Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Former Canadian National Railways Station
Anne M. de Fort-Menares, Toronto
The Government of Ontario (GO) Transit station at 26 Station Street in Maple, Ontario (Figures 1-2) is representative of the distinctive small rural station type built by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) during its one brief decade of prosperity.
The Maple station was designed by GTR Engineering Department staff and built in 1903. It replaced a depot of 1853 built by the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron
Railway ( OS&H), which was the first line to carry passenger traffic in Ontario. Renamed the Northern Railway in 1858, it amalgamated with other regional branch lines before being acquired by the GTR in 1888.
Since 1982, GO Transit has leased the station from the Canadian National Railways (CNR). It is open for less than an hour daily for weekday commuter traffic.
The Maple station is a very good example of the third era of GTR corporate design, but the railway associations of the site predate the building. Maple is situated on the first passenger rail line built and operated in Upper Canada. The passage between Toronto and Lake Simcoe was a strategic route long before Governor Simcoe directed the survey of Yonge Street to connect them in 1793. Years of agitation for the construction of a railway over the portage incited the organization of a Toronto committee to further the project in 1834. The two-fold goal was to foster Toronto commerce by opening the agricultural and natural resources in the land north of the city, and to link up with the steamers serving the ports of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan out of Georgian Bay. A vain third ambition was to revive the old North West Company's fur trade route that had been lost in the amalgamation of 1821 with the Hudson's Bay Company.1 The plan provoked engineer Samuel Keefer to observe that Canadians were
fruitful in projects but barren in results, and it was another 15 years before a joint Barrie/Toronto consortium initiated a company charter and began raising funds.2 The first sod was turned in Toronto on 15 October 1851 by Lady Elgin before a retinue of dignitaries and thousands of onlookers. The first
OS&H passenger train travelled to Machell's Corners (Aurora) in 1853.3
Following an insider trading scandal that forced the resignation of the railway's Chief Engineer and Chairman,4 in 1859 the post of Managing Director of the Northern Railway was taken over by Toronto architect Frederic W. Cumberland (1820-81), who held it until his illness and death in 1881. The combination of his technical knowledge of the line, attained as Chief Engineer from 1852-54, and the force of his executive talents, underlay the success of the company during his tenure.
Educated in London and apprenticed with a civil engineer, Cumberland trained on the North Midland and Great Western railways and in the Admiralty Engineering Department in England before emigrating to Upper Canada in 1847. He quickly established himself as the leading architect in Toronto, and the face of the city soon bore his imprint on its major public buildings.5
Cumberland's excellent training, thorough practical experience, and managerial brilliance established his reputation as the ideal consulting engineer for all the railway docks between Montréal, Sarnia, and Detroit.6 His reorganization of the Port Hope Railway rescued it from impending bankruptcy, and his direction of the
Northern secured it a profitable and competitive position in the quicksand milieu of railway expansion.
As Chief Engineer for the
OS&H, Cumberland had surveyed five routes north from Barrie and justified the choice of Collingwood, at the time an isolated harbour known as Hen and Chickens, for a terminus. As Managing Director, he had all facilities from Toronto to Collingwood reconstructed to the standards set by the Grand Trunk (with the exception of stone stations), even contracting the Brassey firm under Sandford Fleming to carry out the work. The administration was reorganized to attain maximum efficiency, and Cumberland turned his attention to the policies and politics of traffic.
Unlike the Grand Trunk or Great Western railways, which were primarily long-distance lines, the
Northern was conceived as a local feeder to benefit Toronto and the settlements along its route. Its strategic location connecting the western states beyond Lake Michigan with rail and shipping lines through Toronto and Oswego to New York and Boston made it an attractive alternative to the longer and dangerous route across Lake Erie and below Lake Huron. Cumberland encouraged local traffic through favourable rates and sidings wherever they were financially viable at a time when the GTR charged local traffic up to twice the rate paid by long distance loads.7 Although anxious to avoid the proliferation of unprofitable branch lines, in the 1870s Cumberland reluctantly approved the construction of three nominally independent companies to protect Northern's territory from the incursions of the Midland and the GTR.8
The results were 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. The pine forests along the route were felled for export timber, and the railway carried fuel into Toronto at comparatively low rates. In the city, the construction of cars and engines for the railway significantly altered the industrial economy. When few establishments exceeded 12 employees, in 1852 Good's foundry advertised for 200 mechanics to undertake the manufacture of the first steam locomotive in Ontario.9
With the aggressive expansion of the Canadian Pacific railway line in southern Ontario in the 1880s, the GTR eventually consumed all the smaller lines it could to hold a market share. The
Northern and its subsidiaries were amalgamated with the GTR in 1889. Antagonistic competition between the two national systems, coupled with public support for competition in the interests of lower rates, eventually lead to the GTR's disastrous attempts, beginning in 1903, to construct a third transcontinental line to the Pacific.
The company experienced its first decade of growth, stability, and unprecedented profitability under the able management of Charles M. Hays (General Manager 1896-1909, then President from 1909 until he drowned on the Titanic in 1912). Freight tonnage, passenger receipts and gross income were doubled, and a profitable ratio of outlay to earnings was finally established.10 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, and a severe depression in 1920.11 That year, with nearly eight thousand miles of track, the GTR and Grand Trunk Pacific became part of the Canadian National Railways system.
Northern Railway, chartered as the OS&H in 1849, performed a crucial role in the opening of Ontario and the pioneering of rail service in Ontario. Planned 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 takeover of the line by the GTR put the town directly onto a larger system, although Maple profited principally as a holiday destination for urbanites. Its small standard-design station of 1903 was perfectly appropriate for the local traffic. Enthusiastically received in the local press, the building convincingly demonstrated the beneficial spin-offs of investing GTR returns in capital works.
The village of Maple developed in the l9th century as a small crossroads community that attained its name with the opening of the post office in 1852. The settlement was too tiny to warrant a station of its own, however, and the depot was built for Richmond Hill, a somewhat larger community six kilometres east on Yonge Street. The westerly detour was justified to avoid the steep hills of Yonge Street between York Mills and Richmond Hill, but the inconvenient distance from the depot to the community considerably chagrined the residents of Richmond Hill, who eventually obtained a station closer to home from the James Bay Railway (soon consumed by Mackenzie and Mann's Canadian Northern Railway) in 1904.12
The community of Maple comprised less than a dozen families when the arrival of the
OS&H in 1853 brought opportunities for prosperity.13 In anticipation of its route, the Patterson Farm Implement Company had been established in the third concession around 1850. Although the railway passed through the adjacent lot, depriving Patterson of his imagined fortune, for 30 years the company thrived in an otherwise improbable location, fostering a small industrial settlement that included a foundry, machine shop, lumber yard, grist mill, and social services.14 Its move to Woodstock in 1891, and subsequent purchase by Massey-Harris, typified the end-of-century shift to largescale production. Maple itself eventually acquired a rope factory, planing mill and pump works, a photographic studio, and two hotels, reflecting its character as a summer holiday destination for urbanites.15 One of the major regular services of the railway was mail delivery; combined with passenger service, the railway caused the immediate demise of stage coach services on Yonge Street.
The Maple station was always a small point on the line, useful for local travellers, grain farmers, and livestock shippers. The station building is the second on the site, where over the years six railway companies, from
OS&H to GO Transit, have operated passenger and freight services. The first station of 1853 was destroyed by fire late one Sunday night in May 1903.16 It was rebuilt within two months to a GTR standard design, and locally declared
very superior to the old one.17 At that time, the railway apparently acknowledged the local settlement by changing the station name from Richmond Hill to Maple. The station closed in the early 1960s. In 1974 commuter passenger service was reintroduced by VIA Rail; since 1982 the station has been leased to GO Transit.
Although Maple almost certainly prospered more from having a railway station than it would have if bypassed, the village never moved into the ranks of incorporated settlements during the railway boom era. It remained a fairly sleepy little community with rural diversions through the first half of this century, officially becoming a village in 1928. Two suburbs, of about a hundred houses each, were built in 1950 and 1960 respectively. A third wave of settlement followed the Toronto housing boom of 1974, with development continuing through the 1980s.18 Attractively situated about 30 kilometres northwest of Toronto, maple is a prime commuter suburb within Vaughan Township, which became a city in the Regional municipality of York in 1990.
Maple station retains its original form and an appreciable amount of its detailing. The station is basically a symmetrical, one-storey rectangle, consisting of express room and passenger lobby divided by the ticket and operations office. On the track elevation, the agent's office breaks out as a polygonal bay under a prominent gable.
The overall design is quite picturesque, executed in V jointed and battened board divided into three horizontal registers, which are in turn subdivided into ornamental panels with alternating diagonal, vertical, and horizontal boarding. The steeply-pitched hip roof has deep, narrowboarded soffits casting pronounced shadows over the timberwork. The textural effects are heightened by boldly fretted gables.over the north, south, and west elevations by scrolled bargeboards, basketweave trellis applique in the track gable, and corner brackets projecting beyond the canted edges of the bay (Figures 3-4). An outstanding feature of the Maple station is the survival of its mileage boards, situating the station 210 miles from North Bay and 18.5 miles from Toronto (Figure 5).
The station joists sit directly on the ground, which has caused considerable movement of the floors (Figure 6). Exterior alterations have included the insertion of a secure new passenger door within the larger original opening; the installation of electrical and water services, mostly externally mounted; barricading the west freight door, north freight room windows and part of an east window; reroofing with asphalt shingles; and the installation of new signage in front of the old. Interventions have generally attempted to stabilize or secure the structure, and have not removed or significantly damaged early or original material. For the most part they are reversible and clearly distinguishable from original work. Their visual impact, while not attractive, suggests temporary work.
The form and materials are characteristic of small GTR stations built between 1898 and 1910. The plain box of the station is almost completely perforated by door and window openings, which are triple where wall space permits, and its simple form is enlivened by the active roof profile and surface ornament. The judicious application of bright, recognizable red, green, and yellow paint further decorated these gay stock designs, and identified them as GTR stations. Appreciation of the benefits of standardized building shapes and colours for conveying corporate image was almost universal among railway boards by 1910.19
Interiors are finished in beaded board whose pattern and texture create a distinctive aesthetic effect that was immediately recognizable. Walls were divided by colour and moulding into a wainscot band and upper register, but the wainscot band has been replaced or covered by a plain board. The high lobby ceiling is coved between two cornice mouldings, with a flat upper ceiling (Figure 7). The ticket window was developed as a central feature, surrounded by a heavy arch punctuated by the bullseye corner boxes used on the opening trims (Figure 8).
With the exception of the front door, and despite the crude insertion of GO "proof-of-payment" ticket machines, the waiting room can be appreciated by the non-specialist as an unrestored historic interior. The working spaces of the station are similarly overlaid with paraphernalia. The agent's office is cluttered with electrical conduits, fluorescent lights, and modern metal furnishings, although most of the original elements are still there (Figure 9). In the baggage room, the wooden floor pitches so much that the room cannot at present be used. The triple window on the north end has been modified with flat new surrounds and detailing, and the openings on the east, to the public side of the building, have been changed as well. The changes were made while the space was in use to improve effectiveness and safety: a tall vertical window was closed in and a small squarish window placed high in the former opening, and an early door was replaced (Figures 10-11). Barricaded on the outside, the track doors of the baggage room are the standard diagonally boarded, double-leaf type with small glazed panels in the upper third (Figure 12). Inside and out, most of the changes to the Maple station have been superficial upgrade measures. Consequently, the visual effect is of an intrusive, but removable, overlay on historic fabric.
The end of the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century were the last period of growth and constructive consolidation for the GTR. The new Managing Director found innovative ways to invest earnings back into the permanent assets by charging them to maintenance, resulting in large scale improvements across the system. sixteen new stations were built in 1898, 14 in 1903, another 16 in 1907, and 20 more were projected for 1908.20 of the 66 suggested here, 29 from this period were recorded in CNR ownership in Ontario in 1987.21 Available information indicates that no other station survives with the same combination of gables and detailing as seen in Maple; most are larger structures with flared eaves and sloping hipped roofs on all sides, where the design impact is diluted by size. The Dundas station, which was similar but more roughly treated, has since been demolished. The Milton station, which may have been the prototype for the design, has been preserved as a tourist bureau (Figure 13).22
The Maple station is the last operating station of its type in railway ownership. GO Transit is currently planning to renovate the building in 1992.
The three principal functions of the rural Maple station are evident in its architecture. Foremost among these were telegraphic operations. The office of the agent bisects the plan and projects onto the platform under a prominent gable, its importance enhanced by the official town name and mileage signs affixed to its surfaces. The passenger waiting room is handily located on the south side of the station towards the town road, whereas the baggage or express facilities were kept to the north or business end of the building. The ticket window is located near the platform side so that passengers could proceed directly to the train, and the agent could oversee telegraph and train signals while attending to customers (Figure 14).
The lobby and agent rooms were heated by stoves, the pipes of which fed into a single chimney stack above the party wall. Only the metal plate is still visible in the linoleum floors of both rooms, and the projecting flues below the ceiling. In the agent's window, the semaphore device is still mounted on the window mullion.
The single waiting room for men and women suggests that Maple is one of the smallest GTR passenger stations. At Newmarket, for example, a similar design had dual waiting rooms, and the baggage room was extended later to double the storage capacity.
The station is located quite far east and north of the town centre, where its attractive situation against a backdrop of trees and open fields removes it from ready visibility from the main street. It is approached from the south on an S-shaped road that swells into a parking lot before reaching the station (Figure 15). The structure sits on a small slope of land that falls away to the west, interrupted by the concrete platform and paired tracks in front of the station. In addition to these essential elements, an evocative freight shed opposite the station recalls the earlier, busier time of operations. The slope of the land, and trees and bushes around the building, prevent easy access to the former baggage room. The platform is caged by a high wire fence, and the straightness of the station precinct is further emphasized by the dilapidated frame freight building opposite the station. The tracks themselves curve away above and below the station.
A freight house from 1853 measuring 12 feet high by 61 feet long, similar to the present building, existed on the site in 1907, but it is doubtful whether the present shed is as old as that. Other buildings in the precinct were a small frame agent's house of 1853, with an addition and stable, an even smaller operator's house of 1878, and a small register box, six feet square, built in 1891 (all demolished).23 The provision of such modest staff dwellings underscores the marginal status accorded this particular depot by the company: a situation which frequently exacerbated local sensibilities. A two-storey polychrome brick house on the southern edge of the railway land, which probably predates the station, is the only other historic element in the area.
Land behind the freight building west of the tracks is largely open, with a cement plant to the south. Small businesses are situated in the scattered two-storey suburban houses lining Station Street right up to the edges of the parking lot. North of the station, however, the land is open field. A tiny frame shack about six metres north of the station is falling to the ground. The station is clearly in an industrial zone, but its small scale is not dissimilar from the comparatively recent brick houses nearby.
Maple is the site of "Canada's Wonderland," a theme park with a landmark artificial mountain, roller coasters, and similar attractions incongruously dropped onto flat agricultural land about three kilometres west of the station. Between the theme park and the railway station, the main street of the town has been developed with low-rise strip malls, but a distinct character is still discernible, and several outstanding 19th century domestic buildings, including an octagon, occupy prominent sites along the road. The linear orientation of the town, the spatial organization of its buildings, and the character of the architecture, all suggest the presence of an early railway station. Its location is finally confirmed by the modern concrete railway overpass across the highway.
The City of Vaughan has evaluated the Maple station as one of about 150 Group 1 buildings "of importance" on its inventory of over 600 heritage buildings. Council is advised on heritage matters by a Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) but it does not designate under The Ontario Heritage Act unless requested by the building owner to do so.24
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