Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Former Canadian National Railways Station
Heritage Research Associates, Ottawa
This former Canadian National Railways (CNR) station at Wingham, Ontario (Figures 1 and 2) was built by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1905-06. It stands facing the tracks with its side facing the public on Josephine Street (Figure 3) on a site used by Wingham's two earlier stations.
Wingham's station has been abandoned by the CNR. It is currently leased by the town who would like eventuaIly to adapt it for reuse. Custodianship arrangements for station maintenance do not appear to be clearly established, and the building is rapidly deteriorating.
The Wingham station embodies the ambitions southwestern Ontario communities associated with the railway. Wingham's complex railway history reflects equally well the role of southwestern Ontario as a rich prize in battles for railway hegemony in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Rail service to Wingham was established as part of the southern route of the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway, which at the time was operated by the Great Western Railway (GWR). During the early 1850s, two main line railways were constructed in southwestern Ontario: the Great Western Railway (GWR), which ran from Hamilton to Toronto, Detroit and Buffalo, and the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), which extended from Toronto to Sarnia. Once partners in stimulating interest in the initial development of railways, these two lines had become bitter rivals by the time their main lines were completed. During the 1855-82 period they launched a devastating cut-throat war for control of subsidiary traffic in southwestern Ontario. Both lines believed that the victor would eventually win control of the entire territory.
The pawns in this game were the small communities of southwestern Ontario, each of which recognized that its future development required that it be linked to a railway. To ensure they did not miss out on this opportunity, many supported small local railway schemes that, once started, could be leased or sold to one of the larger companies to obtain access to its services. The financial stakes in this game were high, and the small railways played the two giants off against one another to obtain the best terms they could. The towns which supported the small railways were ultimately the losers in this game, for the price they paid for participation was to build new track for the large railway companies.
The Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway was one of these small lines. When it was first chartered in 1856 as the Canada North-West Railway, it was intended to join the GTR.1 Its construction was finally undertaken by the Hon. John McMurrick and Francis Shanly of Toronto with the financial backing of many local municipalities and the guarantee that the GWR, not the GTR, would
supply locomotives ... , maintain the line and pay the Wellington, Grey and Bruce thirty per cent of gross earnings ... .2 The GWR secured this line with the notion that it would provide competition for
traffic coming by steamship to Goderich on the Grand Trunk instead of to Sarnia or Windsor and thence via Great Western.3 The 102 mile main line of the Wellington, Grey and Bruce, which stretched from Guelph to Southampton (Figure 2),4 was built between 1868 and 1872. Wingham was not on this initial north-south mainline.
Instead, Wingham was the focal point of a battle between the GTR and the GWR for the territory immediately to the west of the initial Wellington, Grey and Bruce mainline. The battle was conducted through the small railway companies associated with these giants. As has already been outlined, GWR interests were represented by the Wellington, Grey and Bruce. GTR interests were upheld by two other small companies, the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, and the London, Huron and Bruce Railway.
Wingham ultimately became a junction point for two separate railway lines, both associated with the GWR. The struggle for control of this area was only one of many in which the GWR and the GTR engaged in the 1858-82 period. By 1882, this competition had run its course and the GTR bought out the GWR, consolidating the network. This act was not spurred so much by the promise of greater profits,5 as by the appearance of a more powerful rival. By the early 1880s the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) had a charter to build the first trans-Canada line, and was negotiating with the GWR to purchase its central Canadian assets. The GTR acquired the GWR so that it would not
fall into the hands of the Canadian Pacific,6 temporarily blocking major CPR expansion into an area the GTR regarded as its own.
With the arrival of the CPR, the earlier situation, which had local municipalities vying for the favour of the GTR, was abruptly reversed. The CPR offered ambitious Ontario manufacturers the opportunity to supply goods to new markets in western Canada. These markets were eventually to be seen as better than the American markets accessed through the GTR because they were Canadian and, as such, protected under the National Policy. This realization was only delayed while the CPR was under construction. By 1885, the CPR had begun building its own lines into southwestern Ontario, cheered on by the area's ambitious municipalities who were only too willing to claim the level of service the GTR provided was inadequate.
In the face of this competition, the GTR was forced to curry their favour. One means it used to accomplish this was the construction of new station facilities. The GTR was playing a desperate game: the company realized it could not compete with the CPR for long in southwestern Ontario without offering equivalent access to western markets. Two things stood in the way of achieving this. The first was capital, the second was obtaining the necessary charter.
The GTR treated the whole situation as a challenge. It introduced a new management structure under Vice President Charles Melville Hays in 1895.
He amalgamated the engineeering staff which had formerly been divided between one office in Montréal for most of the system and one in Port Huron for the lines west of the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers.7 This was one of a number of changes designed to consolidate administrative facilities and enhance the GTR's balance sheet. With its new profitability, the GTR approached British investors and successfully secured the capital required for western expansion. At the same time, the GTR conducted an extensive betterments campaign on its existing lines, of which the construction of the new Wingham station was one element.
When a Liberal government was elected at the turn of the century, the GTR obtained permission to extend its services to western Canada. More accurately, the GTR entered an agreement with the Laurier government to permit the government to assemble a line (which would include much of the GTR's original road) from Moncton to Winnipeg under the banner of the National Transcontinental Railway.8 In return, the GTR's subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR) was permitted to construct a main line from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert. In the years before World War I, many southwestern Ontario communities, including Wingham, built factories to provide goods to the growing markets of Western Canada along this line. Unfortunately the GTR was unable to sustain the cost of the GTPR after World War I, and was appropriated by the Canadian Government in 1920 and absorbed as part of the public Canadian National Railways (CNR) system.9
Rail facilities at Wingham were subsequently administered by the CNR, first as part of the the South-Western Division, then as part of the Middle Sub-Division of the Division of the Great Lakes Region. The CNR withdrew from passenger service to Wingham in 1973.10 Freight service to specific Wingham businesses was abandoned recently.
The agricultural community of Wingham, Huron County (Figure 2), was surveyed for development by the government of the Canadas in 1852-54. Its initial townsite beside the river was established on the assumption that the river, with its water power and transportation facilities, would be the focus of community development. Early settlement followed this plan, and the core of a village was grew around a saw and shingle mill built by one of the first settlers.
In 1858, the route of the proposed Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway was surveyed to pass to the south of this townsite. Within months, the initial townsite had become stagnant
Lower Wingham, while a more dynamic
Upper Wingham began to grow near the proposed route of the tracks.
Industries slowly developed in the decade that followed. Characteristically, those based on primary products, a woollen mill, a tannery and a potash manufacturer, located near the saw and shingle mill on the river in Lower Wingham, where they had access to the water and water power required for their operations. Just as typically, the single foundry that was established in 1862 was built in Upper Wingham where it could conveniently expand into an agricultural implements factory when the railway arrived.
In 1872, when the Wellington, Grey and Bruce finally did appear, it found a community ready and waiting. The same year, the railway built the town's first station, a standard Great Western larger Type 'A', measuring 40'×96'.11 (Figure 4). A newspaper and a bank were also founded. Within two years, Wingham had become an incorporated town with a population of just over 700.12
Wingham's fortunes soared when the GWR announced that it was to be the junction point with the new London, Huron and Bruce in 1875. In the next three years the town experienced phenomenal growth. Additional saw and woollen mills were established: terminal facilities were also developed in the town to serve the prospective new route. By 1877 Wingham had grown to a town of over 2,000.13 Enthusiasm waned, however, as the GWR failed to build anticipated port facilities at Goderich and the southern extention's associated American trade failed to materialize. Wingham had grown no further when the GTR merged with the GWR in 1882.14
In 1885 the CPR announced it would run a daily stage to Wingham from nearby Glenannan, and follow up the service with a depot two years later.15 The GTR immediately responded to this invasion of its territory with a show of customer appreciation. The Wingham Times reported that:
Lately the office of the station agent here has been much improved by being enlarged, replastered, repainted, etc. A private waiting room for the ladies has also been opened ... . We hope to see the day when the railway company will erect a new passenger station.16
The community was to wait two decades until these hopes became a reality.
Arrival of CPR rail service in 1887 set off a dynamic rivalry between the two railways for the region's trade. The CPR built Wingham's second station (Figure 5) in 1886-87.17 This new line offered Wingham manufacturers new markets in Western Canada, but the GTR kept its freight rates low and managed to retain much of the regional business actually served by the town's industries.
The GTR, nevertheless, had to regain customers when it opened its own western service. To draw attention to its new business in Wingham, the GTR announced it would build a new station in 1905. Not surprisingly, the local Advance Times boasted that the station
would be one of the best18 as $10,000 had been set aside for the project. From contemporary documentation, residents appear to have considered a better image was required. Comments on the third station stated
there will be conveniences that had no place in the former building.19 Construction did not actually get underway until the fall of 1905 and the station was finished in the spring of 1906 (Figures 6 and 7).
In the next five years Wingham continued to grow as the GTR expanded west. The town developed furniture factories to service the growing demand for finished goods on the prairies, and by 1910 these had become its major export. By 1910 Wingham had a population of 2,500.20
This economic orientation and relative population have continued to characterize Wingham. Prefabricated housing, furniture and other skilled woodworking industries have continued to be important. Wingham also became a local broadcasting centre. In 1981 the town's population stood at 2,89721 despite a brief flurry of development in the 1950s and early 1960s.22 Although the station itself was closed when passenger service ceased in 1973, railway freight service continued. A new spur line was built to serve local industries in 1984. Recently, Wingham's freight service has been cut, causing many of the town's furniture factories to close.
By the time Wingham's new station was built in 1905-06, the GTR had taken an accurate measure of the public relations value of a station. Flattering a communityts pride through construction of its station was key to securing its business loyalty. This was particularly important in highly competitive southwestern Ontario, where railway company battled railway company, and town fought town. Each recognized that an advantage established was a platform for future prosperity. It is probably not surprising that in southwestern Ontario at the turn of the century this ambition took a physical form. It is expressed in the railway companies' willingness to build new stations, and their acceptance that each must be somewhat different. From the point of view of the communities, it took the physical shape of a tower. Construction of Wingham's 1905-06 GTR station provides some interesting insight into the practical inter-relationship between these objectives, because in Wingham their execution went somewhat awry.
From the perspective of the railway, Wingham was a small junction point with minor adninistrative importance. Under the administration of General Manager, American Charles Melville Hays, the Eastern Division of the GTR seems to have developed a clever strategy for dealing with such centres. The railway would provide a standard plan prepared by GTR engineers for the construction of a new station, then pay an agreed upon price for a local contractor to build it.23 There is every likelihood that this contract was let through local town councils who may have had the opportunity to add extra funds to the budget if they wished.24 This arrangement gave the council some opportunity to include facilities the town wanted providing it met the railway's basic needs. The GTR itself seemed willing to countenance some variation. The result was the cost effective creation of unique stations in lesser centres along the line each of which had been adapted to serve the specific needs of its community.
The standard plan provided by the GTR for Wingham's station was the same root plan used for its subsidiary GTPR's first standard
Design A station (Figure 8). The general features of the two buildings from the crack (Figures 6-9) are almost identical. Both have a projecting central telegrapher's bay topped by a five sided dormer as their major feature. In each case the bay is flanked by a door and window combination, although in Wingham's case these are fully present and balanced with doors on the outer edges and windows towards the centre. Both designs are broken into two visual units, above and below the roofline. In each case the lower half (or station body) has
four feet of brick work25 that creates a horizontal wainscott line across the bottom third and apertures that stretch to a common height to produce a second horizontal line below the eave line. The upper half (or roof) of both buildings has a central ridge line from which the roof falls at a steep pitch, then sweeps to create a bell-like curve over the platform. In each case, the five sided dormer sits within the roof form: the platform roof extends below it, and the height of the dormer sits under the ridge line. Instead, the dormer roof rises to a recessed cap whose point just touches the ridge line of the main building.
The main difference between these designs occurs on the extremes of the roof line. Whereas the form of the GTPR
Design A continues its distinctive slope to create a recessed pagoda-like roof line, that on the Wingham station terminates abruptly in vertical lines from the ridge. As Figures 6 to 9 show, this created a common triangular end form that was once crudely classicised by the addition of a circular detail (now vanished, Figure 10). Figure 7 shows there was once a three bay window in this triangular form on the east end of the station. It also shows the low one storey shed that still sits behind the station. The roof line of this shed is extremely interesting. Although it begins a little lower, it rises at the pitch of the projecting roof platform to the level where the platform joins the main station, then flattens to create a platform roof (Figures 7 and 10).
Many features of Wingham's station clearly reflect the skill and pride in craftsmanship of its builder. Its shed roof, apex circle and detailed ridge board are only three of them. Others include the pillars and pediment that still grace its front door (Figures 11-13). These are beautifully integrated into the design of the structure with balance, line and a sensitivity of proportion. Beside them the standard roof brackets, the only detail provided by the railway as decoration, become just another supportive element.
Wingham's town hall is the product of an unknown master craftsman. His most dramatic contributions to the station were the towers added to its front (Figure 14). These substantial ten foot square projections on each corner of the end of the building facing the town were reminiscent of those on the GTR's major urban depot in Battlecreek, Michigan (Figure 15). Indeed, from an end view, the two present proportionally similar profiles. In each case, tall twin towers stretched skyward on either side of a central pediment. Both are topped by rounded features, although those on the Wingham model are suitably simple. In both cases the tower is banded at the peak of the pediment to integrate the façade's design. The Wingham example also contains a second band at the level of the gable roof as a further link. These towers presented the opportunity to create a formal entrance to the building, and every attempt is made to aesthetically unify its image. The façade is balanced, the doorway and tower are further integrated by a low fence, and the entire structure is unified by the consistent platform roof projection. Wingham's contractor could be justifiably proud of his accomplishment.
Unfortunately, GTR officials did not approve, although they were willing to countenance the addition of towers to similarly modest stations in Fergus (1902, Figure 16), Mount Forest (1906, Figure 17), and Harriston (ca. 1905, Figure 18). Indeed, the GTR even permitted the addition of two towers when the station at Palmerston (Figure 19), a main junction point for all of the former Wellington Grey and Bruce lines, was revised in 1900. As their composition shows, all of these are builders' creations. All of them expand the size and impact of the stations they grace. Wingham's new twin towers simply outdid them all. GTR officials must have been afraid that Wingham's towers would transport the inter-town
tower competition into a new dimension. As a result, they informed the contractor that he would not be paid until the towers were lowered.26 Evidently he did so (Figures 6 and 7).
Immediately after the station was finished, a faulty boiler exploded causing extensive damage. The baggage room was virtually destroyed, all the windows were shattered and the doors blown off.27 Once the damage from this explosion was repaired, the station changed little over the years (Figure 20).
In the 1960s the board and batten
weather board28 portion of the exterior was covered with insulbrick. According to the CNR Superintendent who applied this covering,29 the original boards are still intact underneath. The insulbrick was applied over them once the battens were removed (Figure 21). The roof has been replaced several times, and the windows in the end façades of the upper storey have been covered over. Most of the ornate detailing such as the ridge boards, the balcony rail, and the decorative circle have disappeared. The rear door of the freight area has also been enlarged. Today this station otherwise is remarkably intact. Its only problem is deterioration caused by the present lack of maintenance.
According to the Wingham Advance Times in March of 1906, the town was
proud of its new station, and the travelling public appreciated its handsome appearance and convenient arrangement.30 The original layout of the building (Figure 22) is still visible today.
Wingham's station was largely a passenger station, and it was well organized to serve this function. The ground floor held a large central waiting room with three double banks of benches organized around a square ticket area set in the telegrapher's bay. Station operations were conducted from a large room on the second storey above this bay. A small freight and baggage shed was appended to the rear on the ground floor. Washrooms and mens' and ladies' waiting rooms were housed in the base of each of the towers.
It is interesting to examine this plan in the context of the plan of Harriston's station (Figure 18). Both are approximately the same size and are organized around similarly shaped main waiting room areas containing the same ticket booth configuration. Both have similar sized sheds which incorporate stairs leading to the second storey. The sheds are attached to the main portion of each building in the same location but at a different angle. The point where these plans differ is in the location of the separate waiting room and washroom facilities. In Wingham, these are placed in the towers.31 In Harriston they are appended as a thin strip to the main body of the station, adding to its depth.
From this comparison, it is possible to draw up a list of the GTR's requirements in building such stations. These would include the size of the waiting room and the placement of its ticket booth, the size and location of the freight shed, the size and location of the operations room overhead. The minimum number and size of the doors and windows in these areas and their relative placement would also have been given, as would the nature of general finishes and such details as platforms, brackets and roof shapes for the exterior. The contractor seems to have been left with discretion over the size and placement of washrooms, men's and women's waiting rooms, and the tower. It is likely he also decided on acceptable finishes for the station interior.
Wingham's station was carefully finished on the interior. The main waiting room was
wainscotted four feet high with oak and finished in Georgia pine.32 Today the wainscott is topped with plaster wall. As Figures 23 and 24 show, door and window details in the public areas were finely executed. Even in the shed (Figure 25) the V-groove wall and ceiling were matched and finished. The quality of the workmanship evident in Wingham's station, together with the wide variety of station designs and the degree of satisfaction each provided to its town, all argue that Hays' policy of encouraging local input in station design was a wise one in southwestern Ontario.
Few modifications have been made to the interior of the station. The main change involved construction of a wall which divides the main waiting room in two. This wall extends from just beside the wicket area on the east side of the ticket booth to leave an entry door by the opposite wall. The modification provided an adequate operations area when the upper storey of the station was closed in the 1950s. The second major change has been a raising of the floor in the freight shed area to accommodate a different type of shipment requirement. Most of the original features of the interior of Wingham's station can still be seen today.
The site of Wingham's station, off Josephine Street, has been the location of all three of the town's stations. Figure 26 shows the layout of this site and the exact location of the two GTR stations. It depicts the second (1905-06) station closest to Josephine Street. The first station is visible as the rear building on Figure 26. It served as a freight shed
until well after 1906.33
The Wingham station site once housed a complex of railway buildings, few of which remain today. Terminal facilities were built when the London, Huron and Bruce Railway arrived in 1876. These included a
two-stall enginehouse, carpenter's shop, snowplow shed, coaling facilities and a bunkhouse.34 When the present station was built in 1905-06, the plans included provision for remodelling the station yard. The existing freight sheds were moved eastward, away from the main line to be used entirely for furniture, Wingham's single biggest exporting industry.
The town also contained adjunct rail facilities that functioned in tandem with this site. One of these was a small flag station with additional passing and storage tracks located at the west end of town. This was called Wingham Junction, and it remained in service until 1941.35 A second was a large railway bridge built in 1898 over the Maitland River, which can still be seen from the station site (Figure 28).
When Wingham's first station was built by the Wellington, Grey and Bruce in 1872, it was situated perpendicular to the community's main street, Centre Street. The growth inside the community that follow the arrival of the railway changed its orientation, and by the time the second station was built in 1905-06, Josephine Street, at the other end of the station site, had become the town's main commercial street. Wingham's station has, therefore, always been tied closely to the commercial area of the town even when the area itself changed (Figure 29).
The Wingham station is unused today. After the station closed in 1973,36 the CNR leased the building to a variety of businesses as storage. In 1989 this lease arrangement ceased. Wingham's Town Council designated the station as a heritage building in 1990, and the CNR has offered to sell the building for $1.00 or lease the property with the station in place at current market values.37 This offer has not yet been acted upon because some town officials object to taking on the responsibility until reuse is guaranteed. There are plans to incorporate the station as a central community facility in a housing complex but these have not yet materialized.
The town's LACAC is actively trying to ensure preservation of the station. At their instigation, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario hired restoration architect Chris Borgal38 to assess its condition and provide a plan for critical maintenance.39 The Ontario government has indicated that it considers Wingham to be a Class C station suitable for adaptive re-use.40
a man who will be esteemed by all who come in contact with him, not only for his personal charm, which is very great, but for the uprightness of his character and the liberal and fair treatment he accords one and all. Grand Trunk Railway System, Globe (Toronto) 17 April 1897.
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Type AGWR Station built at Brussels, Ontario. This is the same design used for Wingham's first station. (NAC, NMC 26075.)
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Design Astation, the same plan used as a base for Wingham's GTR station. (NMC 120068.)
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Design Adepot. (M. Carter, 1992.)
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