Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Former National Transcontinental Railway Station
Anne M. Be Fort-Menares, Resource Data, Toronto
The railway station at Hearst (Figure 1) was built in 1912 for the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR), a subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) that was created in conjunction with the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP). The
last spike of the line was driven at Hearst in 1913. The GTP became the western division of the NTR, and the entire enterprise was nationalized as part of the Canadian National Railways (CNR) in 1921. Like many northern Ontario towns, Hearst came into existence when the railway arrived, and the station was the first prominent building in the town (Figures 2 and 3). After the withdrawal of CNR services between 1968 and 1982, the station was closed and around 1982 the railway office was moved into the small shed which is still in service.
As a station on the Québec City to Winnipeg stretch of the GTR, Hearst derived its principal importance from being a terminal point for the Algoma Central & Hudson Bay Railway Division.1 Incorporated in 1852, the GTR had been the first long-distance trunk rail system in North America, but the linkage it had provided by 1860 between Great Lakes shipping and Atlantic ports no longer monopolized continental traffic. During the last quarter of the 19th century, the policy of the London board of the GTR had been
Not Growth but Dividends to try to recover the capital expenditure shareholders had ploughed into the company. The general manager in Montréal had different plans for the company, however, immersed as he was in the politics and business trends of the country, namely, westward expansion out of Chicago.2 By 1902, the board had come around to the idea, swayed in part by the close and sympathetic rapport GTR chairman Sir Charles Rivers-Wilson had established with the prime minister of the Canadian government, Sir Wilfred Laurier. Anxious for federal support in their competition with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and with William Mackenzie and Donald Mannís Canadian Northern (CNoR) project across the prairies, Rivers-Wilson persuaded Laurier that the GTR was a suitable instrument to provide a second transcontinental service to meet the demands of western settlement and the booming cereal belt.
Laurier, in turn, saw the opportunity to placate proponents of the Trans-Canada Railway, an untenable plan to run a railway 400 miles across desolate terrain with no traffic prospects whatsoever, from Roberval, north of Québec City, to James Bay, for which he had approved subsidies in 1900. The GTRís plan called for a western jump-off point from Callander to Winnipeg. Laurier calculated that if the GTR could be induced to build an extra 400 miles and change their terminal to Québec City, he could appease all par ties.3 What Laurier did not know was that he was a pawn in a bluff that GTR general manager Charles Hays was pulling to bring the indomitable builders of the CNoR around to a capitulative bargaining position; GTR had no intention of building a third line to the West. What they wanted was reciprocal track privileges over Mackenzie and Mannís lines in the West, but renowned as they were for their legerdemain in business deals, Mackenzie and Mann were unmovable. Laurier found himself bound to funding two more transcontinental lines, and to try to escape a costly impasse, he proposed the creation of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway as a wholly owned GTR subsidiary. The eastern division, 2019 miles from Moncton to Winnipeg, would be built on behalf of the Dominion government and leased back to the GTP. This, with restrictions on shipping to the GTR terminal in Portland, Maine, would quieten the clamouring from New Brunswick for a line to correct the long resentment over the Intercolonial fiasco. The western division, from Winnipeg to the Pacific terminal, would be built by the GTP, and the two lines would constitute the National Transcontinental.4 Laurier was roundly condemned by the politicians of Québec and New Brunswick, who had themselves caused the problem by their demands for 900 miles of unnecessary track, but to salvage his administration and reunite the Liberal party, Laurier concocted a compromise package linking public and private ownership through I1savagew conditions that renewed the bonds of political interference that had so hampered the first fifty years of GTR development. The act was passed on 2 September 1903.
The construction of the National Transcontinental was second only to the Panama Canal as the greatest project of the time. The survey process was expensive and brutally difficult; one stretch of 358 miles took 9158 miles of survey.5 Contracting for the eastern division was let by a board of politically-appointed commissioners, whose methods so travestied departmental regulations that the Chief Government Engineer resigned in protest in 1909. The Liberals were defeated in an election the following year, and Robert Bordenís incoming Government replaced the Board of Railway Commissioners with a Royal Commission
overnight. Construction costs first estimated at $68 million and arbitrarily revised to $114 million by the Finance Minister, actually came in at $161.3 million by the time of completion in 1913.6
Under the contract of 1904, the GTR was committed to leasing the line from the government at 3 per cent of cost, but the NTR could not possibly earn enough to pay the inflated fees. Consequently, the Canadian Government Railways was organized in 1915 to operate the eastern division in conjunction with the Intercolonial. During the war, Borden offered flexible support of the GTP to allow the company to reschedule its debts, which were over $220 million, but the London board snappishly demanded full repayment of GTR advances and the immediate takeover of the GTP, all in contravention of the agreement. When given the opportunity to present their case for release from the commitment before another commission, the inept GTR chairman antagonized the government and admitted to policies and practises contrary to the terms of the agreement.7 Nor was the commission free of prejudices and unjust accusations; their ultimate recommendation was expropriation. Negotiations to float the two companies continued through the war, but finally, in November 1918, the government passed the Grand Trunk Acquisition Act
to make the Canadian Northern pay.8 Formal possession occurred 21 May 1920, and the last battle between the long-beleaguered railway and the Dominion government took place before a board of arbitration, with William Howard Taft, former President of the United States, appearing for the GTR.
Ultimately, although the line was envisaged, like the original Grand Trunk, as a long-haul trunk line shipping prairie grain directly to the Atlantic ports, a large proportion of NTR grain went out through Lakehead ports, and westbound freight originated in Montréal or Toronto, far from the northern route. Between the heavily trafficked routes east of Québec and west of Nakina, the trains carried local products to regional customers. Similarly, passenger services were not planned for through-convenience. Between Hearst and Kapuskasing, for example would-be passengers had to take a bus run by Ontario Northland.9
Despite the difficulties and improbabilities of the line, if the National Transcontinental had not built through northwestern Ontario, it is doubtful if this area of Ontario would ever have reached its present state of development. Dating from the last expansion of the GTR, the architectural style and environment of the Hearst station (Figure 4) illustrate the pragmatic approach that characterized the company's expansion in difficult economic and geographic climates.
Beginning in 1910, Hearst was hewn from the forest in the so-called
Clay Belt, an area with a 90 day growing season that was thought to be arable agricultural land (Figure 5). The town became a center for forestry and agriculture, but was always dependent on the railway, relying on it for communications as well as for economic survival.10 The settling of Hearst proceeded as an effort of the Ontario government to direct prospecting activities toward permanent occupation of the
New Ontario, a concept that dated from the exploitation of resources following the completion of the CPR line in the 1880s.11 Since government surveys in 1905 that had favourably assessed the soil, timber, and mineral resources of the area north of French River, the potential of the northern lands had been regarded with interest by adventurers, immigrants, and provincial strategists. Railway schemes figured prominently as instruments of policy and of development.
The opening of northern Ontario was a minor theme in the construction of the NTR. After the definition of the Ontario-Québec boundary in 1884, private colonization efforts attracted sufficient numbers of settlers to the areas around Lake Temiscaming to warrant the building in 1887 of a short railway between Mattawa and the southern end of the lake; but politicians wondered about drawing settlers farther inland.12 Where Québec nationalism and missionary zeal had underlain the ill-conceived Trans-Canada route, Ontario Orange distrust of French Catholicism flavoured political motivations to settle the north and, it was hoped, obstruct further incursions from Québec farmers and Roman Catholic priests.13
In the first flush of enthusiasm, six railway companies were projected, but only the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway, chartered in 1899, had any practicable basis; the trains hauled iron ore from the Helen Mine near Lake Superior to the smelter at Sault Ste. Marie.14 This was the line that eventually extended as far as the NTR at Hearst. The conspicuous lack of would-be settlers petitioning for farms in the muskeg along its route convinced even the most visionary of promoters that chartered commercial railways would never be profitable in the north. The solution was the creation of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (TNO), a creature of the provincial government, in 1902. In 1946 its name was changed to Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, and its mandate expanded over the years to include boats, buses, trucking, hotels and hunting camps, express, northern telephone services, telegraph, teletype, and microwave radio.15 Running from North Bay to New Liskeard, and finally to Moosonee, this railway was equipped to function as a settlement line, carrying mail, supplies, produce, silver bullion, and passengers. When the NTR was confirmed, work began in 1907 to extend the TNO to exploit the chance to reach western markets. At the point of intersection Cochrane was established, named for the Ontario Minister of Lands, Forests and Mines who became Federal Minister of Railways.
Hearst was named for another politician, Ontario Premier Sir William Hearst.16 Would-be settlers first arrived at the bush settlement where railway crews worked near the Mattawishkwia River in 1911. The site was first called Grant, ostensibly after a railway employee. The name was formalized during railway construction in the summer of 1912 as Hearst, to either honour or encourage the benevolent policies of the premier.17 The NTR line established a divisional point at Hearst in that year, and with the station, round house, and coaling plants, built the largest buildings in the landscape. In 1913 the Hearst Crown Land Agency organized the sale and distribution of 8,224 acres of land to about 60 colonists, and a Settlers Loan Commission was established to aid and encourage settlement. Hearst incorporated as a town in 1922 with 573 inhabitants.18
Hearst grew by four waves of immigration after settlement, although in numbers, growth was fairly small. The first, in 1920, brought hopefuls from Québec, encouraged by the low prices of land and by colonising missionaries. In 1924, the provincial government built a demonstration farm to instruct and exhort growers. When the first clay road reached Hearst in 1930, many turned to the north looking for a quiet place for self-reliant subsistence during the Depression. Around 1945, however, the meagre returns of agriculture were abandoned and the population of the town itself increased 71 per cent as people flocked into town to work in the lumber industry, where demand had soared with new construction starts across North America. Finally, in the 1960s, an additional wood processing plant and the arrival of the Trans-Canada Highway bolstered the population again, to over 3,000.19
Historically, train crews have performed special health and educational services in the north. Forest fires were a constant menace, and most towns were decimated by them on two or three occasions. In Hearst, two huge fires swept through in 1914 and 1916, but the station, which is the oldest building in the town, survived them both. The railway provided a vital service at such times, evacuating residents (sometimes permanently), and bringing emergency supplies from Winnipeg and Toronto.20
The railway figured prominently in the industrial and commercial life of the town, and train service typically fit into the pattern of daily life for most of the inhabitants. With the growth of alternate services, however, particularly those operated by Ontario Northland, the local importance of trunk service declined. The prominence of the railway is still physically demonstrated in the town, however, by the central position of the station, and the clear hierarchy of roads and buildings built around the railway.
Built in 1912 to a standard GTP plan for divisional point stations, the Hearst station reflects the frugality that attended its construction, as well as a certain boxiness that typified larger station buildings of the period. Fittingly for a town economically reliant on forest products, all the decorative aspects of the station were achieved through the textures and colouring of wood.
It is a large, two-storey frame building with a high hipped roof broken on both the town and track fronts by a steep gabled dormer at the centre of each symmetrical elevation. On the south elevation, the gable is decorated with a half-timbered pattern. That symmetry, still discernible on the track front, is hard to read through the patching and alterations that have been inflicted on the town front (Figure 6). On the track side (Figure l), a skirt roof wraps around the corners of the building to protect goods and passengers along the platform near the building. This detail was common on two-storey stations of the period, and derived its stylistic legitimacy from contemporary domestic architecture.
The stark outlines of the building were relieved by the texture and colours of materials and detailing when seen up close. The original sheathing material on the first floor was shiplap siding, distinguished by strong horizontal shadows, but unlike clapboard, having a flat overall surface. The second floor was faced with wood shingle. The varied textures continued in the treatment of the eaves, with narrow boarded soffits, projecting rafters with cyma reversa profiles, and under the skirt roof, curved brackets with diagonal struts (Figure 7-8). This motif was characteristic of GTR work throughout the company's history. Fenestration was four-over-four sash. Other fairly simple devices helped to create interest and changes of surface plane. Paired consoles under the bottom chord of the centre gables added visual strength to a detail that was otherwise ordinary and inconspicuous. Double doors to a storage shed on the east end, for example, were the handsome diagonally-boarded leaves with chamfered frames that were familiar on railway stations all across the country (Figure 9). On its completion, the station asserted a distinctive presence thanks largely to the use of well-finished, standard components, which distinguished it from the typical rough-hewn dwelling of the district (Figure 10).
The exterior is now covered in damaged insulbrick and most of the windows are boarded over, so it is difficult to appreciate the relations of openings and of material. The town side in particular has lost its original organization through changes to openings, the addition of minor sheds, and the replacement of the original entry portico (Figure 11). Early paint colours on an exterior door that is now enclosed in a freight shed hint at the relative splendour of the building in a rich maroon and black scheme.
The Hearst station had cousins across Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, where
economy was unashamedly exacted at each and every opportunity.21 Slight differences occurred on more elaborate stations, which might be embellished with eyebrow dormers in addition to the half-timbered gables that ornamented the Hearst town side gable. The larger station at Melville, Saskatchewan, of 1909 (Figure 12), followed the same hierarchy of materials and overall massing, but varied in developing biaxial symmetry (which in the photograph was not even symmetrical) through the construction of framing end gables instead of a central gable. At the short-lived Wainwright, Alberta station (Figure 13), a one-storey subdivisional building also of 1909 that burned in 1929, the single gable was off-centre, but the horizontally panelled doors painted in high-contrast colours are familiar from Hearst. In Ontario, a similar but more highly articulated, H-shaped station at the Sioux Lookout division point (Figure 14) still stands, its exterior stuccoed and half-timbered in 1937.
In overall style, these stations recall the remote neo-classical ancestors that reverberated through domestic and commercial architecture in Britain and North America through the 18th and19th centuries, the temple front modified, compressed, and organized on a large, formal block of flats. The dual-gable motif that occurs at Melville had already been mastered as an organizing device on the enormous Beaux-Arts union stations of the period.
During the 1850s, the GTR built standard station designs in Ontario having a domestic scale, familiar plan, and stylistic rhythms whose affinity with railway architecture had been established in England. With the rise of nationalist concerns in North America generally, and specifically in connection with the construction of the National Transcontinental in Canada, the use of a stylistically bankrupt motif like fake Tudor half-timbering signified fundamental and enduring values of Dominion, Empire, and civilization. The war to come impelled a rush of sentiment which expressed itself in self-consciously historicizing,
colonial architecture, but these stations are not early harbingers of that trend; rather, they are late manifestations of the particularly North American version of the Arts and Crafts.
The Hearst station originally represented a more complex cultural image than it presently appears to do. In contrast to the general level of architecture in the town, however, it is still prominent in scale, the patterns of materials are as they were originally used, and the level of original finish remains.
As a divisional point, the Hearst station accommodated freight and passenger needs as well as providing crew dormitories, railway offices, and possibly even living space for the railway agent.22 The plan for the sister station at Edson, Alberta, ranged connecting offices on either side of a corridor on the second floor, with the ground floor given over to a large lunch room occupying the five end bays of the building, separate waiting rooms divided by the ticket and telegraph office, and a baggage room across the far end of the building (Figures 15 and 1616). Traffic patterns were direct, with primacy given to the straightforward operation of the station, movement of baggage, and direct communication with passengers. Refreshment facilities were particularly important in northern towns, where passengers might not find amenable facilities elsewhere in town.
The interior at Hearst has been adapted to the changing roles of the station and in doing so it has suffered from poor-quality modernisations which obscure or replace many of the original partitions. Nevertheless, fragments of early trim can still be seen in baseboards, window aprons, and the classicizing interior door frames with little plinths (Figures 17 and 18). Originally, crew bunkhouses were built beside the track opposite the station (Figure 19), but with the decline in railway activity and the removal of most of the yard structures, the second-floor offices were converted to crew quarters (Figure 20).
On the main floor, the baggage area is still largely intact, its space punctuated by square timber posts, but it is difficult to perceive any trace of a lunch room or the niceties of separate waiting room spaces. Studies have shown the building to be structurally sound, and proposals for future reuse have anticipated complete renovation of the interior.
Hearst is a relatively isolated community in northern Ontario, with an area population of about 8,000. Past the surrounding hamlets and the village of Mattice (pop. 1200), the nearest town is Kapuskasing, 60 miles to the east; North Bay is 380 miles southeast, and Toronto is 600 miles by road to the south. The population of Hearst is about 5500, of which 85% are French speaking.
The town is laid out in a grid between the rail line to the north and the Mattawishkwia River to the south (Figure 3). Railway-dependent industries, chiefly lumber, coal, oil, and storage, located beyond the town on the north side of the track (Figure 21). The station yard itself is now fairly quiet, but through the visually dominant industrial equipment, the extent of tracks, and the size of the station itself, there is no doubting its place in the town's economy. Of railway structures, a standpipe remains from the water tanks for engines and coaches, and a cluster of six sheds have been left along the track at the east end of the yard. The land around the station is flat and open, with a short approach from the Trans-Canada Highway, which is the front street of Hearst. Two motels occupy the corners in front of the station.
The town of Hearst has a Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee to advise council on heritage conservation, and a few private buildings have been designated. Securing a future for the station has been the major heritage issue in the town, however, and a topic of intense public interest in Hearst for seven years.23 Public affection and support for the building have been expressed in years of dedicated volunteer work, articles, editorials, and passionate letters to the newspaper. One such letter declared that the station was no strange survivor from a distant past, but
une manifestation de la vie actuelle qui reconnait ce qutelle doit au passé and concluded,
La gare, cíest líâme díun people.24
The municipal council was patient and enthusiastic for several years, voting funds toward studies, land acquisition, and rehabilitation. When the Heritage Hearst group attempted to purchase the building from CNR, the company refused to deal with a non-profit organization, so the town interceded. In 1983, the Town of Hearst passed a resolution requesting that CN Rail not dispose of the building, and passed another authorizing the purchase of the building for a dollar; 25 but after receiving studies to investigate the structure (1983), to examine the feasibility of establishing a cultural centre (1985), and to prepare renovation plans (1986), prospects for reuse dimmed. A minimum of $500,000 is estimated for renovation costs. The chief problems have been finding potential occupants to fill the space, developers to finance it, and how to generate sufficient returns from traditionally low-revenue cultural uses in a climate of decreased government funding. Having advertised for proposals and received none, in 1990 the council declared the rehabilitation project unfeasible if carried out by the municipality.26
In 1987, the Ontario Heritage Foundation had offered the Town up to $50,000 toward the conservation of the building. In 1990 the money was declared applicable to mothballing the building until a use can be found, on the condition that the Town never seek its demolition; that grant has not been taken up.27 The Société historique de Hearst et de la region (
Heritage Hearst) was the driving force behind most of the proposals and initiatives that were presented to council in the intervening period. Without any material progress in developing viable renovation schemes, and shaken by financial depression, in 1990 the Town absolved itself of any responsibility or liability for the future of the station, and notified CNR that a demolition permit could be had for the asking.28 The railway company has not attempted demolition, however, and despite the townís withdrawal, an offer to purchase is still being negotiated. To date, the town has been told that CNR cannot yet get the item
on the docket for approval to sell it, and closing has been postponed to June 1992.29 The future of the station is still a live issue in Hearst.
to sell the deal to the public. Stevens, History of the Canadian National Railways, p. 296.
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