Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Railway Station Report


Canadian National Railways Station
Hamilton, Ontario


Anne M. de Fort-Menares, Resource Data, Toronto



The Canadian National Railways (CNR) passenger station in Hamilton, Ontario, built in 1929-31 and credited to CNR architect John Schofield, was part of an initiative to replace inadequate existing facilities and improve traffic circulation in the city through the provision of extensive grade separations and five new bridges (Figures 1-3).1 The anticipated growth in railway traffic did not materialize,2 and although the station is still in use for GO and VIA customers, both agencies plan to relocate their passenger services by 1992. With extensive space for offices, passenger services, baggage and mail handling, and railway operations, the building is deceptively large, and virtually vacant; in 1988 an engineering firm calculated that only 10% of the building was utilized.3 The complex, consisting of a front plaza to the south, the station building, royal mail and express building, track yards and northern embankment, occupies an area bounded by Murray Street, Hughson Street, Strachan Street, and James Street North.

In a resolution of 12 February 1991, Hamilton City Council approved its intention to request the consideration of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada with respect to the designation of the station under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act.

Historical Associations


In a city whose industrial fortunes relied heavily on the business and services of the railway, the CNR Hamilton passenger station manifests the culmination of that importance, and its story characterizes the symbiotic relationship the company typically had with local business leaders and politicians. Built during a deep financial depression and on the eve of irreversible railway decline, the building asserts an optimistic role for the railway in urban life and commerce. Specifically, the construction of this station demonstrated the public service orientation and responsibilities the railway company was beginning to recognize in the 1920s toward its employees and its shareholders, the Canadian public.

When the great independent railway companies of the country were on the verge of financial collapse, despite federal loans of over $23 million, the Government of Canada began the creation of the Canadian National Railways. This process commenced following the demise in 1917 of the Canadian Northern, followed by the Grand Trunk Pacific's declaration of insolvency in 1919, and culminated in 1923 when the Grand Trunk (GTR) was acquired.4 The new company was burdened from the start with high operating costs and enormous debts, but under the leadership of president Sir Henry Worth Thornton, the 1920s were a period of great innovation for CNR. Ever conscious of the railways' traditional debt to their employees, Thornton introduced decent pension packages and cooperative work plans; oversaw the introduction of Red Cross cars5 school cars6 and a Radio Department (which in 1932 became the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Corporation), in general accomplishing the near impossible: altering the public perception of railways as financially and morally bankrupt organizations serving only their owners and local politicians, and promoting the novel perception of railways as dedicated to the welfare of Canadians.7 The improvements to the Hamilton facility, carried out during a deep depression in a city where unemployed construction workers otherwise constituted 60% of the idle labour force, reflected one facet of the company's response to that responsibility.8

The late 1920s were also a time of success for CNR. Under Thornton's leadership, the company posted an unprecedented operating surplus of $58 million in 1928, and introduced more powerful locomotives, including the first diesel in Canada in 1929.9 At the cornerstone ceremony in Hamilton, a year before the opening of the Erie Canal, Thornton expressed unbounded confidence in the expansion of future water and rail transportation,10 despite indicators that trucking was fast exceeding the appeal of rail. In observing the relative inefficiency of rail freight, which saw cars at 54% capacity and in motion only about 10% of the time, American railwayman John Droege noted a study which implied that the cost of terminal handling was so great, it rendered the transit costs irrelevant.11 Battling a 17% fall in earnings at the beginning of the depression, in 1933 CNR began to compete with established trucking firms by hiring local carters for less-than-carload shipments.12

Passenger service had never been lucrative for the railways; Droege introduced his text on passenger terminals by noting the almost axiomatic fact that carrying passengers was not entirely self-sustaining.13 Even at its Canadian peak of 51 million riders in 1920, income from passengers represented just 21% of gross earnings, and by 1960, Eassenger traffic constituted only 6% of gross railway earnings.14 In 1977 VIA Rail was created by the Ministry of Transport to handle all passenger services in Canada, and it is VIA, rather than the CNR, which is currently responsible for the Hamilton station.

Local Development

The emergence of Hamilton as a settlement, and eventually a mid-size city, was dependent principally on its strategic location for transportation networks. The railway that changed the fortunes of Hamilton and southwestern Ontario was the Great Western (GWR), first conceived in 1834 by a group of prominent Hamilton investors, and incorporated in 1837 with substantial American backing. Inaugurated on 1 November 1853, the Great Western located their headquarters at Hamilton, GWR president Allan MacNab's turf, providing the first large-scale industry for the city and putting it on the railroad map.15

Running through London, Woodstock, Paris, and Chatham en route to Windsor, the GWR was signally important in the rapid growth of those communities, and its contributions to the Hamilton economy are almost incalculable.16 The expansionist ambitions of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s induced the Grand Trunk to buy up the GWR in 1882,17 and in 1888 the Grand Trunk acquired the only other rail line out of Hamilton, the Hamilton and Northwestern between Hamilton, Barrie and Collingwood.

Railway-dependent prosperity in Hamilton flourished between 1850 and 1888, the year the former GWR construction and repair shops, which had been the city's largest enterprise, were removed from the city. Hamilton's position as a secondary centre, rather than a principal metropolis, was established by 1890, owing in large part to the vicissitudes of railway business.18

The opening in downtown Hamilton in 1895 of the conveniently-situated Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (TH&B) challenged the monopoly of the Grand Trunk, resulting in losses in GTR's passenger and freight traffic. The construction in 1900 of a TH&B Belt Line through the industrial zone, along with the shorter TH&B line to Buffalo and the Michigan Central rail system beyond, gave that company a near-monopoiy on freight traffic.19

The first GWR station had been a small frame building on Stuart Street, which handled 78,015 tons of freight in 1855. It was enlarged threefotod in 1858, and replaced altogether by a brick station in 1875.20 In 1925 that building was stretched beyond its capacity, with a share of freight transactions totalling 3,250,000,000 tons!21 Furthermore, its location was less accessible than that of the TH&B (Figure 4). These problems would not be satisfactorily addressed until the construction of the new CNR station in 1931. The present station was welcomed by businessmen and boosters as a herald of Hamilton's important role in the twentieth century, but it is doubtful whether the station was ever used to its full capacity.

As the station of the national railway and an important passenger terminal, it was naturally the site of many important events, from the laying of the cornerstone, to the royal visit of King George V and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 (Figure 5), to the travel of troops, and all the other myriad events in the fabric of a social community. That role is presently reduced and threatened with closure.

The city's physical geography had been largely determined by transportation schemes, harbour, canal, and rail links since its inception as a community in 1816,22 and transportation continued to shape the landscape into the twentieth century. In 1913 the CPR entered the city by a branch line from Guelph,23 in 1933 John Lyle's High Level Bridge opened, and in 1958 the Burlington Skyway, then the longest and highest bridge in Ontario, was completed.24

The necessarily reciprocal relationship between the railway and municipal transit was physically expressed in the city. The first Hamilton street railway terminal was beside the GWR station on Stuart Street, and the line ran along James Street North right by the new station.25 In 1916 Droege had stressed the fundamental principle of passenger terminals being as accessible as possible to all trolley, elevated and subway systems, preferably by a single fare.26 CNR capitalized on their holdings to situate the new station as advantageously as possible.

Hamilton relied on the fortunes of the railway right up until the construction of the passenger station in 1931. In the 1890s the business community placed their hopes in a centrally-situated union station. One correspondent remarked, I would rather cross every street in the city on a level than have the station for the new road located as the Grand Trunk is at present, but the railway companies were intransigent for another generation.27 Thirty-five years later, with rather more success, business leaders complained to CNR president Sir Henry Thornton, Our terminals are absolutely impossible ... we have stood this for 25 years or more, and we don't propose to put up with it much longer.28 It took another five years, but in 1929 a new station was announced which exceeded all expectations.29 It was to be one of the last grand gleamings of the company; two weeks after the station opened in 1931, the Spectator recorded the first regular trip through the Erie Canal of a type of grain-carrying steamship that would further kill rail freight traffic: 412 feet long, drawing 18 feet, prominent officials on board, the notice was headlined, Huge Vessel Enters Lake.30 That same year, 1931, also saw the opening of the new TH&B station, which was designated a Heritage Railway Station in 1991 (RSR-21).


Aesthetic/Visual Qualities

When CNR president Sir Henry Thornton visited Hamilton in 1924, the frustration and impatience of the business community was communicated to him in clear terms: Unless we receive what we need from the CNR now, we'll be forced to go elsewhere.31 Typically, there was no negotiation or communication with the municipality until final plans (probably presentation drawings) were presented to the mayor the day of the public announcement in March, 1929, although plans had been announced in Canadian Railway and Marine World the previous July.32 The words of the acting mayor at the cornerstone ceremony in May, 1930 more tellingly reveal the city's position:

... For many years we hoped to see a start made, but it was not until those large steam shovels commenced excavating on this site that we felt that our hopes were at last to become a reality.33

When site plans were published in July 1928, the site was already virtually cleared of buildings, fences, etc., and the grading and excavation work had begun.34 Construction tenders were called in November, 1929 and the contract was awarded in December of that year to the Hamilton firm of Pigott Construction Company. The station opened 28 May 1931, and services at the old Ferguson/King Street station were discontinued in June.35

The station mass is basically a four-storey rectangular slab set against a hillside. The front and sides are treated as a two-story Beaux-Arts composition with end pavilions connected to a central Doric portico by quite plain intermediate wings, and are fronted and austerely articulated in Queenston limestone, while the four full stories of the north back elevation are economically faced in brown brick.

It is a sumptuous building, built to accommodate the traffic demands of a busy port, but expressed in an architectural style that was losing its freshness, having been worked over by Beaux-Arts trained architects for the preceding 20 years. It has been said that transcontinental status always brought a classical rush to the head of railroad companies,36 but CNR was well established in its ambitions when the decision was taken to upgrade the Hamilton facilities, and a rich variety of station types complemented its real estate portfolio. John Schofield's restrained Greek design for Hamilton, with a distinctly modern touch ... giving life to the imposing façade, should be seen in the contexts of City Beautiful planning, recent railway work in Toronto, Halifax, and Saint John, and the crusade of Toronto architect John Lyle for a Canadian architecture.

Although the City Beautiful movement had its intellectual origins in the 1890s and found physical expression in North America in the period up to 1914, in Hamilton ambitious planning schemes did not seize the civic imagination until after the war. Ottawa urban planner Noulan Cauchon supplied the city with fabulous schemes which he published in 1921 to illustrate an article titled Economics of Town Planning. Cauchon envisioned a vast amphitheatrical Valhalla-like stadium on the site of a mountainside quarry; a union station, a monument to humanity and altar of human sacrifice; and the requisite civic centre on a tree-lined avenue: the whole an uncanny preview of Hitler's Munich. None were implemented.37 Hamilton' s urban problems remained much as they had throughout the previous century: housing, services, the lack of parks, and the conflict of industrial demands with decent living standards.

The major Hamilton monument to City Beautiful ideals was, fittingly, a transportation artery: John Lyle's superb High Level Bridge over the Desjardins canal, a job he was awarded in 1931 after placing third in a competition seeking the most beautiful (entrance) in America.38 The bridge was restored in 1988. Architecturally the city already had a fine Beaux-Arts Carnegie library of 1913, but modernism crept into Hamilton slowly.39 The outstanding buildings of the 1930 period were the Moderne-style Pigott Building skyscraper of 1928-29 (Prack & Prack, architects), the last building completed before the crash, and Fellheimer and Wagner's brazenly contemporary TH&B station of 1930-33 (Figures 6-7).

CNR chief architect John Schofield had little in his background to predispose him to avant-garde trends. Born in rural Ireland in 1883, Schofield apprenticed with Monaghan architect and civil engineer J.H.M. Wilson from 1896 to 1900, when he moved to a Dublin engineering office. In 1904 he emigrated to Winnipeg, where he briefly mixed concrete before getting work with CPR's engineering department. In 1907 Schofield switched over to Canadian Northern as an assistant architect. He weathered amalgamations well, ending up in 1923 as Architect-in-Chief of the entire CNR system.40 Not surprisingly, he stressed the value of practical experience as a fundamental in the design of good buildings.41 In 1937 he was appointed chief architect for Trans-Canada Airlines as well as for the railways, and during World War II he consulted to various Canadian and British departments, holding for a while the post of Controller of Construction for the country.42

Schofield allegedly designed not only terminal buildings across the country but airplane hangars, erection shops, express sheds, fruit warehouses, telegraph buildings, ticket offices, and passenger coach interiors!43 He played an important part on the extensions to the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, the Nova Scotian in Halifax, the Bessborough at Saskatoon and the Hotel Vancouver as associate to Montréal architect John S. Archibald (1872-1934).44

Archibald, a native of Scotland, had begun working for Edward Maxwell in Montréal in 1893. He was in partnership for 18 years with Charles Jewett Saxe, then from 1915 to 1934 on his own. Archibald's hotels for the railway were in the chateauesque mode, but a strong element of formal classicism characterized his approach to buildings throughout his career.45

Neither Schofield nor Archibald was involved with the earliest Beaux-Arts railway stations. Classical station designs had appeared across Canada before the war: 1910 in Thunder Bay, 1911 Regina Union, Brandon, and both Winnipeg Union and CPR, all preceded by Ottawa's superb, truly Beaux-Arts Union Station of 1908-12, completed by Ross and MacFarlane.46 Of these, both Winnipeg stations are National Historic Sites and have been designated as Heritage Railway Stations (RSRs 4 and 2); the Ottawa Union is a National Historic Site (Figures 8-11).

Specific Beaux-Arts massing solutions were almost formulaic, but the influence of Toronto's Union Station, another National Historic Site and a designated Heritage Railway Station (RSR-3), was also a likely source of inspiration. Designed 1913-14 by Ross and Macdonald, Hugh G. Jones and John M. Lyle, built 1915-20 and opened 1927, it was itself indebted to McKim, Mead & White's Pennsylvania Station in New York, begun in 1902 (demolished) (Figures 12-13).47

One of the earlier manifestations of the Union Station influence appears in Schofield's design for the St. Catharines' Geneva Street terminal of the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway Passenger Station, done when he was with the Engineer of Standards' Office at CNR before his promotion to Chief Architect (Figure 14).48 At 145 feet 10 inches, it was about half the length of Hamilton and one-fifth that of Toronto Union, but organized with the same proportional relationships between pedimented pavilion-entrance ways, fenestration groupings and horizontal elements. The Canadian Railway and Marine World considered it an unusually artistic design, but it is difficult to reconcile its rough texture varicolour brick with the Beaux-Arts tendencies to whiteness, smoothness, and visual coherence.49

Schofield returned to these general organizational principles in the Hamilton Station of 1928, but began moving toward a sequence of planar recessions organized around a centralized hierarchy of elements as seen in the Saint John, New Brunswick Union Station of 1931, an academic porticoed pavilion block with distinctive high attic, and becoming increasingly streamlined in terminal work of the 1930s, such as at London in 1934 and at Saskatoon in 1938 (Figures 14-17).50

The Halifax station and hotel designed in 1928 by Archibald in association with Schofield has been identified by Toronto architect Robert Hill as a possible key to the design sources of Hamilton. Although not well illustrated in the railway press, and generally couched in a Georgian style of brick trimmed with sandstone, the complex has a comparably high level of accomplished detailing which links it, and Archibald's hand, to Hamilton.51

The Hamilton building is remarkable for its subtle thematic sculptural panels, planned to accentuate the fine proportions of the building, which illustrate the role of transportation across Canada. Above the three main entrance doors inside the portico, trains and ships are shown in distinctly modern manner with representations of grain elevators, the coasts and the Prairies (Figures 18-19).52 More stylized panels above end wall window bays place trucks, ships and locomotives between radiating lines and swirling scrolls, all of which suggest dynamism, motion and modernity (Figure 20). In the parapets of the pavilions are the arms of Ontario and Hamilton. Within the general context of classicizing, Beaux-Arts tendencies, the decorative sculptural panels at Hamilton suggest a familiarity and sympathy with the position promoted by Toronto architect John Lyle in the late 1920s. Lyle, raised in Hamilton and educated at the Hamilton Art School established by his father, and later a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, urged the adoption of a personal and distinctly Canadian note through the use of local symbols relating the purpose of the building to its environment; hence, the transportation panels on the station, the flat, stylized capitals, the Art Deco rays. Lyle's position was the product of increasing post-war nationalism, his association with the Group of Seven painters, and a trip to Europe in 1928. In discussing his analysis of the modern work he saw there, Lyle could have been describing parts of the CNR station: Speaking generally, the characteristics are a simplicity of wall surface, both of exterior and interior, a use of incised relief ornament with semi-flat surfaces, a daring use of what might be termed sunshine colours, their interiors being keyed to a lighter, gayer note.53

The main lobby is magnificent (Figure 23). Entered through the double shallow porches of the Doric portico and an interior vestibule, the double-height, nearly square room is superbly lit by clerestorys, skylights, and two hanging bronze lanterns. Construction knowledgeably and succinctly described the interior treatment, which has not been changed:

Ionic half-columns and pilasters in ante support the main cornice of this great room. A minor Doric order ties in the main order at the second floor level and the customary treatment of alternating trygliphs [sic] and metopes has proven to be most decorative. The ceiling is divided by beams into three panels. In the centre of each of these is a bronze ceiling light surrounded by a border of shallow, square coffers. Greek fret and guilloche ornamentation have been used with restraint upon the ceiling, which is in a color combination of grey, terra cotta, blue and gold.54

After the stately grandeur of the lobby, the concourse is abruptly, refreshingly modern (Figure 25). Dadoes in orangey-buff glazed brick have finely detailed, curved moulded corners recalling in colour and handling the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright; plaster walls above are sand finished. Steel trusses are simply exposed, with simple hanging globes of day light glass; the upper walls of the space are practically dissolved by transomed triple window units. Train indicators, surviving only on the last two exits, are metal piers in the wall with the numbers at the top (Figure 26).

In keeping with CNR policy, Canadian materials and local trades were preferred in all aspects of construction. The dignified Queenston limestone exterior was complemented on the interior by Sterling Botticino marble dadoes, columns and pilasters, terrazzo floors, and plaster walls were given a variegated stone effect. The bronze work on grilles, ticket windows and light fixtures was the product of Canadian craftsmen (Dominion Bronze & Iron in Winnipeg) and with the exception of brick, ornamental iron, structural steel and gypsum, the trades and suppliers were generally located in Hamilton.55

The working spaces of the station are more utilitarian, and have been stripped of much of their detailing: brass hinges, doorknobs and panelling for instance have disappeared; all the station clocks have been removed without record, and maintenance has been minimal (Figure 27). Significant work includes partial replacement of the roof and flashings with prefinished metal in 1987, which fortunately left some of the copper work, and the previously-mentioned alterations to the express shed. A gas vent stack exploded a reported ten years ago, causing damage in the upper floor, and steam leakage continues to cause deterioration.56 Consequently neglect has invited a degree of vandalism, carelessness and further decay. The cavernous boiler and baggage rooms on the track level seem to be convenient dumping rooms for benches, machines or assorted flotsam taken from other stations.

The offices at the south front of the station on the top floor were remodelled by VIA in a characterless, corporate modern style. The offices which have been abandoned, in the east and west pavilions, retain their original wood and glass partitions, hanging flourescent luminaires, wood counters and some cabinetry, doors, and exceptional three-dimensional diamond glass (Figure 28). Total office space on this floor is calculated at 10,650 square feet.57

Although the condition of some of the finishes is poor, the decline in traffic has probably contributed to the preservation of the building in close to its original state. The most significant alteration in the lobby is the replacement of the original bronze ticket windows with standard VIA units, and the disappearance of the main clock. Otherwise, light fixtures, flooring and the ceiling colour scheme are substantially original. The greatest threat to the building came in 1988, when a Building Condition and Upgrading Assessment study commissioned by VIA, and carried out by engineers without any apparent sensitivity to historic buildings, indicated the need to replace all original finishes, exterior doors and windows and most of the mechanical systems and plumbing fixtures, as part of a complete renovation of the facility.

Although restoration of the main lobby was recommnended, there was no recognition of the requirements of such work.58

Ultimately, then, in its use of meaningful, context-specific ornament, its internal planning and operational structure, the CNR Hamilton passenger station incorporated elements of the most current contemporary Canadian architectural thought, and advanced ideas concerning railway facility needs, into a very fine expression of Beaux-Arts, City Beautiful design principles.

Functional/Technological Qualities

Hamiltonians had good reason to be delighted with CNR's long-overdue recognition: the station was an outstanding facility architecturally and operationally, and a worthy portal to the city. 59 The station complex is a complicated sequence of public spaces, private offices, operational areas, and engineering structures constituting three main masses (Figure 28).

Construction is masonry over steel frame. Circulation proceeds on crossed axes (straight and lateral) through the building: horizontally for passengers, and vertically for workers, goods, mail etc., although ultimately all had to negotiate the 25-foot drop to the tracks. The chief problem of design was described as one of adjusting various natural grades to provide easy access from street to track level and combine convenient facilities for the public with an imposing exterior.60 The meeting of imposing public architecture with operational concerns is experienced internally, in the concourse, and externally, in the use of stone on the formal, urban elevations and brick on the track side.

Passenger and operational functions are neatly separated horizontally and vertically. The station building contains the passenger services and baggage handling at street level, offices above, and a mezzanine floor below street level which housed records rooms, offices for the yard master, dispatcher, and railway police; the telegraph office with its master clock; a staff apartment; express shedmen's lunch room and the offices of the Canadian Railway News. At ground level, besides vast mechanical rooms, baggage rooms connected to the passenger lobby by elevator are linked to customs rooms and the express shed adjacent (Figure 31).61

In keeping with the recommendations of Droege and of articles in the Canadian press, the layout is logically planned to keep the station services in plain view but away from the main stream of traffic, for everyone must pass through the central lobby. The clarity of the plan, controlled by light, scale, and incline, is such that signage is minimal, and all travellers benefit from the architectural grandeur of the facility. Traffic flow from the entrance, through the lobby or waiting rooms to the concourse, hence the tracks, is exceptionally convenient and elegantly achieved, while retaining the social discretion of gender-separated waiting rooms and through them, lavatory entrances. Careful analysis of the traffic patterns and their relationship to the architectural expression is rewarded by an appreciation of a well-integrated, skillfully resolved station design (Figure 22).

The vista on the short axis from the portico impels the visitor straight across the lobby space to the downward ramp leading into the bright, airy concourse, all visible from the front doors: the draw of the concourse is irresistible (Figure 21). The long lateral axes across the lobby lead to the ticket and baggage offices on the east (right), and to the magazine concession (now closed and derelict), former lunch room, former telephone operator and booths, and commercial telegraph office on the west (left) (Figures 24, 29). Men's and women's retiring rooms and lavatories are situated off the lobby to either side of the ramp to the concourse, and are linked to the concourse, conveniently and discreetly, by a quarter-turn stair. The Traveller's Aid Society occupied a room immediately beside the women's retiring room, just a step outside the main lobby space. The retiring rooms are extremely plain, light-flooded spaces with built-in wooden benches. The lavatories have original marble stalls, walls, and porcelain fixtures.

Externally the most unexpected element is the concourse, a simple volume 60 feet wide by 134 feet long, which is suspended across the six station tracks and connected to the platforms by completely enclosed stair and ramp wells, four of which have been removed for safety reasons. Only the two at the extreme north end remain, and one is considered unsafe for passenger use.62 The other, a ramp and stair combination, has been repaired and the steps retreaded, and funnels all commuter and passenger traffic to the track.63 The elevated concourse over depressed tracks was not uncommon, however, being one of the three main types of configurations discussed by Droege, and prominently exemplified at the Kansas City Union Station (Figures 33-34).64

The last major component of the station complex is the express and royal mail building, a one-storey block 250 feet long, in brown brick with stone trim, at track level extending east of the station. It has been renovated to divide the open spaces into small, dedicated maintenance shops, and it is currently used by CNR.65

With a principal elevation 290 feet long, the station proper offered three distinct entrances along its south elevation: on the west and east pavilions, paired pilasters tightly frame a pedimented door with full pilastered orders and a tripartite window (Figure 36); at the centre, four Doric columns in antis carry an excellent detailed pediment of sufficient weight to make it eminently satisfying.66 The pavilion doors lead to railway offices on the second floor of the west end, and to the offices of the Canadian National Express Company in the east pavilion. Both are presently chained shut, and the office spaces have been little changed since they were last in railway use.

At street level the west pavilion is part of the public space of the station, with a lobby leading to the former lunch counter and dining room off the main lobby. Droege had categorically exclaimed that Dining rooms and lunch counters have been demonstrated to be useless unless passengers can see them as they go to or from trains, and unless they are adjacent to the point where passengers board out-going trains, preferably in sight of the trains...for the nervous American, who also needs a clock in sight while waiting to purchase a ticket.67 The circulation planning at Hamilton, which situates necessary services off the sides and corners of the main lobby so that it can function as a traffic throughfare, does not quite permit Droege's ideal to be met, although a clear sight-line to the room was possible from the lobby. These rooms are presently derelict; the dining room clock and lunch counter stools have been removed, and the kitchens abandoned, their stainless steel refrigerators and sinks intact (Figure 35).



Situated perpendicular to the street at the north end of the commercial district on James Street North, the station reinforces the urban grid and bears a relationship to its surroundings that has changed little since it was built. The station site functions urbanistically as a true edge node in terms of physical setting, function, and perception. It occupies a three part site, consisting of the lawn or plaza, the station building, and the track yard with ancillary buildings. The building looks south onto the lawn and abuts the east side of James Street North.

Although intentions were published to carry out a landscaping scheme on the plaza which would complement the classical building,68 photographs from 1931 and 1939 show only the lawn which is there in 1991, and Schofield's presentation drawing placed small lawns immediately adjacent to the foundations, with another square of lawn along James Street North (Figure 37). East of the plaza, parking space for automobiles, taxis and buses was provided, as it still is.

Physically the station perches above, and partly spans, a steep cut which required the closing of two roads and the continuation by bridging of five others. The densely built character of James Street North, comprising four-storey street edge commercial/residential buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ends abruptly at Murray Street, bounding the southern edge of the railway property (Figure 38). The open lawn in front of the station, and parking lots beyond to the east, are balanced on the west by a low-rise Brewer's Retail outlet, with parking lot. The bridge itself is, of course, without buildings, and is secured with wire fencing to a height of about 12 feet. With standard municipal-issue luminaires and relatively featureless low concrete parapets, the bridge effectively functions as a dead zone to pedestrian traffic.

Functionally the station complex marks the edge between the commercial and residential areas to the south, and a later residential area of different character to the north. The railway cut cannot be thought to have a felicitous effect on the neighbourhood, of course, and there is considerable provision for commuter parking along the north side as well. Perceptually the station is an anchor, visually and in terms of its ordered layout, between a fairly dense, highly textured zone and a more open, spatially disparate area.

The track cut extending from the station defines an historic transportation zone at the same time as it maroons buildings and neighbourhoods. Two blocks to the west, the restored Hamilton Customs House, an impressive Italianate building of 1856-60 which was designated a National Historic Site in 1990, overlooks the track from a site between MacNab a street closed by the railway, and Barton streets (Figure 39).69 Built of light limestone, the Customs House is the only building having any perceptible visual similarity to the station, and it reinforces the port themes of commerce and shipment.

At the time of the station's construction, inhabitants hoped for an immeasurable improvement in the character of the area, but architecture alone could not, it seems, succeed. In 1949 the Spectator reported a drive to clean up unsavoury conditions prevailing in certain restaurants and beverage rooms in the James Street North area after citizens complained of being molested in the street by wine hounds, pan handlers and loose women.70

The present environs may be characterized as commercially marginal and sociologically transitional. Hamilton's urban clearance schemes of the 1960s and the construction of large centre-city malls have seriously reduced incentives to pedestrian activity, and the one-way street system also inhibits local traffic. In a difficult economy, some recently opened independent businesses have closed, leaving well-established taverns, the Brewer's Retail and a men's hostel to determine the immediate surroundings.

Finally, the station is still too far from the adminstrative centre to be a part of it. The city hall, main library, cultural complexes, court house, and Jackson Square, a large indoor mall, are all clustered between King and Main streets around the James Street axis, a distance of about seven blocks. It is, however, a significant portico to the North End community and is tied in to municipal policies to improve access to the waterfront.71

Community Status

The station building, plaza space and transportation function are recognized as high priorities for planning initiatives by the municipal council, planning department and LACAC. They are components in the Central Area Plan, approved by council 1988 and awaiting Ontario Municipal Board consideration. The Central Area Plan Implementation Committee (CAPIC) is forming an ad hoc committee early in 1991 specifically to seek reuse options for the station; its members will be drawn from municipal and community representatives.

From 1985 to 1987 the municipal planning department and LACAC worked closely with the James Street North merchants to establish a heritage conservation district (under Part V of The Ontario Heritage Act) on James Street North. A study was commissioned from London, Ontario, architect Nicholas Hill, and several public meetings were held, but the merchants finally turned down the initiative.72

The positive outcome of the exercise was the creation of a Business Improvement Area (BIA) which has resulted in various street and façade improvements. The station precinct constitutes the northern anchor of the BIA, which begins at the Eaton Centre on the southern end.

The station is regarded by planners as a gateway to the North End community, historically an older, somewhat disadvantaged area lacking in public amenities. James Street North is a principal artery from the North End community and the waterfront, which has been the subject of policies to improve public access, particularly in the areas between Eastwood and the new Pier Four parks. Another 35 acres of former industrial land visible from the Customs House, known as the Lax property, are scheduled for redevelopment as a major regional park.

In terms of transportation planning, the Planning and Development department recognizes the station complex and function as an important node, and wishes to encourage the retention of a transportation use at the station. VIA is relocating passenger services out of Hamilton to Aldershot, in Burlington, which will also sever links to American rail travel, and GO is moving to the TH&B station in Hamilton. The planners hope that possible future rail uses, for example, a high-speed commuter service, will not be precluded by any reuse or rehabilitation of the building. Further, the land immediately north of the railway cut, which is Strachan Street, is part of the proposed perimeter road system circling Hamilton and linking up with the 403. This would introduce a high-speed, limited access expressway parallel to the track cut. The station could play a pivotal role in the revitalization of the area.


  1. ^ Passenger Terminal at Hamilton for Canadian National Railways, Canadian Railway and Marine World (hereafter CRMW (August 1928), p. 474.
  2. ^ Corner Stone Laid by Railway Knight, (Hamilton) Spectator, (8 May 1930), p. 14; Sir Henry expressed unbounded confidence in the expansion of future water and rail transportation.
  3. ^ M.M. Dillon Consulting Engineers, Building Condition and Upgrading Assessment VIA Hamilton Station, (hereafter, Building Condition), ([London, Ontario?] 9 November 1988). Courtesy Ken Rose, VIA Property Management.
  4. ^ Christopher Andreae, Railways in N. Ball, ed., Building Canada: A History of Public Works (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1988), p.97.
  5. ^ The three Red Cross Cars, introduced in the western, central, and maritime regions in 1928, carried first aid instruction to train and engine men, railway agents, line and maintenance men in remote locations. Amherstburg Echo (14 March 1928), p. 8
  6. ^ Elizabeth A. Willmot, Faces and Places Along the Railway (Toronto: Gage Publishing Limited, 1979), pp. 21-14, chronicles Fred and Cela Sloman, who taught from a CNR coach across northern Ontario between Capreol and Foleyet from 1926 to 1964. Two more cars were added in 1928, with seven in operation by the late 1940s.
  7. ^ G. Stevens, History of the Canadian National Railways (hereafter C.N.Rys.), (Toronto: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 325-29.
  8. ^ The figures are actually for 1935. John C. Weaver, Hamilton: An Illustrated History (hereafter, Hamilton) (Toronto: James Lorimer and National Museum of Man, 1982), p. 131.
  9. ^ Stevens, C.N.Rys., pp. 331-2, 343.
  10. ^ Spectator (8 May 1930), p. 14.
  11. ^ John C. Droege, Freight Terminals and Trains (2nd ed. New York: McGraw-hill Book Company, Inc., 1925), pp. 1 and 297.
  12. ^ Stevens, C.N.Rys., p. 370.
  13. ^ John C. Droege, Passenger Terminals and Trains (1916 London: McGraw Hill, rpt. Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee, 1969), p. 1.
  14. ^ Andreae, Railways, pp. 101-02.
  15. ^ Franklin Davey McDonell, One Hundred Years of the Great Western Railway, Wentworth Bygones (No. 9, 1971), p. 4.
  16. ^ See Weaver, Hamilton, pp. 16-20; John M. Cown, Great Western Railway, Wentworth Bygones (No. 5, 1964), p. 7; Stevens, C.N.Rys., pp. 118-28 and passim.
  17. ^ Stevens, C.N.Rys., p. 19.
  18. ^ Weaver, Hamilton, p. 80.
  19. ^ Andrew Merrilees, The Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway Company, Wentworth Bygones (No. 12, 1977), p. 38.
  20. ^ Illustrated in J.T.C. Waram, City Planning in Hamilton, Wentworth Bygones (No. 4, 1963), p. 40.
  21. ^ Station Storey told in Wood, Brick, Stone, Spectator (21 February 1931, third section), and Andrew Merriless, The Railways of Hamilton, Wentworth Bygones (No. 11 1975), p. 34.
  22. ^ Weaver, Hamilton, pp. 16-20.
  23. ^ Commonwealth Historic Resource Management, A Study of Canadian Pacific's Heritage Railway Properties, for the Ontario Heritage Foundation and MCC, in cooperation with CP rail and VIA Rail Canada (Perth, Ontario, 1989), p. 19.
  24. ^ B. Henley, Spectator (28 October 1989), Hamilton Public Library Special Collections, Our Heritage Scrapbook, vol. 4.
  25. ^ H. I. Springer, "A History of the Hamilton Street Railway," Wentworth Bygones (No. 2, 1960), p. 22.
  26. ^ Droege, Passenger Terminals, p. 14.
  27. ^ A.T. Wood, A Central Union Station, To the Editor of the Times, 1889. Hamilton Public Library Special Collections, microfilm #91.
  28. ^ B. Henley, Once proud CNR Station serves as reminder of railway's heydey, Spectator (hereafter Once proud CNR station) (29 July 1989).
  29. ^ B. Henley, Once proud CNR Station.
  30. ^ Spectator (15 June 1931).
  31. ^ B. Henley,"Once proud CNR Station.
  32. ^ Spectator (15 June 1931), and CRMW (July 1928), p. 418, and (August 1928), pp. 474-5.
  33. ^ Ald. Wright quoted in Spectator (8 May 1930), p. 14.
  34. ^ Passenger Terminal at Hamilton, CRMW (August 1928), p. 474.
  35. ^ Annual Report of the Canadian National Railway System for the year ended December 36. 1931, p. 8; Spectator (13 June 1931). It was formally opened by Governor-General Lord Bessborough on June 10; Canadian National Railways New Station at Hamilton, Construction (July 1931), p. 237.
  36. ^ Jeffrey Richards and John M. MacKenzie, The Railway Station, A Social History (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 57.
  37. ^ Noulan Cauchon, Economics of Town Planning, The Canadian Engineer (24 February l92l), pp. 251-2; Walter Van Nus, "The Fate of City Beautiful Thought in Canada," G. Stelter and A. Artibise, The Canadian City (Toronto: MacMillan, 1979), p. 170.
  38. ^ Geoffrey Hunt, John M. Lyle: Toward a Canadian Architecture (Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1982), p. 118.
  39. ^ The library, by architect Alfred Peene, was remodelled in 1988 as a Unified Family Court.
  40. ^ Presenting: The Chief Architect of Canadian National Railways and Trans-Canada Air Lines John Schofield, M.R.A.I.C. (hereafter Presenting: John Schofield), Engineering and Contract Record (hereafter, CR) (17 September 1941), p. 23. Reference by kind courtesy of Robert Hill.
  41. ^ Presenting: John Schofield, p. 23.
  42. ^ Careers in Cameo (hereafter, Careers), Monetary Times (vol. III May 1943), p. 54. Reference by kind courtesy of Robert Hill.
  43. ^ Presenting: John Schofield, p. 27.
  44. ^ Careers, p. 54; Presenting: John Schofield, p. 27.
  45. ^ Robert Lemire, "Archibald, John Smith," Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects (New York: The Free Press, 1982), p. 95.
  46. ^ Richards and Mackenzie, p. 57. Drawings for Ottawa are in the Ross & Macdonald Archive, CCA. Paris-educated George Allen Ross went into partnership with Robert Macdonald in 1912, and the fine hotels, hospitals, terminals, apartment buildings, public buildings and schools built by Ross and Macdonald transformed the face of Canadian cities.
  47. ^ Douglas S. Richardson, A Blessed Sense of Civic Excess, in R. Bébout et al, The Open Gate: Toronto Union Station (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1972), 77.
  48. ^ Electric Railway Department: Passenger Terminal, Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railways (hereafter St. Catharines), CRMW (January 1924), p. 33.
  49. ^ St. Catharines, p. 33.
  50. ^ CRMW vol. 34, (October 1931) pp. 621, 623 (Saint John); vol. 37 (September 1934), pp. 377-78 (London); Canadian Transportation vol. 41, (September 1938), p. 439 (Saskatoon). References by kind courtesy of Robert Hill.
  51. ^ The project was published in CRMW (February 1928), p. 63, and September 1928, pp. 513-14. I am indebted to Robert Hill for his perceptive observations and generous references.
  52. ^ Quotations from Canadian National Railway Station at Hamilton (hereafter, C.N.Rys.) Construction (hereafter C), (July 1931), p. 197.
  53. ^ John M. Lyle, "Address," Journal R.A.I.C. IV (April 1929), p. 135. See Hunt, Lyle, pp. 46 ff.
  54. ^ C.N.Rys., C, p. 234. But not knowledgeably enough to spell triglyphs correctly.
  55. ^ Botticino is the trade name in an advertisement by the John Deery Co. featuring the CNR station in C (July 1931), p. 19; C.N.Rys. in the same issue of C, p. 234, called it Levanto marble, all ostensibly Canadian products; Canadian National Railways New Station at Hamilton, CRMW (April 1931), p. 198.
  56. ^ Building Condition, p. 14.
  57. ^ Building Condition, p. 2.
  58. ^ Building Condition, pp. 19-20.
  59. ^ Canadian National Railways New Station at Hamilton, CRMW (April 1931), p. 197.
  60. ^ New Station at Hamilton, CRMW (April 1931), p. 197
  61. ^ C.N.Rys., C, p. 235.
  62. ^ Garnet Showkenik, a long-time employee at the station, in conversation with the author, 26 February 1991.
  63. ^ Drawing: Removal of Stair Treads (30 September 1981), CN Office of Bridges and Structures, courtesy Ken Rose VIA Property Management.
  64. ^ Droege, Passenger Terminals, p. 93.
  65. ^ Drawing: Car Repair Facility (11 January 1971), CN Office of Bridges and Structures, courtesy Ken Rose, VIA Property Management. Work included existing over head door and frames to be removed, replaced by wood door frames and aluminum window and the insertion of concrete block partitions for tool, welding, A.C.I. paint & stencil, oil, and vehicle and storage rooms.
  66. ^ C.N.Rys., C, p. 273.
  67. ^ Droege, Passenger Terminals, p. 28.
  68. ^ C.N.Rys., C, p. 197.
  69. ^ By DPW architects F. P. Rubidge and F. Kortum, Hamilton architects F. J. Rastrick and A. H. Hills, with the possible input of Hopkins, Lawford and Nelson. Trevor P. Garwood Jones, "Custom House Exterior Restoration Study," pp. 6-8.
  70. ^ Spectator (7 May 1930), p. 7; and (26 November 1934), the latter in Hamilton Public Library Special Collections, James Street Scrapbook vol. 1.
  71. ^ The municipal planning perspective on the building was helpfully explained by Neighbourhoods Section planner Mary Domagala in a conversation 6 March 1991. Nina Chapple, architectural historian in the Department of Planning and Development and a participant in CAPIC meetings, provided a valuable perspective on planning issues impacting on the station.
  72. ^ Spectator (27 May 1985 and June, 1987), Hamilton Public Library Special Collections, James Street Scrapbook vol. 1


  1. Canadian National Railway (hereafter, CNR) passenger terminal, Hamilton Ontario; constructed 1931, John Schofield, architect; view of south front elevation. (A. M. de Fort-Menares Toronto, 1991.)

  2. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, view of complex looking west from John Street. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  3. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, proposed general layout with bridges and street closures for passenger terminal at Hamilton (Canadian Railway and Marine World [August 1928], pp. 474-75.)

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  4. Land use and railways in Hamilton, 1914, showing reolation of the Grand Trunk and Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo lines, location of present station. (Weaver, Hamilton, p. 97.)

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  5. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth leaving CNR station, 7 June 1939. (Hamilton Public Library.)

  6. Pigott Building, Hamilton, Ontario; constructed 1929; Brack and Prack, architects. (Weaver, Hamilton, p. 143.)

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  7. Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway station, Hamilton, Ontario; constructed 1933; Fellheimer & Wagner, architects. View in 1933. (Alexander H. Wingfield, ed., The Hamilton Centennial 1846-1946 [Hamilton: Davis-Lisson Limited, 1946], p. 102.)

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  8. Canadian Pacific Railway (hereafter CPR) terminal at Fort William, present Thunder Bay, constructed 1910; C.P.R. architects. (Commonwealth, Canadian Pacific's Heritage Railway Properties, p. 201. Courtesy Margo Teasdale, Ontario Ministry of Culture and Communications.)

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  9. CPR terminal at Brandon, Manitoba, constructed 1911; C.P.R. architects. (Brandon: An Architectural Walking Tour [Manitoba: Historic Resources Branch, 1982], #1.)

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  10. Winnipeg Union Station, Winnipeg, Manitoba; constructed 1908-11; Warren and Wetmore, architects.(Droege, Passenger Terminals, p. 94.)

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  11. Detail of Ottawa Union Station, Ottawa, Ontario; constructed 1908-12; B. L. Gilbert and Ross and MacFarlane, architects. (R. Bébout, ed., The Open Gate, p. 72, figure 5.)

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  12. Project for Toronto Union Station, Toronto, Ontario; dated 1913-14, not built as shown; Ross & Macdonald, H. Jones, and John Lyle, architects (R. Bébout, ed., The Open Gate, p. 73, figure 7.)

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  13. Pennsylvania Station, New York CIty, New York; constructed 1902-09; McKim, Mead and White, architects. (R. Bébout, ed., The Open Gate, p. 77, figure 13.)

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  14. Geneva Street passenger station for the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway, St. Catherines, Ontario; design of 1924; John Schofield, architect. (CRMW [January 1924], p. 34.)

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  15. Union Station headhouse for CNR and CPR, Saint John, New Brunswick; design of 1931; John Schofield, architect. (CRMW [October 1931], p. 621.)

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  16. Canadian National Railway terminal, London, Ontario; design of 1934; John Schofield, architect. (CRMW [September 1934], p. 377.)

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  17. Proposed Canadian National Railway station for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; design 1938; John Schofield, architect. (CRMW [September 1938], p. 439.)

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  18. Two sculptural panels over the main doors of CNR Hamilton passenger terminal. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  19. Detail of right panel, above CNR Hamilton passenger terminal. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  20. Three sculptural panels on west end of CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, showing, left to right, road, water, and sail transport. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  21. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, view from front vestibule, across lobby to concourse. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  22. CNR Hamilton passenger station, plan of first floor and ground floor, dated 1929, Revised to conform to building as constructed Aug. 5 1931; John Schofield, architect. Modified to emphasize principal spaces. (Courtesy VIA Rail, Toronto, Plan ab911-43.4-1.4.)

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  23. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, lateral axis of entrance lobby with original ticket window on left, front entrance, and magazine concession beyond on left. The opening at the end is the dining room. (Construction [July 1931], p. 233.)

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  24. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, snack bar temporarily opened and stocked for a film crew. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  25. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, interior of concourse. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  26. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, the remaining operative doorway to trains with train indicator on right. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  27. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, corridor on lower office mezzanine. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  28. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, view of District Freight Agent General Office. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  29. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, horizontal section, main building, 1929, Revised to conform to building as constructed Aug. 5 1931. Modified to emphasize main horizontals. (Courtesy Via Rail, Toronto, Plan ab911-43.4-1.7.)

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  30. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, front elevation, ca. 1931. (CRMW [April 1931], p. 197.)

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  31. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, track floor plan, main building, 1929, "Revised to conform to building as constructed Aug. 5 1931." Modified to emphasize main spaces. (Courtesy Via Rail, Toronto, Plan ab911-43.4-1.2.)

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  32. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, view of concourse from the operative passenger platform. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  33. Kansas City Union Station, Kansas City, Missouri; constructed 1910; architect not known. Station has a concourse over the tracks. (E. P. Alexander, Down at the Depot [New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1970], p. 233.)

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  34. Kansas City Union Station plan. (Droege, Passenger Terminals, p. 94.)

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  35. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, lunch counter in 1991, general condition. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  36. CNR Hamilton passenger terminal, detail of entrance to offices. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  37. "Station proposed to be built at Hamilton, Ont., by Canadian National Railway;" Schofield's presentation drawing. (CRMW [April 1929], p. 221.)

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  38. CNR Passenger station at north end of James Street North Business Improvement Area. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto. 1991.)

  39. Former Custom House, 51 Stuart Street, Hamilton, Ontario; constructed 1856-60, F. P. Rubidge, architect; front (north) elevation. (A. M. de Fort-Menares. Toronto, 1991.)