Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Railway Station Report


Former Canadian National Railways Station Newmarket, Ontario


Anne M. de Fort-Menares, Toronto



The former Canadian National Railways (CNR) station at 450 Davis Drive in Newmarket, Ontario (Figures 1-3) represents an interesting variation of the smaller standard stations built by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) during its third period of modernisation and first period of financial success.

Built in 1900 after 12 years of municipal requests, the station is the second on the site. Newmarket was on the line of the Ontario, Simcoe and Lake Huron Union Company RailwayRailroad (OS&HOS&HURR), which ran the first passenger and freight trains in the Dominion in 1853. The company amalgamated with the GTR in 1888, and that system was acquired by the CNR in 1920. Passenger service to Newmarket was discontinued ca. 1978, but was resumed by Government of Ontario (GO) Transit in 1982, which presently operates out of a booth north of the station property. The station building is leased to the Member of Parliament as a constituency office.

Historical Associations


Having served several railway companies, the Newmarket station testifies to the enduring presence of the railway in the rural townscape, as well as to the vagaries of its economies1. Built to accommodate increased freight and passenger traffic, in its form and historical evolution the station specifically characterizes the affluent rural image of the GTR at its most buoyant.

The first railway through Newmarket was the OS&HURROS&H, chartered in 1849 by ambitious Toronto interests to channel the agricultural and natural resources of the northern hinterland through the city. The northern terminus of the line, eventually located at Collingwood, would connect with the Georgia n Bay steamers serving the ports of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Finally, the old fur trade routes of the North West Company were still perceived as worthwhile ventures to pursue. As a local enterprise, and one that would ostensibly benefit the communities along its route, the OS&HURROS&H received far more community support, attention, and affection than the GTR, which was always regarded with suspicion and resentment by small communities.

The OS&HURROS&H was eventually taken over by the GTR, but it had to prosper on its own for 35 years before that happened. Its remarkable success in the first railway phase of failures and take-overs was due in large part to the conscientious and talented management of Frederic W. Cumberland, who was appointed Managing Director in 1859.

When Cumberland immigrated in 1847, he brought rare skills that quickly established him as the leading architect and a competent capitalist in Toronto.2 Trained in England as a civil engineer and architect, he had worked on the Great Western and North Midland railways, as well as in the Engineering Department of the Admiralty, where he apparently acquired the great expertise in dock and pier construction that made him invaluable on Canadian projects from Montréal to Sarnia.3

It was his managerial talent that served the OS&HURROS&H, renamed the Northern Railway of Canada in 1858, so well. As Chief Engineer for the line between 1852 and 1854, he had surveyed five routes north from Barrie and justified the selection of Collingwood as the northern terminus. As managing Director, he oversaw the reconstruction of all facilities from Toronto to Collingwood to meet the standards set by the GTR, employing the Brassey firm to carry out the work under Sandford Fleming. In one year, he raised through rates, reduced operating costs, and changed a small deficit into a substantial profit, hauling the company out of years of foundering.4 Until his illness, resignation and death in 1881, his tight control on expenses, careful maintenance of stock, and skillful analysis of transportation strategies kept the Northern current and solvent.

The impact of the Northern was visible in the rapid expansion of the rural population, the growth of communities, and the transformation of the land. The Northern promoted immigration and settlement, carried agricultural produce out of the townships, and bought hardwood from farmers along the way for its operating needs. Agriculture took the place of the pine forests felled for export timber, and the railway carried cordwood into Toronto at comparatively low rates.

The Northern's interests were those of Toronto and, to a lesser extent, those of Hamilton. The aggressive expansion through southern Ontario of the Canadian Pacific Railway line in the 1880s threatened to restore the hegemony of Montréal merchants. Reluctantly united in their opposition, the smaller Ontario lines were acquired by the GTR to hold a market share. The Northern and its subsidiaries were amalgamated with the GTR in 1888.

The early 20th century was a period of economic and psychological euphoria; in Canada the optimism was prosaically based on the wheat yields of the West. After a series of rate wars and hostile competition, the GTR experienced its first decade of growth, stability, and unprecedented profitability under the able management of Charles M. Hays, an American railway man. with a brief hiatus, Hays served as General Manager from 1896-1909, then as President from 1909 until he was lost with the Titanic in 1912.

The Newmarket station was built as part of the general improvement of the line after Hays found a way to circumvent the GTR charter and reinvest earnings back into capital. The GTR was finally recognizing the business aspirations of individual communities, and built new stations according to need, as indicated by traffic volume.

Both the success and the ultimate bankruptcy of the GTR were precipitated by expansion to the West through the construction of the ill-fated Grand Trunk Pacific. At first, freight tonnage, passenger receipts and gross income were doubled, and a profitable ratio of outlay to earnings was finally established.5 The construction of the present Newmarket station occurred in this atmosphere. Rising labour costs, recurrent strikes, and the continuing improvement of the line and buildings, including the expensive Sarnia tunnel, pushed operating expenses too high to allow the company to meet its obligations. The railway was soon devastated by the effects of bad harvests, a financial crisis in the United States the Great War and its attendant shortages of labour and materials.6 In 1920, the GTR and Grand Trunk Pacific became part of the Canadian National Railways system.

The Northern Railway of Canada, chartered as the OS&HURROS&H in 1849, performed a crucial role in the opening of Ontario and the pioneering of rail service in that province. Developed as a connector to channel western shipments across the Great Lakes into Toronto, the line emphasized local traffic and contributed to the settlement and growth of rural Ontario and to the dominance of Toronto. The GTR, as a pioneering major line of the country, becoming the largest system in the world, supported the emergence of Canadian industrial centres in the critical period of 1870-1910. Newmarket is one settlement that demonstrably benefited from the railway during the 19th century phase of growth, becoming a regional centre and garnering meaningful reconstruction efforts from the GTR. The standard design station, sporting the trademark GTR colours and modified to accommodate local needs, was a highly visible part of the industrial environment.

Local Development

The economic origins of the town of Newmarket were rooted in its position as a regional centre. Its acquisition of a railway depot was probably crucial to ensuring its survival in the 19th century, with an equivalent impact on the present appearance of the town.

Newmarket originated in 1800 as a Quaker colony on Yonge Street. Unlike most pioneer settlements, it was neither situated on strategic water routes nor located at a crossroads; instead, its proximity to an Indian trail was expected to bring spin-off profits from the fur trade. Sufficient water existed for mill operations, however, and within the first eight years of occupation the place was established as the new market outside York (Toronto), with saw and grist mills, and the first woollen mill in western Canada.7 Growth was comparatively slow and unstructured until the arrival of the OS&HURROS&H and the entire rolling stock of the province, in June 1853.8 The consequences were substantial. A flurry of land speculation ensued, with the subdivision of six farm lots into a total of about 300 town lots occurring over the next seven years. The station figuratively pulled village growth in its direction, exactly as Canadian engineers Walter Shanley and Sandford Fleming had predicted when advising the GTR how to locate stations. Main Street was widened and extended north towards the station, and a commercial boom followed (Figure 4). In the political sphere, Newmarket incorporated as a town in 1857, with a population of 700. Studies have linked rail access to municipal incorporation: of 34 new incorporated 9 centres in the decade ending 1860, 27 enjoyed rail privileges.9

Local industries were those usually found in regional centres: planing and cabinet factories, pump factories, foundries, carriage and organ works, furniture shops, and two weekly presses. Robert Simpson began his retailing career in Newmarket before establishing his store in competition with Timothy Eaton on Yonge Street. The first large manufactory, combining a saw mill with a sash and door factory, was built in 1875, and in the 1880s employed 225 workers.10 That company grew into Office Specialty Manufacturing, a concern that dominated the landscape and economy of Newmarket, and became one of the largest furniture makers in the province. As late as 1963, office Specialty was suggesting a reliance on the railway and an appreciative contrast between its goods and the historic station in its advertising material (Figure 5).

The extension of electrified street railway service on Yonge Street to Newmarket by 1899 was said to have increased general trade in the village by 35 per cent.11 At the end of the century, 50 cars a week of freight passed by the station, and these numbers were sustained in the prosperous years 1899-1900. Shortly before improvements were begun on the station grounds in 1900, the local paper smugly observed, The GTR are at last waking up to the necessity of better accommodation here for the passenger as well as freight business.12

Town boosters fancied themselves progressive and energetic in the last decade of the century: new industries were hailed with enthusiasm and excessive optimism, and the importance of the town was frequently discussed in the regional weekly paper. When the GTR built the most tasty station on the line north of Toronto in 1900, it was promptly asserted by local interests to be more in keeping with the business importance of the Town.13

The business importance of the town relied on transportation as well as on external markets. The railway monopoly was challenged by the electric radial service, which ran from 1904 until 1948 between the Canadian Pacific Railway North Toronto crossing to Newmarket, and beyond to Jackson's Point. Such trolleys, which were quiet, accessible, and pleasant, reshaped rural space and social customs in ways that trains did not. They attracted thousands of pleasure riders, and invoked a trolley mania among travellers and writers.14 For Newmarket, it meant another means of communication with nearby markets and the metropolis, and protected the town from decline. Even the popularity of catalogue sales and the escalation of Toronto manufacturing could not break the primacy of the Davis Tannery or Office Specialty, although numerous other Newmarket concerns were displaced.

Newmarket has retained its attractiveness as a residential community, and serves as the centre for the York Region municipal government. The station no longer serves rail traffic, but is still visible to passengers using the new location of GO Transit.


Aesthetic/Visual Qualities

The station was built by a crew of about 20 men over six weeks between late August and mid-September in 1900. The Newmarket Era conceded that, although built of wood (clearly something of a disappointment), the station was both "tasty" and "very modern", equipped with all the modern conveniences the company could provide. These included electric lighting is on the interior and along the platform, and hot-water heating.15 Neither the three original electroliers nor the heating piping are currently in evidence.

Generally, however, the original materials are evident outside the building. The present station evolved in three principal phases. First was the 1900 station, a shorter and more symmetrically balanced design than the present building (Figures 6-7). The baggage end was extended before 1910 or 1912[Doubtful as extensions at Bradford and Aurora were not undertaken until the mid 1950s—JPS], and the building achieved its present appearance, with an altered interior, as the result of a developer renovation carried out within the last four years.

In form, the building is a long rectangular volume having a steep hip roof that has been covered with cedar shingles as part of the recent private renovation. Internal office spaces, which coincide with the rooms that were historically used by people, are demarcated externally by three brick chimneys along the ridge, all partially rebuilt to a modern profile (Figure 1). The end chimneys also indicate the approximate dimensions of the earlier station. The rest of the station, beyond the southern chimney, consists of the baggage extension. Originally the roof was decorated by a knobby metal cresting on the ridges, along with an attractive gable on the south end (Figure 6). Both have disappeared. The north end and west track elevation are still enlivened by medium-pitched gables, as well as by three doors, two freight doors, and numerous windows on the west, but the long east façade is without a break. The functional divisions of the building are clearly expressed on this public elevation, which is divided unequivocally between the blind walls of the baggage end, and the irregular groupings of windows and doors on the passenger end. A new doorway has been inserted, double windows reduced, and a modern square opening cut in (Figure 8). In the present less-than-glamorous condition of the building, these alterations are not glaring detractions.

The operator's bay on the track side has retained its fenestration, diagonal boarding, corner brackets, and a dim, weathered signboard. A profusion of textural detail concentrates around the gable. Heavily panelled barges are cut out in a semicircular arch, supported by a single row of spindles (details characteristic of domestic architecture of the 1880s), all in front of a simple trellis applique on the wall above the bay (Figure 9). The north gable, by contrast, has a sunburst motif, which is more typical of the 1890s aesthetic concerns.

Vestiges of the original wall registers remain in the use of dark red paint on the lower wainscot and the string course below the eaves. Some of the vertical and diagonal boarding below the string course on the track elevation, that gave the building its gaiety, has been covered by battened panels, but the decorative boarding above the string course is still visible. Although the colouristic balance is more or less retained, on closer approach the textural quality of the building is somewhat diminished. It seems that the resheathing may have been in connection with fairly recent efforts to insulate the building, and it may be reversible.

The three main rooms of the interior were all walled and ceiled in beaded Georgia pine, oiled and varnished, their patterns forming the chief decoration and aesthetic of the interior. The obsessive linearity of the walls was broken by diagonally boarded panels in heavily moulded frames approximately four feet above the floor, and by the device of coved ceilings, constructed to handsome effect. The rooms were praised by contemporaries for their airy appearance (Figure 10).16

The interior has been altered and renovated for use by the riding's member of parliament. Rooms have been opened and most traces of original uses have disappeared. Detailing has been imitated, over-ornamented, and replaced by modern work, but as it is all painted, this is only evident on close inspection. All door and window frames, for example, are new work which at first glance might appear to be old. The ceiling cornice and wainscot, in particular, exemplify two of the approaches taken. Through the addition of little blocks, the cornice has been made classical and, presumably, dignified; the diagonal boarding of the wainscot belting has been replaced or covered by a plain board and made more modern (Figures 11-12). Traces of the original diagonally boarded wainscot survive inside cupboards and service spaces, and most of the interior wall and ceiling boards are the original. The original spaces are both perceptible and, if desired, recoverable.

The Newmarket station is one of dozens of stations built by the GTR in the years around 1900. Of 40 catalogued by the Ontario Ministry of Culture, 29 were extant and in railway ownership in 1987.17 Based on the so-called Milton pattern (Figure 13), the design is admirably suited to timber construction. In the use of colour and material to express structure and function, it reflects the Canadian response to 19th century architectural morality, a notion most influentially espoused by A.W.N. Pugin and John Ruskin.18 Similar stations, varying in size and configuration, were erected in Ontario at Aurora (being renovated) (Figure 14), and a number of towns of similar size.19

At Newmarket, the station is prominently sited along the tracks and easily perceived as a former railway station. Much of its original woodwork survives, although some detailing has been lost. The closest station of similar design, geographically, is Aurora, where the exterior is being restored to its original bright red, green and yellow colours. The interior is being renovated to serve the current needs of GO Transit passengers and staff. Toronto based Ferguson Ferguson Architects have employed a distinctive modern idiom that meets GO Transit standards and leaves little early material. At Newmarket, the advantages of relative neglect include gains in authenticity and the layering of change. The chief risk for the Newmarket station lies in the question of future use.

Functional/Technological Qualities

In its original form the station plan resembled that of Maple, with a central agent's office, except that at Newmarket waiting rooms were placed on either side. The agent was consequently separated from access to the baggage area. In a departure from ideal practise, which consolidated functional spaces around a central office, a narrow baggage and express room occupied the north end of the building (Figure 15). The later extension of the south end has been said to have permitted the provision of completely segregated waitinq rooms for men and women having separate external entrances,20 but these existed from the start, and it is more likely that the extension simply enlarged the operations space. In 1900, the station measured 72 by 22 feet; today it has been measured at roughly 85 by 21 feet, of which 32 feet comprises the additional baggage shed.

Freight and passenger traffic at Newmarket warranted extensive capital investment in 1900. In the early summer of that year, the railway company relocated the freight shed to the west front for a new switch. Before this time, trains had to back out of the switch for two to pass, but the new arrangement provided splendid accommodation for trains loading and for those passing through. In addition, a new stock yard with platforms was built. Altogether, the improvements were considered to be much more in keeping with the requirements of the town.21 The construction of the new passenger station later in the year was greeted with the same combination of gratitude and indignation.



From its location, on the edge of a large parking lot, the station is highly visible to passing traffic along Davis Drive (Figure 16). Bereft of supporting buildings except for two modest metal sheds across the track, it now appears somewhat denuded in an equally barren landscape of undefined spaces. A warehouse lumber outlet occupies land to the east, and the historic Davis tannery across the street was jazzily converted to a mixed use commercial and municipal office complex in 1988. Feed mills dominate the view south of the station. GO services operate out of the tannery building, as do regional bus services.

When the station was new, it was supported by a small (14'4"×20'×8') frame section tool house, built in 1897; a dilapidated frame freight shed, classified in poor condition but occupying over 80 feet of frontage, dating from 1854; and a brick dwelling on stone foundations, with a brick addition and a shed, of the same date, also all in poor condition.22 These buildings are gone, but an idea of the industrial grouping along the track can be derived from Figures 4 and 17. In 1898 the removal of the "offensive Oil House" from the Huron Street frontage to behind the freight sheds met with the general approval of the community.23

The platform was extended as far as Huron Street in 1900, but its present extent scarcely passes the ends of the station. Red "Saginaw" brick paving of the platform and entrance has been partly covered by asphalt. The relationship to the track is very clear and well defined.

Although the scenery has changed considerably, the station is still highly visible, clearly related to the tracks, and easily recognizable.

Community Status

Heritage preservation in Newmarket is driven entirely by volunteer efforts, as there are no staff assigned to the work and the council prefers a low-key approach. Generally, buildings are not designated without owner approval. Despite these difficulties, an inventory of nearly 200 buildings has been researched, and the Newmarket station is one of just 22 buildings designated by Council.


  1. ^ The companies were: Ontario, Simcoe and Lake Huron Union Railroad 1849-58; Northern Railway Company of Canada 1858-88; GTR 1888-1920; CNR 1920-ca. 1972; and GO Transit. The OS&HURROS&H and Northern Railway Company of Canada, essentially the same company, both changed their names during the time periods indicated, but are not counted as additional companies. A. B. Hopper and T. Kearney, comp., Canadian National Railways, Synoptical History of Organization. Capital Stock and Funded Debt... (Montréal: Accounting Department [C.N.R.], 1962), pp. 641-45.
  2. ^ Among his prominent works are: St. James cathedral, King Street East, and his own house Pendarves, St.George Street, built when he was just 37 years old; (in partnership with Thomas Ridout 1850-52): Adelaide Street Courthouse, Seventh Post office, Toronto Street, Normal School (only façade survives); (in partnership with William G. Storm 1852-63): additions to Osgoode Hall, mechanics' Institute, University Magnetical Observatory and University College. In addition, Cumberland was president of the Mechanics' Institute, 1852-53, and Vice President of the Canadian Institute, 1853.
  3. ^ Russell D. Smith, The Northern Railway: its origins and construction, 1834-1855, Ontario History Papers & Records XLVIII (1956) (hereafter Smith, The Northern Railway, OHS), p. 30.
  4. ^ A.W. Currie, The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), p. 264.
  5. ^ G. R. Stevens, History of the Canadian National Railways (New York: Macmillan Company, 1973), p. 282.
  6. ^ Currie, Grand Trunk, pp. 428, 434.
  7. ^ Newmarket Centennial 1857-1957 (Town of Newmarket, 1957), p. 3.
  8. ^ Ethel Wilson Trewhella, History of the Town of Newmarket (n.p., n.d.), p. 127.
  9. ^ W. Randy Smith, The Early Development of Three Upper Canadian Towns: Barrie, Holland Landing and Newmarket (Toronto: York University Department of Geography, 1977), p. 38; W. Randy Smith, Aspects of Growth in a Regional Urban System: southern Ontario 1851-1921 (Toronto: York University/Atkinson College Geographical Monographs No. 12, 1982), p. 117.
  10. ^ Newmarket Centennial, p. 6.
  11. ^ Isabel Champion, ed., Markham 1793-1900 (Markham: Markham Historical Society, 1979), p. 102. Champion cites a report in the Newmarket Era of 7 April 1899.
  12. ^ New Depot, Newmarket Era (24 August 1900), p. 3.
  13. ^ The Depot, Newmarket Era (12 October 1900), p. 3; New Depot, Newmarket-Era (24 August 1900), p. 3.
  14. ^ John R. Stilgoe, Metropolitan Corridor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), pp. 293, 299, and passim.
  15. ^ The Depot, Newmarket Era (12 October 1900), p. 3; Nearly completed, Newmarket Era (14 September 1900), p 3; New Depot, Newmarket Era (24 August 1900), p. 3.
  16. ^ The Depot, Newmarket Era (12 October 1900), p. 3.
  17. ^ Ministry of citizenship and Culture (MCC) railway files.
  18. ^ In Canada, the dictates of Ruskin were interpreted through two main forces: the recommendations of the Cambridge CAnneMden Society, known as the Ecclesiologists, and through individual architects and builders. In the better rural church architecture, the result was the rational, logical expression of functional and structural purpose (cf. Henry Langley's timber church in Brooklin, Ontario).
  19. ^ Other similar stations were recorded at Brussels, Dundas (demolished), Hespeler (also much extended, subject of Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Railway Station Report 18), Madoc (damaged), Maple (subject of a current Railway Station Report to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada), and Stayner (a GTR renovation of an earlier building). The Milton station has been moved by the Milton Chamber of Commerce for use as a tourist bureau.
  20. ^ Newmarket Station, excerpted MS in Ontario MCC files, p. 61.
  21. ^ The Depot, Newmarket Era (22 June 1900), p. 7.
  22. ^ Grand Trunk Railway System, Bridges and Buildings, Northern Division (Montréal: Public Affairs, 1907), p. 136. Courtesy Margo Teasdale and John Ota, MCC.
  23. ^ Removed, Newmarket Era (22 July 1898), p. 3.


  1. Former Canadian National Railways station, Newmarket, Ontario, built in 1900 by GTR Engineering Department. West, track elevation. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

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

  3. Site of Newmarket, Ontario. (Railway Map of Southern Ontario, [Guelph: Clyde Publishing, 1985].)

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  4. Newmarket in 1878. The Northern Railway runs north to south through the town, with the station at the top. (Miles & Co. Illustrated Historical Atlas of York County, 1878, p. 29.)

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  5. Office Specialty advertisement contrasting their modern furniture with the Newmarket railway station. (Canadian Architect, (September 1963), p. 101.)

  6. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, (then GTR station) west track elevation from the south ca. 1910. The Davis tannery is in the background. (Courtesy Newmarket Historical Society.)

  7. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, west track elevation. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  8. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, public entrance on east side. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  9. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, operator's bay. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  10. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, interior with coved ceiling cornice and replacement wainscot. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  11. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario. Contrasting original interior cornice on the left with altered, classicized version on the right. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  12. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, detail of original diagonal wainscot. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  13. Former CNR station, Milton, Ontario, the prototypical design for Newmarket and others. (Elizabeth A. Willmot, Meet Me at the Station, [Toronto: Gage Publishing, 1976], p. 17.)

  14. CNR Aurora station, constructed 1900, undergoing exterior restoration. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  15. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, rough plan. (Ministry of Citizenship and Culture Railway Files.)

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  16. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, view from west on Davis Drive. (A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1992.)

  17. Former CNR station, Newmarket, Ontario, plan of site in 1959. (Underwriter's Survey Bureau Fire Insurance Atlas, [1959], plate 6.)

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