-68201.)

  3. The old Union Station, Toronto, view from the northeast. (Metropolitan Toronto Central Library, John Ross Robertson Collection.)

    Image Not Available

  4. Plan of old and new Union Station sites, 1903. (Charles, E. Goad, Atlas of the City of Toronto [Toronto, 1903], p l.3.)

    Image Not Available

  5. Former Union Station, Ottawa, view of façade. (National Capital Commission, 1978.)

  6. Pennsylvania Station, New York, view of façade, ca. 1902. (Open Gate, figure 13.)

    Image Not Available

  7. Union Station, Toronto, central entry porch. (Michael Bowassa, 1988.)

  8. Union Station, east wing of the façade. (Michael Bowassa, 1988.)

  9. Detail of colonnade showing partial fluting of column at top of shaft. (Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, n.d.)

    Image Not Available

  10. View behind colonnade between entry doors (Michael Bowassa, 1988.)

  11. Perspective drawing of early proposal for Union Station, ca. 1913-14. (Open Gate, figure 7.)

    Image Not Available

  12. Union Station, original Postal Station A at east end. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

  13. Union Station, ticket lobby, ca. 1930. (NA, PC, PA-43461.)

  14. Union Station entry from Front Street with thermal window above doors. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  15. Union Station, thermal window at east end of ticket lobby. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  16. Perspective drawing of initial proposal for ticket lobby with flat ceiling, ca. 1913-14. (CRMW, Vol. 17, June 1914, p. 263.)

    Image Not Available

  17. Union Station, ceiling of ticket lobby constructed of Guastavino tiles. (Open Gate, xviii.)

    Image Not Available

  18. Detail of plaster coffering on vaults over east end of ticket lobby. (Michael Bowassa, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  19. View of ticket counter and north wall of ticket lobby. (Open Gate, xvii.)

    Image Not Available

  20. CPR Station, Winnipeg, erected 1904-05. (CIHB, 1970.)

    Image Not Available

  21. Union Station, Ottawa (now Government Conference Centre), erected 1909-12. (NA, PC, C-5243.)

    Image Not Available

  22. CPR Station, Vancouver, erected 1913-14. (CIHB, 1970.)

    Image Not Available

  23. Union Station ticket lobby with staircase to lower level, information kiosk and ticket counter, looking toward waiting room at west end of the hall. (Michael Bowassa, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  24. Union Station, entry to trains on south side of ticket lobby. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  25. Union Station, plan of main level. (Architectural Forum, 40, March 1924, pl. 35.)

    Image Not Available

  26. Union Station waiting room at west end of ticket lobby. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  27. Union Station, lower level beneath east wing. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  28. Union Station, plan of lower level. (Architectural Forum, 40, March 1924, pl. 35)

    Image Not Available

  29. Union Station, lower level concourse beneath ticket lobby. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  30. Union Station, lower level access to VIA trains. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  31. Union Station, diagrammatic transverse section. (Architectural Forum, 40, March 1924, p. 101.)

    Image Not Available

  32. Union Station trainshed, transverse section. (CRMW, April 1930, p. 197.)

    Image Not Available

  33. Union Station at Bay Street. (S . Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  34. Union Station at York Street. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  35. Plan for proposed Federal Avenue. (City of Toronto Civic Improvement Committee, Report, 1911.)

    Image Not Available

  36. View of Dominion Building and Union Station, looking west along Front Street, August 1945. (Open Gate, p. 11.)

    Image Not Available

  37. View of Dominion Building looking east along Front Street. (S. Ricketts, 1908.)

    Image Not Available

  38. View of Royal York Hotel from sunken carriageway in front of Union Station. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  39. View of CN Tower from Front Street. (S. Ricketts, 1988.)

    Image Not Available

  40. Plan of Toronto harbour showing old Union Station, 1884. (Charles E. Goad, Atlas of the City of Toronto.)

    Image Not Available

  41. Map of Toronto, ca. 1970. (G.P. de T. Glazebrook, The Story of Toronto [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971], p. 281.)

    Image Not Available

  42. Unknown

    Image Not Available

Railways: C.N.Rys., C.P.Ry., T.T.Ry.

Stations: Toronto