Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Railway Station Report


Former Grand Trunk Railway Station
(now Canadian National Railways)
Brighton, Ontario


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



The Brighton station is among the first station houses built by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) on its key Montréal to Toronto line, which opened 4 November 1856 (Figures 1-3). Of approximately 34 stations built in Ontario for the opening of the line, nine remain, two of them west of Toronto. The buildings at St. Marys Junction, Georgetown, Port Hope, Brighton, Ernestown, Belleville, Kingston and Prescott are still in railway ownership. The Napanee building is municipally-owned, although rail passengers still use it. The Brighton building is the only one of these early GTR stations to have been built of brick.

Historical Associations


As a concept and a project, the GTR evolved at a critical historical point when transportation systems throughout North America were relatively primitive, but on the verge of major change. Theoretically, the company had the opportunity to monopolize the movement of grain, manufactures, and passengers for half the continent from the midwestern regions to the Atlantic. Practically, however, problems with financial, administrative, and public relations realities intervened, rendering the line barely functional and rarely solvent. These difficulties hindered the kind of bold, broad actions necessary to command the field. The station at Brighton exemplifies the ways in which the grand aspirations of the GTR were scaled down to contend with the overwhelming exigencies of the Canadian situation without contravening the agreement that had been made with the government of Canada.

That agreement was expected to prove lucrative for the English contractors Thomas Brassey, Sir Samuel Morton Peto, Edward Ladd Betts, and William Jackson. Using questionable tactics, they finagled a deal with Inspector General Francis Hincks that allowed them to secure the financing and build the line, or, as George Brown hotly protested in The Globe, to be both company and contractor, and accountable only to themselves.1 Recognized by historians as the greatest of all the railway contractors, Thomas Brassey and his associates were as experienced in building bridges on the land as they were in building them between politicians, but their practises suffered under the scrutiny of the Canadian press. The GTR seldom received favourable public attention, and its scandalous beginnings have clouded the historic importance of the company in popular perception.

At the time of its proposal, the GTR was the longest railway system in the world, linking the Great Lakes through Sarnia with the Atlantic ocean at Portland, Maine. Plans initially anticipated a system that would link existing rail lines into a large, comprehensive network, but the major competitor, the Great Western Railway (GWR), with lines in western Ontario, refused to accept the terms offered. Undaunted, the GTR forged ahead with building 750 miles of new track and rehabilitating 290 more miles, much of it acquired in Québec (Figure 4).2 The Montréal to Toronto route was crucial to achieving the two principal goals of the line: to connect the Great Lakes to an ocean port, and to render water transportation obsolete.

The first goal required the survey and construction of road bed and track over territory that was frequently inaccessible, and the building of the line by Jackson, Peto, Brassey and Betts proved the ruination of the consortium and the first serious liability of the company. Brassey recovered his business, however, and the line was eventually properly ballasted and relaid. The second goal, the displacement of water shipping, was more difficult. All freight, and most passenger traffic, went by steamer during the sailing months; in the winter the movement of goods virtually stopped, and the more comfortable travellers were those with private sleighs. To discourage the comparison with steamer trade, even though the rail line paralleled the lakeshore, the GTR consistently located its station stops up to two miles inland from harbour wharfs, even when that also meant two miles from town centres, as it did to widespread consternation at Kingston. This policy quickly proved debilitating. After operating revenues of £458 less than nothing in 1858, the British managing director conducted a tour of the territory, and observed that the lack of connections with water traffic were understandably hindrances to proper development of the traffic.3 Spur lines to the wharf were built in localities where transshipment was important. At Brighton, the town itself was some distance from its port, and the GTR did not attempt to connect with the port. The town was an important stop on the line in the 19th century, in particular as a provisioner of hardwood for the engines.4

Local Development

Incorporated in 1859, the village of Brighton had its Anglo-American origins in the Loyalist settlement of 1796. A site had been chosen on Presqu'Ile Point to be a future administrative capital, but the mysterious loss of the schooner Speedy in 1804, along with numerous government entities, delayed the settlement of the area for several decades.5 It was the opening of the macadamized York (Toronto) to Kingston road in 1838 that enabled the future village to develop links with other business centres. Brighton is not on the Lake Ontario shoreline, but benefited from the natural harbour originally known as the Port of Newcastle. By the 1840s the port was marked by a lighthouse and customs shed, and a public wharf and warehouse were built in 1853 by a limited company.6

The construction of the GTR in 1855 was preceded by exciting and influential local transportation initiatives, motivated by general railway fever, and by the survey for the line in 1853 which had instigated an unbelievable advance in construction and business.7 The opening in 1853 of a gravel road north through the township incited the establishment of several small crossroads service communities populated by millers, coopers, merchants, blacksmiths, etc. For a few years the Cobourg, Rice Lake and Peterborough Railway, which had opened in 1854, attracted a lot of attention and financial resources, until a crucial trestle collapsed and the rival Port Hope to Lindsay Railway conquered the territory. Local advertisers featured railway allusions in their copy, and 300 building lots were offered for sale by local speculators.8 In Brighton, hotels were built, two of them on Railroad Street, poems were penned hailing the railway, and the land in the vicinity of the projected station was surveyed and subdivided.9 Local promoters demanded steam communication with Rochester or Oswego, and rail links to bring the whole produce of the back country to its natural outlet—Brighton Harbour.10

The local impact of the railway was felt throughout the township. County farmers bringing their produce to the Brighton, Cobourg, or Port Hope harbours benefited the most from these railways and roads, and in return the railway made possible the distribution of increasingly mechanized agricultural equipment that modernized farming.11 From a peak year in 1853, lumber began its decline as a source of revenue in the 1850s, to be replaced by agriculture. Industries in the town already included apple evaporators, which became an important regional business. Brighton maintained its position as a transfer point, although the last quarter of the century saw a decline that was typical in smaller centres. In 1881 one of the principal railway hotels was for sale, an indicator that perhaps the railway made passenger movement too easy.12 Agriculture was exporting farther afield: apples and vegetables to Britain by 1900, dairy products to Toronto by 1910, and from numerous canning industries situated in Brighton, the products of the field could be preserved for longer storage. Within the town, the area around the GTR line attracted two large fruit warehouses which expanded substantially between 1911 and 1926.

For half a century, the GTR was the only railway to serve Brighton. The excellent transportation facilities of the railway were extolled during the town's campaign to attract industry in 1872, when the absence of a bank was less important than good access. As the town was described in a directory of 1890, being on the GTR was similar to being on natural features like a small creek or the bay on Lake Ontario.13 By that time, steamships connected the town to Port Hope and Charlotte three times a week, and a daily stage left for Campbellford to the north. Transportation possibilities increased between 1906 and 1914, when the Canadian Northern (CNoR) and Canadian Pacific (CPR) railways both built lines through the town, and regular bus and boatline service were instituted to Presqu'Ile Point. Among the three, residents had a choice of ten trains a day in either direction, four of which were GTR.14 Rail still dominated private mobility: by the time the CPR arrived in 1914, there were only 51 owners of automobiles in the town and surrounding area.15 When the CNoR collapsed into the creation of the Canadian National Railways, a new station was built in 1920, but that was abandoned when the GTR also became part of the company in 1922. Except for a brief decade after 1910, the GTR Brighton station was the principal passenger and freight station in the township from its opening in 1856 until passenger services were discontinued in the 1960s. The railway strongly affected the physical form and economic strength of Brighton, and helped to sustain the development of the surrounding region.


Aesthetic/Visual Qualities

The Brighton station is the only surviving first-generation GTR station to have been built of brick. It was a type C station, having five bays on each of the long sides and two on the short ends, with the typical round attic ventilator centred on each gable end (Figure 5). Despite alterations and removals that make it one of the least representative of the early stations externally, much original detailing remains intact and in good condition, or recoverable. The chief distinction of the Brighton station is its standing, semi-circular arched voussoirs over all the original openings and forming complete circles around the bulls-eye ventilators. The triangular brackets carrying the projecting eaves that were standard detailing at all the GTR stations are in good condition here, as are the exposed rafters on the gable ends which were small but signal touches of the Italianate style (Figure 6). As built, the stations were typically five, six, or seven bays long with four chimneys, low pitched gabled slate roofs, and French casements in every arched opening. At all the known remaining stations except St. Marys Junction, most of these full length casements were closed in ca. 1880 and distinct doors or double hung windows were put into the openings (Figure 7). At the same time, a projecting operator's bay was inserted on the track side and the internal arrangements of the stations were adjusted to accommodate the new circulation patterns. At Brighton the original materials, textures, and colour balances have been replaced or resurfaced. The red brick, probably of local manufacture, has been painted white, and the roof slate has been replaced by asphalt shingles. The arched transoms have been filled by brick or wooden panels, and the proportions of most of the openings have been altered in some way. All four chimneys have been removed, and as the station is not now in public use, even the windows are boarded over. The most extensive changes have been to the east end of the building, where two bays on the north side were lost to make a single freight door about the size of a garage door. The corresponding opening on the south, while still a single bay, has been widened and squared to accommodate a standard freight door. On the east end, one of the two full-length openings survives as a double-leaved door; the west end has been so altered by successive closures that even the earlier alterations are difficult to discern (Figures 8-11). According to the contract specifications that Jackson, Peto, Brassey and Betts signed with the Canadian parliament in 1853, station houses were to be two storeys in height with two upper and two lower rooms for the use of the Station Master, with outbuildings and other conveniences, plus gender-separated waiting rooms and lavatories. Structures were to be of brick or stone, covered with tin or slate, the option of the contractors. The single unsigned elevation drawing which may have been a prototype for the early stations uses grey wash for the walls and roof with the notation slated printed across the slope (Figure 12).16 Except in materials, none of the known GTR stations conformed to these specifications: all were one-storey structures with, presumably, similar plans. The prototype is believed to be the design of English architect Francis Thompson, who for six years was based in Montréal as GTR chief architect.17 Thompson's appointment to the GTR came through his involvement on Brassey railways in England, where he worked with noted railway engineer Robert Stephenson and with Alexander Ross, who would be chief engineer for the GTR. Largely through his designs for the North Midland and Chester and Holyhead railways, railway station style had come to be commonly understood to mean Italianate. In England, Canada, and the United States, a picturesque Italianate influence of varying dilution appears in round arched openings, decorative brackets, deep eaves, medium or flat roof pitches, rectangular volumes, and an interplay of surface planes. The GTR designs were produced in an atmosphere of development and experimentation, and neither introduced a building type nor notably influenced the station styles of other lines. Their chief innovation lay in their substance and permanence, in the codification of a type, and in clearly establishing a corporate image for the railway company across its line. The design was built in three sizes at approximately 34 stations on the Montréal to Toronto line. It was repeated on the Toronto to Sarnia section, where many more buildings were in timber; and it was also used for GTR stations in Michigan, most of which were built by C. S. Gzowski.18 The Brighton station is a good general example of its type, though unusual in its use of brick; but the extent of alterations make it one of the least intact examples of the nine early GTR stations remaining in Ontario.

Functional/Technological Qualities

Internally, the Brighton station combines one of the best preserved interior spaces along the line, with some of the most inappropriate modernisations. The earliest GTR stations were not built exactly as specified, which apparently would have entailed two storeys with upper and lower rooms.19 The original forms are believed to have been quartered functionally, with separate entrances to men's and women's waiting rooms across about half the building, with baggage and freight offices in the other half, the two connected by a ticket lobby through the short central axis of the building (Figure 13). A later configuration, after the construction of separate freight, baggage, and express structures, may have expanded the waiting rooms to about a third of the building each, with a ticket lobby down the centre on axis with the operator's bay. At Brighton, the ca. 1880 operator's bay survives in quite good condition internally, with original trim around the windows and vestiges of the wainscot inside the bay (Figure 14). Most of the windows have been blocked off and reconfigured by the dropped ceiling, with only one early door surviving in a partition which may date to the first, 1856 period (Figures 15). The former waiting room and agent's spaces have been refinished with tile or sheet linoleum flooring, thin plywood on the walls, new baseboards, modern doors, and acoustic ceiling tiles. These renovated rooms on the west end probably retain much of their detailing behind or under the new finishes, but the removal of most partitions has already eliminated important information on historical spatial usage. The freight section, which is a single space occupying two bays across the east end, retains wall and ceiling cornices in plaster and the circular mouldings around vanished light fixtures, which may date from the first period, as well as the wainscot that followed the casement closures ca. 1880 (Figures 16-18). A concrete floor was poured in below the bottom of the wainscot, so damage to the wall has been minimal. With the exception of the restored stations at Port Hope and Napanee, this room retains more early material than any other station on the Toronto to Prescott line.20



Most of the towns between Montréal and Toronto developed fine ports on Lake Ontario, so the railway ran north of them to compete with lake traffic. At Brighton, however, the GTR line ran south of the village, which itself is over a mile from the shore of Lake Ontario, centred around the former Danforth Road to Montréal, the present Ontario Highway 2 (Figure 19). The rail line effectively contained any further development of the town to the south, and while the station is closer to the centre of town than many were, it still has the feeling of a former industrial outskirts. The station marks the southern terminus of Maplewood, formerly Railroad Street, which meets Monk Street running to the west. Entrance to the station property is marked by a chestnut tree, perhaps a vestige of early 20th century civic beautification efforts (Figure 20). Bordered by residential buildings on the east and industrial remnants along Monk Street to the west, the station site is conspicuous by its barrenness. Both sides of the tracks are vacant CNR property. A 19th century two storey brick warehouse on the corner, opposite the station, provides good physical context in terms of material, scale, and function, but unfortunately, like the station, it is also a building no longer in use. There are now two buildings in the station precinct where an ensemble of seven buildings plus a stock yard formerly housed the activities of local railway business. Among them were a large frame freight shed, nearly twice the 49.5 foot length of the station building, resumably built to standard GTR specifications with a slate roof.21 Large quantities of lumber were piled in the yard for fueling engines, and two private coal sheds were located along the principle siding. Across the tracks from the station, a wooden water tank stood 35 feet high (Figure 21). The present buildings are a corrugated metal barn, and a pavilion connected to the west side of the station building by a board fence enclosing a small yard between the two. Nearly square, with a high hipped roof and horizontal frame siding, this latter building predates 1926. The position of the station in the whole setting is clearly asserted by the double track to the south, and the sweep of the intact spur siding to the north.

Community Status

The town of Brighton does not have a committee to advise council on heritage matters, and no buildings have been designated under The Ontario Heritage Act. The Save Our Heritage organization, founded in 1971 to rescue the decaying Proctor House, operates a community museum. The architectural conservation advisory committee (LACAC) for the township of Brighton has attempted to organize one in the town, but without success.22

No public concern for the former GTR station could be identified through representatives of the historical organizations. A tourism study has recently identified cultural tourism as a good project for Brighton to develop, which could result in increasing awareness of the town's architectural legacy.23 In the provincial inventory of CN/VIA properties, the Brighton station is classified A for its historical and architectural significance.24


  1. ^ John Beswarick Thompson, The Grand Trunk Railway: Canada's First National Line, Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Screening Paper 1973-1, p. 1.6, citing The Globe (Toronto) of 12 August, 1852: Thus will the company be contractors and the contractors the company and they may just place what value they please on their work...
  2. ^ Christopher J. B. L. Porter, The Building of the Grand Trunk Railway 1852-1859, (M. Mus. thesis, University of Toronto, 1972), p. 6.
  3. ^ A. W. Currie, The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), p. 60.
  4. ^ Illustrated Historical Atlas of the counties of Northumberland and Durham (1878, rpt. Belleville, Mika Silkscreening, 1972), p. ix, and Wilmot M. Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario (Lake Ontario Regional Library System, 1975, bound TS), p. 342.
  5. ^ Two Centuries of Change: United Counties of Northumberland & Durham (hereafter Two Centuries of Change) (Cobourg: United Counties Centennial Committee), p. 17.
  6. ^ Centennial of the Incorporation of the Village of Brighton 1859-1959 (Brighton: Tri-county Publications, 1959), p. 25.
  7. ^ Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario, p. 265.
  8. ^ Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario, p. 271.
  9. ^ Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario, pp. 270, 297, 301.
  10. ^ Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario, p. 260.
  11. ^ Two Centuries of Change, p. 82.
  12. ^ Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario, pp. 242, 270.
  13. ^ Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario, p. 499
  14. ^ 1915 timetables in Pictorial Brighton 1859-1984 (Town of Brighton: printed by Josten's/National School Services Ltd., Winnipeg, 1984), p. 14.
  15. ^ Tobey, The History of Brighton Ontario, pp. 659-60
  16. ^ Canadian Parliament, Journals of the Legislative Assembly vol. 14 Appendix 1 (Appendix 13), 1856.
  17. ^ Information on Thompson is by courtesy of Robert Hill, editor of the forthcoming Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada. The principal citation for Thompson's work for the GTR comes from Improvements at Island Pond, Daily Transcript (Montréal), 25 September 1857, p. 2, although this refers to only one project. See also, O. F. Carter, Railway Thompson, Architectural Review vol. 143 (April 1968), pp. 314-15, and Carter's monograph on Thompson, forthcoming 1992. Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Early Victorian Architecture in Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), p. 504.
  18. ^ Reference courtesy Larry Turner of Perth, Ontario.
  19. ^ Possibly upper and lower were terms understood by the drafters of the contract to correspond to our front and back but there is no evidence to suggest such a use.
  20. ^ It is possible that the inaccessible parts of the Ernestown station also contain early material. Ernestown was a small stop that never reached regional status.
  21. ^ Grand Trunk Railway System: Bridges, Buildings, Water Stations, Fuel Stations, etc. Eastern Division (Montréal: Grand Trunk Railway, 1907), p. 166.
  22. ^ Nancy Anderson, chairperson of Township of Brighton LACAC, in conversation with the author, 28 November 1991.
  23. ^ Fred Gardiner, Save Our Heritage Organization President, in conversation with the author, 28 November 1991.
  24. ^ Planning for Heritage Railway Stations: Inventory, vol. 2 (Toronto: Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ministry ofCitizenship and Culture in cooperation with Canadian National Railways and VIA Rail, 1987).


  1. Grand Trunk Railway (hereafter GTR) station, Brighton, Ontario: constructed 1855 under contractors Peto, Brassey, Jackson and Betts. Design attributed to English architect Francis Thompson. View of south, track side elevation. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  2. Location of Brighton, Ontario. (Railway Map of Southern Ontario [Guelph: Clyde Publishing Ltd., (1984?)].)

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  3. Plan of Brighton in 1878, showing essentially the same level of development as exists in 1991. (Belden's Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Silkscreening, 1972], pp. 74-75.)

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  4. The GTR system in Canada in 1857. (Nick Mika and Helma Mika, Illustrated History of Canadian Railways [Belleville: Mika Publishing Co., 1986], p. 62.)

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  5. GTR Brighton station, east end and south elevation. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  6. GTR Brighton station, west end and north elevation with rafter ends and triangular brackets. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  7. GTR St. Marys Junction station, built in 1856. In 1979 it was the only surviving station with its French casements unaltered. (Dianne Newell and Ralph Greenhill, Survivals: Aspects of Industrial Archaeology in Ontario [Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 1989], fiq. 2-12.)

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  8. GTR Brighton station, south elevation with boarded openings and new freight door on right. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  9. GTR Brighton station, north elevation with two bays obliterated for a freight door. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  10. GTR Brighton station, window and door on east end, converted ca. 1880 from two French casements. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  11. GTR Brighton station, detail of a boarded window on the west end that had been changed from an arched casement to a rectangular opening with a soldier course lintel, before its latest alteration. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  12. Drawing for a Type C Second Class Wayside Station, ca. 1853, attributed to English architect Francis Thompson. (Ontario Archives, Shanly Papers, MU 2701, Toronto & Guelph drawings.)

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  13. Conjectural plan of standard GTR station, based on Georgetown, Ontario. Not to scale. (Dana Ashdown, Report Number 1: A Study of Canadian National's Heritage Railway Properties [Toronto: Heritage Branch, Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, 1985], figure 8.)

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  14. GTR Brighton station, interior of operator's bay with heavy trim. Wainscotting also survives just below the level of the horizontal surface. The cutting of the arched opened by the dropped ceiling is typical of modernization through the building. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  15. GTR Brighton station, door which may date from 1850s on internal partition. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  16. GTR Brighton station, interior of freight room showing full elevation of an outside wall at chimney. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  17. GTR Brighton station, corner of freight room with exterior casements on left, door to agent's office on right. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  18. GTR Brighton station, general view of freight room looking toward track side, showing sliding freight door centre left, and plaster ceiling moulding. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  19. Township of Brighton showing route of GTR line between the town and the lake. (Belden's Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Northumberland and Durham [1878, rpt. Belleville: Mika Silkscreening, 1972], pp. 49-50.)

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  20. GTR Brighton station, view from north with station terminating Maplewood, formerly Railroad Street. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1991.)

  21. Plan of Brighton rail yard in 1911; lumber was piled at the right of area 37. (Insurance Plan of Brighton, Underwriter's Survey Bureau, August 1911, sheet 5.)

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