Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Former Grand Trunk Railway Station
Anne M. de Fort-Menares, Resource Data, Toronto
In Ontario, nine of the approximately 34 first-generation station houses built for the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) survive in varying states of integrity. Eight are in railway ownership: St. Marys Junction, Georgetown, Port Hope, Brighton, Ernestown, Belleville, Kingston and Prescott; the building at Napanee is municipally owned. The building in 1855-56 of a station between Kingston and Napanee provided the nucleus for a settlement in the township of Ernestown (Figures 1-3). A tiny service settlement grew up in the vicinity of the station on lot 19 in the 2nd concession, but it could not compete with the better established centres of Kingston, Napanee, or even Bath, a lake port the railway bypassed. One of the least altered of the early GTR station buildings, Ernestown has the most evocative air of temporal passage.
The Ernestown station is located along the Montréal to Toronto road, which was a key element in fulfilling GTR plans to connect the shipping of the Great Lakes, and points westward, with the ocean terminal of Portland, Maine. The choice of route and location of stations was probably politically determined,1 but the specific choice of sites rested partly with the engineer's survey, partly with financial expediency, and partly with sheer necessity. The lack of comprehensive documentation for planning decisions makes it impossible to state with certainty the factors influencing any single example. Occurring some distance from any sizeable settlement, in an agricultural township, and pointedly bypassing Bath, the county's most polished town, the Ernestown station may have been a stop required for refueling.
Before the GTR was chartered in 1852, the land route between Toronto and Kingston was known as one of the worst roads anyone had experienced. Most passenger traffic and virtually all freight went by steamer whenever possible during the sailing season. As
channels which vitalize the extremities of a country, and bring them into direct and immediate connection with the centres of commerce, railroads were hailed as the most effective means of opening up the country for settlement, adding value to the products of the land and,
as if by magic converting the wilderness into cultivated farms.2 In his influential Philosophy of Railroads, civil engineer Thomas Keefer promised a cultural and moral uplifting of otherwise primitive and simple country peoples when exposed to
that superior class of beings who are flying (like angels) over the
Country... It on the railways.3
Perhaps Keefer's most convincing points were the loss of revenue from difficulties in getting wheat and other products to port after freeze-up, and his definitive assertion that
the River would offer no competition to the railway ...4 Certainly these factors informed two of the decisions which were to make the GTR disastrously insolvent in the short term: the refusal to link up with water transport, and the expectation that the railway would easily displace other modes of transport. As Keefer himself pointed out ten years after the fact, the GTR plan was weakened by attempting to connect points already connected by better routes, between which no regular traffic existed or was likely to arise. By way of example he cited grain and flour shipments through Montréal in 1862, of which single-digit percentages were carried by the GTR, because the preferred route from western Ontario through Buffalo and Albany was already well-established.5
At the time of its publication, however, which coincided with British abolition of preferential trade on colonial goods and the expansionist dreams of unlimited opportunities induced in Canadian promoters, Keefer's pamphlet so fanned the railway excitement in the provinces that by June 1853, 56 charters had been granted to railway companies, and 25 stretches of line had been completed, nine of which were operated by either the GTR or Great Western Railway (GWR).6 When it commenced formal service in 1856, the GTR was the largest of these, with 725 miles of not-quite continuous track from Sarnia to Montréal, Montréal to the provincial boundary and Richmond to Québec City. The GWR followed with 279 miles of track in western Ontario.
The first plan, and one sanctioned by Earl Grey, had been for the province to undertake to connect Halifax with Québec by a military line which might be extended to Hamilton, all under the auspices of Imperial aid. Talks broke down over the route to be taken in the maritime provinces, and Inspector General Francis Hincks left with Thomas Empire.
Brassey had London in 1851 having arranged a tidy private deal Brassey, the largest railway contractor in the built three quarters of the railway miles in France and a third in Britain, employing 75,000 men on international projects in the 1840s. His name was a guarantee of sound workmanship, reliability, and integrity, until he undertook to build the Grand Trunk Railway in Canada.7 In partnership with railway contractors William Jackson, who conducted the negotiations, Edward Ladd Betts and Sir Morton Peto, an experienced builder of railways, theatres, and the British Houses of Parliament, the Brassey firm was responsible for the notoriously ill-built Montréal to Toronto section of the line.8 They brought with them to Canada engineers, labourers, and possibly the architect they had worked with on various lines in England, which immediately turned professional and public opinion against them. Public discontent was heightened as revelations and rumours of political corruption, graft, and general
sharp practices emerged weekly. Even though the scrupulous engineer Walter Shanly worked on the Sarnia section, and would later be General Manager of the company, in private correspondence he observed darkly,
I have known the G.T.R. to be a swindle from the day it was started, and no credit can come to anyone connected with it.9
The station buildings, however, were a credit, and in Ontario nine have outlasted the poor ballasting, crooked rails, steep gradients, and inconvenient locations that called down universal censure on the enterprise. The Ernestown station is a smaller, but still substantial stone station characteristic of those built by the GTR in smaller communities and rural townships.
In its situation, the Ernestown station on the Montréal to Toronto line of the Grand Trunk Railway demonstrates the sometimes arbitrary placement of stations, and its history represents the effect of the railway on the smallest centres.
Railways had three basic impacts on communities in 19th century Ontario. All railways were welcomed and solicited because it was believed that they would bring the conditions for employment, growth, and prosperity. In the long term, only a few communities emerged as important centres, Toronto among them, but in the short term, many settlements enjoyed direct economic and cultural benefits from having access to one or more railway lines. The railway could give, and it could take away; settlements could grow, or they could diminish, and most communities experienced both effects over a 50-year period. A distinction can be made between the port towns and the inland manufacturing centres; while the ports generally slowly lost business, or did not continue to expand, by 1900 many of the inland towns, such as St. Marys or Paris, were still aggressively marketing themselves as growing centres. Finally, the railway had the power to create settlements where none existed before. The 19th century community of Ernestown Station, which grew up around the subject station, was an example of a completely railway-dependent settlement.
Ernestown is a township in southern Lennox & Addington county, which has a venerable history in the European settlement of Ontario. The British administration had commenced surveying in 1783, and the following year 1300 Loyalists were deposited on the forested shores of the Bay of Quinte, including a large contingent of the Second Battalion of Sir John Johnson's King's
New York Royal Rangers regiment.10 The township of Ernestown (Figure 4) was found to have rich loam in the back concessions, although the waterfront was characterized by the extrusion of the limestone sheet underlying the whole district. Two creeks in the township fuelled several mills, each in turn attracting settlement and other services. By 1822 Robert Gourlay could call the township
one of the best settled and most prosperous in the Upper Province, although most visitors to Canada commented on the primitive skills of farmers who year after year planted the same crop in tiring soil.11
The chief settlement of Ernestown was Bath, sometimes called Ernest Town, a service centre with good water access, supported by provisioners to the garrison at Kingston. By 1856 the town boasted between 400 and 1000 inhabitants, and numerous manufactories, including a bus shipyard, and it exported directly to the United States.12 It was said that the cupidity of one landowner changed the destiny of this once beautiful and promising village when the GTR changed their route rather than pay exorbitant costs for land on the outskirts of Bath, but
Ernesttown was mentioned as a station site in the General Specification for Works of Construction of 1852, drawn up before land acquisition began.13 It is possible that the reference intended either the township town—Bath—or a general site in the township. The effect was the sharp decline of Bath, mostly in favour of Napanee, and the emergence of a village at Ernestown Station.
The GTR built near a tiny crossroads mill centre called Links Mills on Mill Creek. The station cornerstone was reportedly laid 14 September 1855, and the line opened between Brockville and Toronto on 27 October 1856.14 A village was said to be
rapidly springing up in 1856 where a
handsome stone station house, passenger house, and sheds had already been built.15 Between 1885 and 1894, the approximate population of Ernestown Station increased from 160 to 175, although many of those listed within the Ernestown area lived on farms a concession distant from the station site. Capitalizing more on the attraction of water power and improved roads than on the railway, woolen mills, a flour mill, a carpenter, and a cheese maker all claimed to operate businesses within the postal district, but these, too, were about a mile north of the station site on Mill Creek.16
One important impact of the railway through these counties was to hasten the depletion of hardwood, which was burned up for fuel and more speedily harvested by the improved access to farther forests.17 The lumber industry in the county declined, as did the growing of all grains but oats, and the agricultural sector moved toward raising beef and dairy cattle. Situated in an essentially agricultural area, Ernestown Station became an important point for shipping livestock.18 From 1881 to 1911, the railway continued to be the determining factor governing the prosperity of a community. After 1908, the introduction of rural mail delivery that obviated frequent trips into town was one element that contributed to the decline of the smallest centres. The populations of Bath and Napanee declined by 37 and 24 per cent respectively, and the larger centres like Kingston and Belleville prospered at their expense.19 Ultimately, the railway disrupted the isolation that supported the many small industries of the county. Napanee benefited from the combined effects of its location at the confluence of river, rail, and roadway, but other nearby communities suffered serious and irrevocable reversals and ultimately many disappeared.20 The 19th century hamlet of Ernestown Station is no longer discernible; in its place, a post-war exurban community has been planted.
Of the nine GTR stations dating from the 1850s that survive in Ontario, the Ernestown station retains the most early detailing. With five bays it was a type C station, similar to those built at Napanee and Brighton (Figures 5 and 6)21 The overall form, characteristic of all the first-generation GTR stations, especially those built in stone, is a well-proportioned rectangular volume with five, six, or seven arched bays on the long sides, two on each end, under a low-pitched slate roof with deeply projecting eaves anchored by four prominent chimneys.22 Soffits were narrow boarded, followed the line of the roof, and were supported by end rafters and triangular brackets. Most of the stations on the Montréal to Toronto line were built in stone, according to the construction contract which required:
The Road Stations to consist of a house with two upper and two lower rooms for the use of the Station Master, with out-buildings and other conveniences, together with a Ladies reception room, booking office, and open shed for General passengers complete with urinals and water-closets, and also a platform for loading and unloading cattle, carriages, &c....The buildings to be brick or stone and covered with tin or slate at the option of the Contractors...23
Although the stations generally met the requirements of the railway, in the early period none of them corresponded to the contract stipulation that they be two stories. At Ernestown the slate roof has been replaced, one of the four chimneys has been removed, most of the windows are boarded up, and one door on the east end has been filled by masonry, but where the detail is lacking, the trace of the detail survives. The soffits, rafter ends and brackets all survive intact. One exposed three-part lancet transom gives the hope that others survive behind the plywood panels. This detail, which is intact only at Ernestown, was restored from originals that also survived at Port Hope (Figure 7). Where the east door has been filled in, the matching new masonry is recessed the depth of the jamb, as has been done at Napanee, instead of flush to the wall, as new work is at Prescott (Figure 8).
The stonework is very fine at Ernestown, consisting of regular coursed limestone ashlar with quoins and alternating Gibbsian surrounds on the arched openings. This treatment also occurs at Belleville and Napanee. Ernestown station is almost free of the unattractive black pointing compound that disfigures so many of the early stations, and this contributes to the impression of intactness. The same edge tooling around all openings and edges occurs at all the surviving stations, and the base plinth that is frequently buried under platform asphalt is still visible at Ernestown. The technique of combining larger quoins between the paired surrounds of the end openings, and the use of a polygonal shoulder block at the springing of the two arches, is the same at Napanee as at Ernestown, suggesting that both may have been built by the contractor for the Napanee division.24
This attribution is difficult to confirm, however, and the paucity of information across all sources on the building of the stations suggests that they were somehow not adjudged a really essential part of a railway by those involved. Promoters were interested in financing; engineers were concerned with routes, materials, and the mechanics of laying the lines; assessors evaluated the operation, and shareholders watched the management, but nobody seemed to consider the stations.25
As built, these early stations had French doors, but these were generally closed in at a relatively early date, either because of changes in plan or because of inadequacy. Only at St. Marys have these details remained intact. At Ernestown, eleven of the fourteen openings have been converted to windows with the exception of a door on each of the long façades and on the east end. Generally the change is obvious from the stonework, but at Ernestown additional evidence exists in an interior baseboard trim, which is lower, simpler, and interrupted by the beginnings of a vertical door rail (Figure 9).
This design was repeated, with minor variations in size and detail, at
at least thirteen documented stations, twelve of them in stone, and it was probably built at approximately 34 locations in Ontario in 1855 and 1856. It was also used for at least four GTR stations in Michigan built in 1859 by Gzowski & Company who had contracted for the western section of the Ontario line.26
The international fashion for the Italianate style, typified by round-arched openings, shallow roof pitches, wide overhanging eaves, exposed rafter ends and picturesque chimneys, was interpreted in the materials and idiom of local building practise. Limited scope for individual expression appeared in the differing masonry techniques and finishing of voussoirs.
The Italianate style was already established in Ontario in the 1830s and 1840s for domestic and small commercial projects, and the most unusual feature of the stations, the French doors, was familiar from even earlier cottage ornée forms. All the elements of the GTR stations except the rectilinear geometry were present in John Howard's Colborne Lodge in High Park, Toronto, of 1836, including the important chimneys, the repetition of French doors, the sheltering eaves and the rustic allusions in the exposed rafters (Figure 10). Italianate architecture had been associated with British railway buildings since the 1840s, particularly through the work of Francis Thompson on the North Midland Railway from 1835-41 and the Chester and Holyhead Railway 1846-51.27 Thompson has been credited with the designs of the GTR stations in his role as architect to the railway in the years 1852-58, when he was based in Montréal, although this cannot yet be confirmed with certainty.28
The multiple application of a single design had not been notably developed in English railway architecture—Thompson’s works were all site-specific—but it was the natural corollary of several concurrent trends in industrialized society. One was the pattern book, part reference work, part self-advertisement, which disseminated images for reproduction or adaptation by builders and clients without benefit of access, perhaps, to an architect or to ideas. Francis Thompson himself apparently published such a book for railway designs, and although the book is no longer known, some of the designs were taken up by John Claudius Loudon as gatehouses in his Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture of 1833.29 Another trend was the production of interchangeable parts, which when mass-produced enabled the general standardization of components.
It is understandable that a single, simple design would be developed for use in a country whose characteristics were not well known to the railway contractors, and they were fortunate that some of the best building stone in the province underlay much of the route in eastern Ontario. British engineer Robert Stephenson, who had collaborated with Thompson on one of the most famous bridges of the period over the Menai Straits in Wales, wrote a treatise suggesting that railway stations in the colonies ought optimally to be adaptable to enlargement, alteration, or rebuilding, without interruption of traffic, and recommended the
simple and economical character of smaller continental and American example.31 Stephenson worked for the GTR on the Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence River, together with his former resident engineer on the Chester and Holyhead, Alexander McKenzie Ross, who was chief engineer of the GTR. They had worked on challenging projects in Britain together with Francis Thompson, although apparently not the Victoria Bridge;31 the transference of their ideas to the Canadian context is represented by early stations along the Montréal to Toronto line such as the one at Ernestown.
Ernestown's operations as a rural station were characterized by its surrounding buildings, which included a freight shed, loading platform wood shed, dwelling house, and barn in addition to the station.32 Probably the station shipped more freight than passengers, and it suffered almost none of the depredations frequently imposed by a high volume of demanding users.
The station is currently used only occasionally by maintenance crews. The interior has been largely closed off by partitions, so that the original finishes still survive underneath much of the newer work. The effect is disconcerting, with window proportions completely changed and early trim obscured, but one original partition is used within the office (Figure 11). About a quarter of the building is heated and utilized, and the rest is sealed off and inaccessible.
GTR stations shared a common plan that provided waiting rooms on one side, freight, telegraph, baggage and office spaces on the other, all accessible from the exterior through French casements (Figure 12). Interiors were finished with wood floors, painted tongue and groove wainscotting, and plaster walls.33 The economy and compactness were typical of stations dating from the 1850s and 1860s in smaller centres in North America, when railway lines were still wildly speculative ventures, and the future needs of any particular location could not easily be predicted. Anticipating the opportunity for expansion was advocated in treatises, such as Robert Stephenson's 1850 Railways: an Introductory Sketch, with Suqqestions in Reference to their Extension to British Colonies, and by assessors for the GTR. In his generally favourable report prepared for the London board of the GTR, C. H. Gregory observed that the allowances for station lands were
very full, beyond average in England, but a shareholder caustically pointed out that these lands were the property of the contractors, and any expansion would incur land costs.34 With its clear division of functional spaces, rather flexible proportions and repetitious elevations, the standard design was stretched from five to seven bays for initial construction, and could be extended further if needed. There is no example of a stone GTR station exceeding seven bays. When alterations were effected, a second storey was added, as at Kingston and Belleville, or more radical stylistic changes might be carried out, as at Georgetown.
All the early GTR stations provided a freight and pedestrian path that passed by or through the building to gain access to the tracks. Although the superiority of this plan seems self-evident, some early stations in Canada and the United States required passengers to cross tracks to reach the platform (particularly when tracks were laid through city streets, as between the various company terminals in Toronto), or to circle around the building to the track side. The uniformly handsome double fronts of the GTR stations, with their familiar silhouettes and decently finished, well-lit, heated waiting rooms, were the one element of the controversial Montréal to Toronto line that could be said to have established a standard for first class quality.
The GTR track through Ernestown curved inland across the township as it followed the shoreline between Kingston and Napanee. Without waterpower, the site of the station was never a logical place for early settlement, and when the station activity declined it was no longer a logical place to be at all. Consequently there is no physical trace of the early station outbuildings or structures that housed 19th century services. Vehicular access is by a dirt service road from the north, or by driving through the partially filled two-block grid of residences to the south. Parking is on the south side of the tracks.
The station stands very close to the westbound track at the foot of a field that saw minor industrial activity for half a century or more. The small, almost delicate scale of the station contrasts with the more muscular treatment given to the paired tracks on their coarse gravel bed, illustrating the changes which have taken place in the relationships and activities occurring between trains, tracks, and buildings. There is no space for a platform between the station and the track, and passing trains on the elevated roadbed nearly brush the eaves, but this relationship was created by the doubletracking carried out between 1887 and 1903 (Figure 13).
Half a kilometre to the east, the local highway provides good sightlines to the station from its flyover, with a vista westward down the track. The change in road level and break in the landscape clearly signal a change in the environment, making Ernestown more prominent than might be expected from a rural station in a field.
As counties which were settled and prospered early in the context of European settlement and are now united, Lennox and Addington have a well-developed awareness of their cultural resources which is evident in several museums, marked historic sites, and a programme of brochures highlighting the history and features of different areas. The administrative centre for Ernestown is the town of Odessa. A local heritage committee with a wide range of members is actively researching buildings and history in the township. Small-scale industrial development characterized the communities settled around water, and as many of the buildings associated with those endeavours are marginally used or abandoned, conservation concerns tend to focus on the sites of greatest need, and those associated with local families. The apparently stable condition of the station, and perhaps its corporate anonymity, has resulted in a low level of concern amongst the committee members, most of whom do not perceive the station to be endangered.35 The station is neither visually prominent in a commercial community nor does it have any legal public access; accordingly, it does not register highly in public awareness. Public apathy to the GTR has long historical precedent; echoes of it are discernible in the apparent invisibility of the station, which is of course a private and somewhat dangerous corporate property, in the heritage publications of the county.
Mr. Thomson, of Montréal, the Company's architect; this and other information courtesy Robert Hill, Toronto. Possibly the connections will be more fully documented in Oliver F. Carter's book on Thompson forthcoming from the University of Toronto Press.
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