Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Railway Station Report


Former Canadian National Railways Station
/now GO Transit
Markham, Ontario


Anne M. de Fort-Menares, Toronto



Street North in Markham (Figures 1-3) was the first station built in the village. Designed in 1871 to a basic standard plan by the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company (T&N), the clapboard station was the public interface for a railway line that was important in fostering the local and regional economy in the 19th century. From its opening, it catered to a mix of business commuters, day trippers and bulk freighters.

Since 1982, about half the building has been leased by Government of Ontario (GO) Transit, with Markham House Antiques occupying the extensive baggage and freight rooms. With the Proof of Payment system, staff presence and station facilities are practically unnecessary. Ticket services are provided out of a portable booth on the edge of the parking lot. GO Transit has studied the feasibility of renovating the station, and is considering relocating services north to the 17th Line. The station is considered a key community landmark by Markham citizens.

Historical Associations


Markham station exemplifies the role of the provincial feeder line in determining village evolution. As well, it is a relatively rare early survivor of the brief era of narrow-gauge railway construction.

The Toronto & Nipissing Railway ran its first train between Toronto and Uxbridge on 12 July 1871. By November 1872, it had reached its full length of just over 78 miles to Coboconk. It was the first publicly operating narrow-gauge railway in North America.1 The principal benefit of narrow gauge trains, with a lower centre of gravity, smaller wheel diameters, and multiple driving axles, was their plodding strength, manifested in an ability to climb mountains while hauling carloads, and to cling to the crudest railbeds through sharp curves without derailing. This had obvious benefits for financial backers. The obsession with straight, level, expensive trackage that characterized the 1850s engineering of the Shanley brothers was eschewed by the smaller lines that proliferated in the 1870s, eager as they were to throw down some rail and start pulling in dollars. The 3'-6" gauge was abandoned in 1883, when the advantages of international transfers and running rights over shared trackage came to outweigh the costs of conversion.

Despite its short life as a commercial proposition, narrow gauge was avidly promoted by influential and persuasive spokesmen. In particular, Torontonian George Laidlaw inspired a vision of the narrow gauge railway as the key to progress and prosperity with the fervour of a true believer. His catechism of the nine advantages of narrow gauge, a combination of economic and efficiency arguments, implicitly attacked the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) point for point. Laidlaw openly denounced the huge expenses and scandalous political corruption associated with the foreign railway, but in the language of 19th century business ethics such criticism frequently veiled frustration at not reaping the same privileges. A specific promise of the T&N prospectus, and a condition of its incorporation, was the provision of cheap cordwood to urban citizens at agreed prices with farmers, thereby serving both urban and rural markets. The reality was less satisfactory: farmers complained that they were ill served by the shortage of cars for lumber and by the railway's unfavourable prices, while urbanites protested the increase in fuel costs during an economic depression.2

Unlike the transnational systems represented by the GTR or the Great Western, the T&N was a local line with regional interests. Local feeders typically attracted enthusiastic local backing and were the catalysts for fervent politicking and speculation. Petitioning for provincial funds, T&N directors pointed out that the route would greatly benefit large tracts of Crown land by enabling settlement, thereby increasing land values, the profits of which would greatly repay the exchequer for any bonuses awarded to the rail line.3 Largely funded by Toronto businessmen and municipal bonuses, it drew lumber, grain, and agricultural products into the port of Toronto that had formerly been handled through Port Perry, Whitby, or Port Hope en route to Montréal.4

In this way, the gradual autonomy of Toronto merchants was achieved, and the prominence of the city in the region was secured. The relationship of the transportation network to this "centralizing tendency" was observed by Toronto commentators in 1885.5

During the years of consolidation, the T&N was taken over in 1882 by the Midland Railway, a larger regional line that was in gauge the next year as the importance of interchanging cars over shared track became undeniable. The GTR leased the Midland two years later as part of their ambition to control southern Ontario traffic, finally amalgamating in 1893. The Northern was absorbed into the GTR in 1888. All joined the CNR in 1918.

The survival of the early building from T&N days may be attributed to the diminished role the Markham station played in the larger ambits of the Midland and GTR systems, and to the decline of its business, although it was still a central depot for local residents. Railway stations frequently functioned as community centres. In 1915, for example, one of seven army recruiting centres established for the County of York regiment was at Markham station.6 Of greater interest is its provenance, as a station along an early narrow gauge line, and its importance in shaping the form and development of the village of Markham.

Local Development

When the T&N incorporated in March 1868, the township of Markham quickly offered a subsidy of $30,000 to route the line through the township. Harangued by the local Grit paper, and as a patriotic duty, the "wealthy and intelligent landed proprietors of the Township of Markham went forward manfully to the polls" in December 1868, and voted bonuses by taxation to support the construction of the T&N, in exchange for two station.7 While intrigue and maneuvering accompanied the selection of the station locations, plans for the country stations were completed in the autumn of 1869. The Toronto Globe considered them "pretty and based on economy combined with thorough efficiency."8 Ultimately the villages of Markham and Unionville both won stations.

Markham township had been surveyed in 1793 and settled the next year by 64 families under the leadership of William Moll Berczy. A militia survey in 1817 counted 22 grist and saw mills, which contributed to the commercial activity and attracted further immigration. The village of Markham grew around the saw and grist mills of the Milne brothers on the Rouge River, but the most prominent settlers were the Reesor family, whose members eventually reached the Canadian Senate. By 1851, the village constituted 800-900 inhabitants, four churches, and a number of grain mills and typical industries.

After the arrival of the T&N in 1871, commerce picked up considerably. Commenting on the unprecedented "genuine prosperity" and the high level of construction activity, the Economist predicted that Markham could ultimately become an important suburb of Toronto through the "wise management of our railroad."9 Immediate increases in business resulted from farmers sending logs, livestock, and produce to market, although Markham was one of the few villages not to experience a large population increase. In 1873, a planing mill was developed from an existing sawmill, and the Speight wagon and cabinet factory 1880s. Foundries, woollen mills, and implement manufacturers all prospered with the first flush of convenient transport. Between 1871 and 1891, the numbers and kinds of businesses grew from 61, representing 30 different occupations, to 83 listings for 49 industries. With the economic downturn of 1890, the businesses were past their peak; by 1902 the numbers were down to 51 companies or individuals engaged in 33 classes of activities.10 As the GTR stumbled through its final insolvencies during the Great War, the major industries of Markham were struck down by fire, lightning, receivership, and ill health, most never to reopen. The dependence of local industry on the railway for its impetus also figured in its decline, as manufacturing concentrated in Toronto and large regional centres. The Markham business that continued to prosper was the one immediately adjacent to the station. The milling company bought by David Reesor in 1924 and renamed Reesor's Marmill, prospered sufficiently to warrant expansion in 1929.11

The T&N acquired seven acres and 70/100ths of an acre of land for the right of way, and three acres and 22/100ths of an acre "as a station ground" from Peter Reesor in 1871.12 The location of the station was north of the town, which occasioned the customary complaints, but not so far that its drawing power wasn't effective (Figures 4-5). The tiny community of Mount Joy to the north of the station experienced the greatest change, becoming part of Markham village when annexed in 1915. Today the station is at the midpoint of the main street, but at the south end of a heritage conservation district centred on Markham Village in the former community of Mount Joy. Its presence is signalled by the industrial skyline of the Marmill, as well as by the tracks crossing Main Street (Figure 6).


Aesthetic/Visual Qualities

In overall form and profile, the Markham station has the long, low, gabled shed appearance of the earlier country stations built on feeder lines in central Ontario. It has been crudely altered, poorly reclad, and badly maintained, but many of its important early characteristics and details remain.

Built of frame on timber sills, the building is covered in pieces of dark, brick-patterned paper impregnated with asphalt, which emphasize the irregular shifts from the horizontal which have occurred. Overall, the building has suffered considerably from deferred maintenance and from inappropriate reclamation work, such as the abysmal siding covering the true materials and obscuring details.

The original form of the station of 1871 is difficult to ascertain. Photographs date from after 1900, and evolution of the building fabric cannot be easily determined by visual inspection.

The earliest images show a clapboard station of three bays, continuous with a board-and-batten freight building having at least two openings on the east, and a double freight door on the west, but like its sister stations, the building may have been entirely board and batten originally (Figures 7-8). The clapboard half comprised a heated passenger waiting area on the north end separated from the freight room by the office of the station agent, but it isn't clear where passengers entered. A corbelled chimney on the crest of the roof provided flues for stoves in both passenger and agent rooms. The elaborate projecting bay had diagonally-boarded panels below three two-over-two double-hung windows. The brackets and ribboned cornice are still visible, and the panels probably remain intact beneath the insulbrick (Figure 9).

The medium-pitched roof projects a minimal distance over the walls with exposed rafters contributing to the appearance of thin membering, but it is asymmetrical on the track side, extending almost 30 per cent farther to provide shelter for passengers and packages. Alterations to the east street elevation, which fronts on a commuter parking lot, have introduced two additional openings arranged with little regard for aesthetics. A modest transomed doorway has been centred on the north end for passenger entrance.

Three principal exterior elements can be associated with the early architecture of the station. These are the exposed rafters on both eaves and the strut supports on the west, track side; the diagonally-boarded, double-leaf freight doors on both the east and west sides of the shed; and the operator's bay. Relative to the building, this last element exhibits unexpectedly frothy wooden detailing, similar in style to the bays added to the stone stations of the Grand Trunk just around this period. In contrast to the rather rustic quality of the exposed rafters, the bay emphasizes its rectilinearity and urban associations through elongated mullions terminating in shapely corbels which support a banded cornice. Above this cornice, vertical boarding carries the bay into the eaves. The shapes and proportions were similar to the Italianate porches gracing would-be villas of the period. At a time when the distinction between domestic and other kinds of architecture was not yet codified, the domestic porch offered the closest model for enclosing a small glazed space.

The interior is little changed, but poorly maintained. Walls and ceilings in the lobby and agent's office are tongue-and-groove boards that were presumably oiled and varnished like the Newmarket station, as traces of varnish can be observed under the paint. The floors have been covered with linoleum tiles, and new counters have been put into the agent's spaces, along with surface-mounted electrical conduits. Incisions in the panelling indicate that the ticket window has been moved toward the centre of the wall, probably so that a small washroom could be installed on the east side of the lobby (Figures 10-11). Much of the door trim has been replaced, but the heavy cornice moulding of the flat ceiling remains.

It is difficult to examine the spaces occupied by the antique store, but the original surfaces and mechanisms remain in place, including a six-panel door, a stove, and freight door rails and counter-weights. The baggage room at the far south was completely inaccessible.

The Markham station is one of a family of modest stations built by the T&N which numbered Agincourt (demolished), Unionville (restored), and Stouffville (replaced), as members. Whereas Agincourt was little more than a large flagstop, Unionville was a larger structure, with clearly defined lobby and baggage areas (Figures 12-13). Both were board and batten structures, with simple gabled roofs projecting over the platform, single chimneys, and plain openings. Ornamentation derived from paint, dividing the building horizontally into dark and light halves, rather than carpentry.

GTR records indicate repairs to the Markham building in 1898 to bring it up to good condition.13 The extent of work, comprising "new sheeting, painting and general repairs," and the closure of the north door, was dismissively judged by local editors as unsuitable and adding nothing to the appearance of the station. At the time, the editors thought it had quite outlived its usefulness, a view not shared by railway officials.14 Sometime between 1907 and 1910, a freight extension of board and batten added 31 feet onto the southern end (Figure 14).

Functional/Technological Qualities

The principal functions of the rural station were clearly laid out in the Markham building, from passenger services at the north end, through station staff and communications at the center, to baggage, express, and freight at the south end (Figure 15).

Minor partitions have disappeared, but there was probably provision for a segregated ladies' waiting room. Outbound baggage or freight followed an efficient path east to west straight across the short axis of the building. The station is built directly on the ground, so the freight rolled through the earlier section level with the platform. The south addition had a higher floor level, with an elevated timber loading dock on the track side (Figures 7 and 16).

"Improvements" implemented by GO Transit since 1982 include the construction of a platform, chain link fence, passenger shelter, and the installation of some services. The parking lot was better illuminated, regraded, and finally paved; a sidewalk around the building was provided, and landscape improvements were carried out to screen the parking. An engineering study suggested the replacement of all finishes, floors, interior and exterior walls and ceilings, as well as mechanical and electrical systems, as part of a llrestorationll effort, noting that said "restoration" would adapt the existing building to GO Transit requirements and modern comfort levels, while maintaining an original appearance, inside and out.15 The demolition of the last 9.5 metres of freight storage, superfluous to GO Transit needs, is recommended in the same study as part of the interior restoration, to avoid the restoration and maintenance costs.



The station site constitutes just over three acres of land as originally acquired by the T&N in a triangle between Main Street, Station Street, and extending past the diagonal line of the railway tracks (Figure 17). Most of the triangle now accommodates parking for about 100 cars, the station, and platform, which are all owned by CNR. Opposite the station site is a recently-constructed fire station complete with landmark tower.

Two tracks run in front of the station, and the area of a third, since removed, is overgrown with weeds and grasses. The collected roof levels of the brick Stiver mill, including elevators and gabled sheds, represent buildings ranging in date from the 1870s to the 20th century. The mill complex encloses the track section, emphasizing the industrial significance of the station and constituting a picturesque industrial landscape (Figure 18). This grouping has been identified by citizens as a key landmark in the village.

When the GTR took over the property, the station yard included a coal house, a single chute stock yard, and a section toolhouse. There may have been a station garden dating from after the GTR improvement phase of 1900, but no traces of that, or the other buildings, survive.16

Community Status

The Town of Markham heritage inventory lists about 600 buildings, excluding those in designated heritage conservation districts. The railway station is considered a "major resource" by planning staff, and with the Stiver Marmill it has been identified by citizens in community focus interviews as a key architectural grouping.17

The Markham train station was designated by Council under Part IV of The Ontario Heritage Act in 1989 and was subsequently included in the Markham Village Heritage Conservation District under Part V of The Ontario Heritage Act in 1990. Official plan policies encourage the preservation and restoration of the station in its present location on the site, and permit a range of low intensity commercial uses as well as cultural or community facilities if transportation uses relocate or are discontinued.18


  1. ^ Charles Cooper, Narrow Gauge for Us: the Story of the Toronto and Nipissinq Railway (Erin: Boston Mills Press,[1983]), pp. 13, 17. The Lingan Colliery Tramway in Cape Breton had operated between 1861 and 1866 with horsepower, switching to locomotive in 1866; the Denver and Rio Grande Railway opened shortly after the T&N, and the Toronto, Grey and Bruce, which was chartered simultaneously, opened six months later than the T&N.
  2. ^ Ibid., p. 35.
  3. ^ Petition of Geo. Shedden for Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company to The Honorable William Pierce Howland, Lieutenant Governor the Province of Ontario; 14 October 1871. Courtesy Markham Museum Archives.
  4. ^ The Nipissing Guide and Holiday Companion (Toronto: G.C. Patterson, Printer, 1874), p. 3.
  5. ^ History of Toronto and County of York Ontario (Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1885), p. 85.
  6. ^ Mary B. Champion, ed., Markham Remembered (Markham: The Markham District Historical Society, 1988), p. 230.
  7. ^ The Railway Meeting, (Richmond Hill) York Herald (27 November 1868), p. 2; The Railway Bonuses (Richmond Hill) York Herald (11 December 1868), p. 2. Rates were 12 cents per hundred dollars of assessment, for 15 to 20 years.
  8. ^ Toronto and Nipissing Railway, a Globe report reprinted in the (Richmond Hill) York Herald (10 September 1869), p. 2.
  9. ^ M. Champion, Markham Remembered, p. 274.
  10. ^ M. Champion, Markham Remembered, pp. 256-59. The occupational data is from Suzanne Rowe, The Toronto and Nipissing Railway and Markham Village, an undergraduate essay of 1984 in the Markham Museum Archives.
  11. ^ M. Champion, Markham Remembered, pp. 166-68, 170.
  12. ^ Instrument 75271, 10 October 1870, Conveyance between Peter Reesor and The Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company. Courtesy Regan Hutcheson, Senior Planner, Heritage & Conservation, Markham.
  13. ^ Grand Trunk Railway System, Bridges and Buildings, Northern Division (Montréal: Public Affairs, 1907), p. 126. Courtesy Margo Teasdale and staff of Ontario Ministry of Culture.
  14. ^ (Markham) Sun (11 February 1898 and 18 February 1898), both p. 3.
  15. ^ Totten Sims Hubicki Associates, GO Transit Markham Station Emansion, (1988), pp. 25, 38; and following, p. 29.
  16. ^ Allusion to flowers between the station and Main Street is made in a reminiscence in railway station files, courtesy Regan Hutcheson.
  17. ^ Regan Hutcheson, in conversation with the author, 16 June, 1992.
  18. ^ Designation proposal dated 9 August, 1989; The Markham Villaqe Heritaae Conservation District, vol. 6 (Project Planning Limited for Town of Markham, 1990); Official Plan Amendment No. 108 (Main Street Markham Area), 9.2.(a)-(c). Courtesy Regan Hutcheson.


  1. Former Canadian National Railways station, Markham, Ontario, built in 1871 by Toronto & Nipissing Railway. West track elevation. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  2. Former CNR station, Markham, Ontario. East, parking lot elevation. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  3. Location of Markham, Ontario, along the T&N line. (Charles Cooper, Narrow Gauge for Us [Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1983], p. 150.)

    Image Not Available

  4. Station site north of Markham in 1878.. (Miles & Co. Illustrated Historical Atlas of York County, 1878, p. 28.)

    Image Not Available

  5. Station site in 1991, as part of the Markham Village Heritage Conservation District encompassing Mount Joy. (Project Planning Limited for Town of Markham, 1989.)

    Image Not Available

  6. Former CNR station, Markham, view of site on Main Street. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  7. Former CNR station, Markham, track side ca. 1900. (Markham District Historical Museum, Acc. 82.41.23.)

  8. Teams waiting at the GTR (CNR) station at Markham, Ontario, east elevation from the north ca. 1910 (M. Champion, Markham Remembered [Markham: Markham District Historical Society, 1988], p. 187.)

  9. Former CNR station, Markham, detail of operator's bay. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  10. Former CNR station, Markham, Ontario, closed doorway between ticket office and lobby. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  11. Former CNR station, Markham, Ontario, modern washroom inserted into room over opening into ticket office. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  12. Former T&N station, Agincourt, Ontario, ca. 1890. (Charles Cooper, Narrow Guage for Us, collection R. Schofield, p. 71.)

  13. Former T&N station, Unionville, Ontario, constructed 1871, photo ca. 1910. (Charles Cooper, Narrow Guage for Us, p. 73.)

  14. Former CNR station, Markham, with extended freight shed, ca. 1910. (Markham District Historical Museum, uncatalogued.)

  15. CNR station, Markham, Ontario, plan (not exactly as existing in 1992). (Courtesy GO Transit.)

    Image Not Available

  16. Former CNR station, Markham, raised freight loading dock. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  17. Former CNR station, Markham, plan of site in 1927. (1910 Underwriter's Survey Bureau Limited, revisied to 1927, plate 58.)

    Image Not Available

  18. Former CNR station, Markham, view of site from the north. (A. M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)