Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Railway Station Report


Canadian National Railways Station
Brantford, Ontario


Kate MacFarlane, Architectural History Branch



In November of 1988, J. Peter Atcheson, Director of Planning for the Corporation of the City of Brantford, wrote to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada requesting that it consider the Canadian National Railway (hereafter, CNR) Station at Brantford (Figure 1) for designation under the new Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. The station, built in 1905, has been identified by the City as being of heritage value and Brantford hopes to take the opportunity presented by Bill C-205 to ensure its protection. This request is supported by the Brantford Heritage Committee.

Historical Associations


The placement of Brantford on the main line of the Grand Trunk Railway (hereafter, GTR) and the erection of its new station in 1905 reflected a short and singular period of expansion and prosperity in that company's troubled history, one which lasted from the mid-1890s through to the early years of this century.

The GTR was formally incorporated in 1852 to build a railway from Toronto to Montréal.1 In time, with the addition of numerous lines, it would form an important link between Ontario and the Eastern seaboard. The GTR of Canada East was also incorporated in 1852 to build a line from Lévis to Trois-Pistoles, Québec and the recently completed St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad was purchased in 1853. The Montréal to Lévis line opened in 1854 and the Montréal to Toronto line in 1856. The Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway was leased in 1864, adding a line from Pt. Huron to Chicago. The Georgian Bay and Lake Erie Railways were acquired in 1881 and the Midland Railway in 1884. The 1884 takeover of the Great Western Railway added another 1450 km of track and additional links to the United States rail system were established with the International Bridge across the Niagara River and the St. Clair tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. Brantford's early decision to build its own line to Buffalo, New York brought it within the sphere of the GTR's expansion by 1854.

Despite its steady growth in the early years, the GTR was plagued by high construction costs, poor, absentee management, and a failure to generate anticipated levels of traffic. It was, by the early 1890s, debt-ridden and unpopular.2 From the mid-nineties, however, until the first world war, the company undertook a massive betterment program under the presidency of Sir Charles Rivers-Wilson and with the guidance of its new General Manager and 2nd Vice-president, Charles Melville Hays.3 Beginning with his appointment in 1896 and ending with his death in 1912, Hays reorganised the company's finances, purchased new rolling stock, double-tracked the main line from Montréal to Sarnia, reduced curves and grades to improve operating efficiency, and reconstructed bridges, buildings and yards.4

In 1905, following the short recession of 1903-04, Rivers-Wilson recapitulated for the Board the financial career of the GTR over the preceding ten years.5 In 1895 the company could not earn its fixed charges and had no money for alterations or improvements. The decision was made, therefore, that it was crucial to improve methods of transportation. To that end, the mileage of double track was increased from 404 to 956. The inventory of rolling stock had been allowed to decline slightly but due to rebuilding (out of earnings) the average capacity per car had increased from less than 18 tons in 1894 to nearly 24 tons in 1904. The number of locomotives had remained essentially unchanged though their average tractive power had been increased by one third. The Grand Trunk Western had been virtually reconstructed and re-equipped, and new elevators had been built at Portland and on Georgian Bay. In financial terms the figures were encouraging—during Hays' tenure, the company's yearly gross revenues grew from £4,400,000 to about £10,000,000 (notwithstanding a 50% increase in the cost of labour), the GTR or its Pacific subsidiary had raised over £16,000,000 of new capital, and the market value of company securities had increased by £20,000,000. The prosperity of this decade was also reflected in the design and construction of numerous substantial new railway stations such as Ridgeway (1903), Grimsby (1902), Wiarton (1904), Petrolia (1903), and Brantford (1905).

The rehabilitation of the GTR's physical assets, the reorganisation of its management and the restoration of its earning power were not Hays' only challenges or accomplishments. He was also instrumental in the construction of a rail line to the Pacific. In 1903, during this period of optimism, the GTR set up a subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific, to build a transcontinental line which was completed in 1914.6 The move, however, was a financial disaster and largely responsible for the bankruptcy of the GTR in 1919.7 The Brantford station, which was built at the apex of this short period of prosperity, is a more substantial and elegant structure than its nearby contemporaries and stands as a testimony to the achievements of the GTR.

Local History

From its introduction, the railway played an important role in helping to fulfil Brantford's commercial promise. In 1850, the city had undertaken to subsidise a rail line of its own to Buffalo, New York.8 Buffalo, seeing an opportunity to augment its hinterland, gave its full cooperation and in 1851, Brantford borrowed $100,000 from the Province of Canada to invest in the Buffalo and Brantford Railway Company.9 In 1852, an additional $500,000 was borrowed in Britain to extend the line to Goderich on Lake Huron and further monies were raised to construct car shops.10 Initial expectations "were rudely shattered by inevitable delays, high costs, and engineering hazards."11 Nonetheless, on 13 January 1854, Brantford's citizens celebrated the completion of the Buffalo line in high style with bands, fireworks, and a ball which was held in the newly completed machine shops.12

The line did not live up to its promise and within months was operating in the red. Company promoters had neglected to consider the abundance of competing lines in southwestern Ontario.13 Furthermore, Brantford had assumed it would be selected as a transfer point on the Great Western, operating out of Hamilton. Instead, the line was built to Paris by way of Harrisburg, and Brantford was forced to construct a branch road to the main line at Harrisburg at a further cost of nearly $100,000.14 There, passengers were subjected to "annoying delays in ill-equipped waiting rooms,"15 an inconvenience which continued for nearly half a century until Brantford was placed on the main line of the GTR.

Despite some unfulfilled expectations, Brantford's early promise as a commercial centre was slowly realised in the latter half of the nineteenth century. This was due, in large part, to the railroad, which, according to C.M. Johnston, author of Brant County, A History 1784-1945:

had succeeded in bringing on its broad bulk a host of new opportunities. Just as the Grand Trunk ... fostered an industrial renaissance in the Province of Canada, so on a regional scale the Great Western and the Buffalo and Brantford helped to sponsor a varied assortment of new manufacturers and to provide existing ones with more handsome markets.16

The railway introduced essential fuels and raw materials such as cheap coal brought in from Nova Scotia and pig-iron brought from England and the U.S.17 Furthermore, Johnston noted, the "not only whetted the appetites of merchants and millowners but also brought in the requisite labour force."18

By the time the GTR arrived in 1905, therefore, Brantford had laid the foundation for its future advancement. The city believed it had been unfairly hampered for years by its inadequate rail facilities but was, according to a 1905 article in the Brantford Expositor (hereafter, the Expositor), about to "assume one of the leading positions on the railway map ... to become the pivotal point in the great systems which are to form a network of steel bands throughout the western section of the province."19 Furthermore, stated the paper, "the effect which connections will have on local industrial and commercial prestige cannot be overestimated."20

Despite having had to pay the railway a bonus of $57,000 to get on its main line, Brantford felt it had made the better bargain, obtaining improved road beds, a new bridge over the Grand River at Paris, double-tracking of the line between Brantford and Paris, a "splendid new station," and the promise to provide much better service to the growing factory sections of the city.21 Other extensions, in the form of radial lines, which would link up nearby communities and facilitate trade, were also foreseen. Brantford believed a new era of growth was beginning to which its location on the main line of the Grand Trunk would give impetus, and the Expositor predicted:

With the splendid new connections which the Grand Trunk will afford, the excellent service rendered by the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo, and the rapid extension of radials, Brantford, indeed, promises to become the hub of this particular part of the universe, so far as railway prestige is concerned.22

In its new station, Brantford found a substantial and imposing symbol of its growing importance and future promise.


Aesthetic/Visual Qualities

The town of Brantford was exceedingly proud of its new station (Figures 2, 3, and 4) when it opened in 1905, believing it to be not only "one of the handsomest and most beautiful [buildings] in the city," but also "one of the best depots on the entire Grand Trunk system."23 It was described in contemporary accounts as "most picturesque"24 in arrangement and solid and permanent in impression. The colourful materials ("a tasty choice"), fine workmanship, striking tower, and elaborate detailing were all noted, but the most admired feature seems to have been the porte-cochère located to the southeast of the main block:

One of the best effects produced is in the porte-cochère to the south, which is held up by the rough brick pillars. This portion, though extremely useful, is one of the most ornamental parts of the entire building.25

The building, which appears to have undergone no exterior changes, is arranged in a T-shape with a two-storey main block and a long, single-storey extension to the rear of this, which terminates in a small, square block of the same height (Figures 5 and 6). The design adopts a picturesque massing of forms which enlivens the simple regularity of the building's shape. The crossing arms of the T-shape are formed by a two-storey, gable-roofed, rectangular main block which contains the main waiting room and office space. From the front of this block there projects a two-storey, rounded bay with a conical roof which is flanked to the right by the four-storey, flat-topped, square tower and to the left by the single-storey, gable-roofed porte-cochère. To the rear left of the main block, at the junction of the short and long arms of the building, is a three sided, single-storey projection. Despite the picturesque multiplicity of forms, the building is given a visual consistency through the repetition of certain decorative elements and the uniformity of materials. All exterior walls are brick, laid in flemish bond, with a rusticated, coursed-granite foundation, stone window quoins, a tile roof, and wood-frame, double-hung fenestration. The tower details—corbel, lintels, and sills—are carried out in brick. A contemporary account of the station noted that "keen judges of brick and stone work have pronounced upon the workmanship as of a most superior nature,"26 and the building is today judged to be in sound condition and of good craftsmanship. Cosmetic alterations such as the installation of aluminum doors, the reduction of the number of interior lights, and the replacement of some roofing tile have taken place.27

At the time of construction, the interior decoration was described as "the product of skilled artists and decorator,"28 and breathlessly relayed to readers of the Expositor. The main waiting-room was a large, open space with an expensively tiled floor and white, tiled wainscoting to a height of approximately eight feet all around the room. This was topped with "a leaf-worked border in a light gold colour, with touches of pretty blue,"29 and above this, reaching to a height of approximately 35 feet, were blue walls decorated with gold leaf. The blue of the walls seems to have faded gradually into the white of the ceiling which was also picked out in gold. Squared marble pillars supported clusters of four Corinthian columns and "where these pillars join the ceiling there [were] elaborate cornices handsomely rounded."30 An immense brass chandelier was suspended from the ceiling by a heavy chain. Nothing was gaudy, the Expositor assured its readers, and all was harmonious. The design "impress[ed] one more with [its] modesty as it were, instead of anything smacking of ostentation or an Oriental rudeness. "31 The casings of all the doors and windows were of "spotted marble, carefully cut and polished,"32 and the quality of workmanship was much admired. The ladiesr waiting room and men's smoking room were not described in any detail, though a "bay window alcove" and "especially handsomely designed coloured glass" were mentioned in connection with the ladies room.33

According to John Canning, Chairperson of the Brantford Heritage Committee, who recently paid a visit to the station, most of these features—notably the tile flooring; wainscoting with leaf border; squared pillars supporting clusters of columns; the brass chandelier; the leaded, stained glass; and the marble door and window surrounds—are still in place.34

The architects of the station were the Detroit-based partnership of Spier and Rohns. Frederick H. Spier (1855-1931) came to Detroit from Bueckenburg, Germany in 1883 to represent Mr. Leopold Eidlitz, a New York architect, and to superintend the construction of the Michigan Central Railroad Station in that city35 Upon completion of this work in 1884, he formed a partnership with William C. Rohns (1856-1951), a native of Goettingen, Germany, which lasted until 1912.36 According to Mr. Spier's obituary in the Detroit Times, the firm had charge of much of the architectural work for the Michigan Central Railroad, Grand Trunk Railroad and other lines in Michigan.37 This work included depots at Ann Arbor, Niles, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek and Chicago. Some of the firm's larger, non-railway commissions were the Sweetest Heart of Mary Church in Detroit (1893); St. Thomas Catholic Church in Ann Arbor; Tappan Hall and the west medical building at the University of Michigan; and Detroit's first "skyscraper," the Chamber of Commerce Building, erected in 1895.38

Functional/Technological Qualities

the station were highlighted in an article entitled "Brantford's New Station Reflects Greatest Credit on Both City and Company," which appeared in the Expositor of 30 September 1905. In approaching from the tracks the visitor would first enter the main waiting room, "a large, airy apartment," open and unobstructed.39 To the east of the building, overlooking the lawn and Market Street, was the ladies1 waiting room, and opening off the southeast corner of the main corridor/space was the porte-cochère where carriages drove up. The porch proper was joined by a cement platform leading right to Market Street. To the southwest corner of the main waiting room was the men's smoking room, and off this, the men's lavatories.

In the west wall of the main waiting room was an arch which lead into an apartment about 15 feet square at the end of which, separated by a heavy counter with sliding door, was the baggage room. This arrangement was much admired-by the author of the Expositor article:

The passenger need hardly go out of the main waiting-room to have his baggage checked. It is all done from the counter, and the device will be among the most popular features of the new station.40

Leading off the baggage room entrance was the ticket office where the telegraphers had a bay window to themselves. Their instruments were placed in a semi-circle around the windows which were themselves arranged in such a way that the operator could see a long distance each way up the track, an arrangement of "great help and convenience."41 Also located in the ticket office was the switchboard controlling all 141 electric lights in the building. The electric lighting system was considered one of the most attractive features of the new station and its highlight, according to the author, was an enormous brass chandelier, "superior to anything in this city in the line of elaborateness and completeness,"42 which held twenty incandescent lights. A private office for the agent was located just off the ticket office. Along with a modern light system, the station employed a modern steam heating system, "thus doing away with the ... open coal stove so common in most railway stations throughout the country."43

To the west of the main building were the baggage facilities. The express office was the little, self-contained building to the rear of the structure, "joined by a roof supported by pillars."44

There do not appear to have been any major structural changes to the building over the years, reflecting, in part, the continuity of its function. The main body of the building still contains the waiting rooms and ticket and baggage facilities, as well as office space. There are further offices located in the small, attached building to the rear of the station and the tower—once used for observation of the shunting and movement of cars—is no longer functional.

Representative Qualities

In 1974 CIHB staff member Mathilde Brosseau prepared a report on the "Second Group of Grand Trunk Railway Stations—Original Eastern Section Stations and Stations From c. 1870 to c. 1920," from which the following comparative, analytical material is, in large part, drawn.

On the basis of documentary and photographic evidence collected by CIHB staff in 1972-73, Brosseau concluded that there had been a tendency throughout the nineteenth century for the GTR to follow conservative, domestic precedent in station design, a procedure not at all reflective of the "technological revolution of which railroad transportation was a major witness."45 The turn of the century, however, was a rich era for GTR station building, in which many standard plans, reflecting the prevailing picturesque aesthetic, were issued by the companyrs engineering office.46 Dominant characteristics of station design reflecting this attitude were the corner tower, a bold use of asymmetry, and a rejection of the principle of frontality. Stations were not designed to be seen from an axis and perpendicular to it, but were often built to be seen from many points of view. A new sense of plasticity was achieved with roofs adopting undulating patterns, pierced by decorative gables and turrets of various shapes. This was less common, however, in Québec than in Ontario. A basic design employing the "characteristic corner turret topped with a finial, a steeply pitched gable roof with umbrella eaves, and a front bay crowned by a larger gable"47 was found at Glencoe and Fergus, with variations at Whitby, Ridgeway (Figures 7 and 8), Welland Junction (Figures 9 and 10), Grimsby (Figures 11 and 12), Wiarton, and Petrolia (Figure 13).

The first two decades of the twentieth century, prior to the Grand Trunk's being placed under the management of the CNR, saw "a flowering of small stations characterised in massing by a general return to horizontality and attenuation [sic] to details."48 The Brantford Station, constructed in the very early years of this century, exhibits this horizontality, being long and low in appearance, but retains a somewhat old-fashioned, picturesque massing and eclecticism of detailing. These details make reference to several period-based stylistic elements, for example, the Romanesque round-headed arches of the porte-cochère; the fortress-like, medieval details of the squared tower and the five-sided turret; and the Chateauesque quality of the smooth wall surfaces and conical roof. Finally, a lingering Victorian love of polychromy is evidenced by the contrasting red brick and grey stone detailing. On the basis of these stylistic elements and tendencies, the Brantford station fits nicely into the framework provided by Brosseau and in that sense, may be seen as representative. It has the distinction, however, of being more substantial in size and lavish in decoration that the majority of her other GTR examples.



The station is located on CNR lands, north of Wadsworth Street and west of Market Street, a very prominent location, as it forms the entrance to the downtown from the north and the major north-south artery—West Street—passes right by it.49 To the north of the station and tracks is a residential area containing some nineteenth century housing, which reinforces slightly the heritage character of the area.50 To the south and southeast, development is largely commercial in nature; to the south and southwest, across the tracks, it is light industrial.51 On the property itself, there is a large parking lot to the south of the building, a railway overpass on Market Street, a large lawn to the east, and a paved boarding and landing area and tracks to the north.52 Historic photographs (Figures 2, 3 and 4) indicate some minor changes have taken place since construction. The parking lot, for example, has been paved and a decorative fountain has been removed from the lawn in front of the station.

Community Status

In 1905 the Expositor was thrilled to report that:

With the expenditure of some thousands of dollars by the company one of the places that was formerly almost an eyesore has been converted into a spot both neat and attractive. The building promises to be one of the handsomest and most beautiful in the city for many years to come.53

Attractive and well located, the station had then, and has now, both a geographical and an emotional prominence within Brantford. Seen originally as evidence of the achievement and promise of growth that the coming of the GTR represented, the station continued to be a source of pride for the city. As recently as 1961, upon the completion of the 401, when Brantford lost through traffic and became more isolated (the recent opening of highway 403 has eased this situation somewhat), the fact that it stayed on the CNR main line helped to lessen this feeling of isolation.54

The heritage importance of the station has long been recognised by interested local parties. In 1978-79 a summer student was hired to prepare a preliminary report on possible heritage structures in the city, at which time the station was identified as being of potential heritage significance.55 This work is now being formalised (with a system of rating incorporated) for the downtown area, activity which, it is felt, reflects a changing attitude on the part of the city toward its heritage properties and redevelopment.56 It is the city which has submitted the station to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, with the full knowledge and support of the Brantford Heritage Committee. This action was prompted by the passage of Bill C-205 and not be any known or perceived threat to the structure. Without such a threat, there has been no call for demonstrations of public support, but it is the opinion of those asked (J. Peter Atcheson, Director of Planning and Dennis Jacobs, Senior Planner, both for the Corporation of the City of Brantford; and John Canning, Chairperson of the Brantford Heritage Committee) that the former GTR station is an important element of Brantford's built heritage which would be sorely missed and should be protected.


  1. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia, Vol. II (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1985), p. 764.
  2. ^ Ibid.
  3. ^ A.W. Currie, The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), p. 371.
  4. ^ Ibid., pp. 371-375.
  5. ^ Ibid., p. 393.
  6. ^ The Canadian Encylopedia, p. 764.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ C.M. Johnston, Brant County, A History 1784-1945 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 51.
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Ibid., p. 53.
  13. ^ Ibid., p. 54.
  14. ^ Ibid., p. 55.
  15. ^ Ibid.
  16. ^ Ibid., p. 56
  17. ^ Ibid.
  18. ^ Ibid.
  19. ^ A Red Letter Day, Brantford Expositor, 30 September 1905, p. 1.
  20. ^ Ibid.
  21. ^ Ibid.
  22. ^ Ibid.
  23. ^ Brantford's New Station Reflects Greatest Credit On Both City and Company, (hereafter, Brantford's New Station) Brantford Expositor, 30 September 1905, n.p.
  24. ^ Ibid.
  25. ^ Ibid.
  26. ^ Ibid.
  27. ^ Telephone interview with John Canning, Chairperson, Brantford Heritage Committee, April 1989.
  28. ^ Brantford's New Station.
  29. ^ Ibid.
  30. ^ Ibid.
  31. ^ Ibid.
  32. ^ Ibid.
  33. ^ Ibid.
  34. ^ Telephone interview with John Canning.
  35. ^ Frederick H. Spier Dies, Michigan Architect and Engineer, Vol. 13 (March 1931), p. 44.
  36. ^ William C. Rohns, Monthly Bulletin of the Michigan Society of Architects, Vol. 25 (July 1951), p. 15.
  37. ^ Architect's Funeral Set (Spier's obituary), Detroit Times, 10 February 1931.
  38. ^ Ibid.
  39. ^ Brantford's New Station.
  40. ^ Ibid.
  41. ^ Ibid.
  42. ^ Ibid.
  43. ^ Ibid.
  44. ^ Ibid.
  45. ^ Mathilde Brosseau, Second Group of Grand Trunk Railway Stations—Original Eastern Section Stations and Stations from c. 1870 to c. 1920, Screening Paper "C," Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, May 1974, p. k.2.
  46. ^ Ibid., p. k.4.
  47. ^ Ibid., p. k.5.
  48. ^ Ibid.
  49. ^ Telephone interview with John Canning.
  50. ^ Ibid.
  51. ^ Ibid.
  52. ^ Gary N. Jacobs, Record For the Canadian National Railway Station House, Brantford, Ontario, unpublished background paper dated 1988, provided to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada by the City of Brantford.
  53. ^ Brantford's New Station.
  54. ^ Telephone interview with John Canning.
  55. ^ Ibid.
  56. ^ Ibid.


  1. CNR (former GTR) Station, Brantford, Ontario; constructed in 1905, Spier and Rohns, architects; angled elevation, undated.(Photo courtesy of the Corporation of the City of Brantford.)

  2. CNR Station, Brantford, ca. 1912-14. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada—hereafter, NA—PA164442.)

  3. CNR Station, Brantford, 1910. (Photo courtesy of NA PA21864.)

  4. CNR Station, Brantford, 1910. (Photo courtesy of NA PA21870.)

  5. CNR Station, Brantford, copy of original drawing. (Courtesy of NA, National Map Collection—hereafter NMC—RG3OM 78903/42 Item 56, NMC 96495.)

    Image Not Available

  6. CNR Station, Brantford, copy of original drawings. (Courtesy of NA, NMC RG3OM 78903/42 Item 57, NMC 96496.)

    Image Not Available

  7. Former GTR Station, Ridgeway, Ontario; constructed ca. 1903. Photo courtesy of Environment Canada, Canadian Parks Service, Canadian Inventory of Historic Building—hereafter, CIHB—06126000400272, 1973.)

  8. Ridgeway Station. (Photo courtesy of CIHB, Charles Bohi, 06126000400272, 1967.)

  9. Former GTR Station, Welland Junction, Ontario; n.d. (Photo courtesy of CIHB, 06002700000056, 1973.)

  10. Welland Junction Station. (Photo courtesy of CIHB, 06002700000056, 1973.)

  11. Former GTR Station, Grimsby, Ontario; constructed ca. 1902. (Photo courtesy of CIHB, 06330000100055, 1973.)

  12. Grimsby Station. (Photo courtesy of CIHB, 06330000100055, 1973.)

  13. Former GTR Station, Petrolia, Ontario; constructed ca. 1903. (Photo courtesy of CIHB, 06240000104200, 1973.)