Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Former Canadian National Railways station
Heritage Research Associates, Ottawa
The present VIA Rail station in Kitchener (Figures 1, 2 and 3) is owned by Canadian National Railways (CNR) who operated it as a station from 1922-83. It was designed and built as the Berlin Station by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1897 under the direction of the company's Chief Engineer, Joseph Hobson. In 1908 the building was gutted by fire and totally remodeled. The most distinctive feature of the original depot, an ornate tower, survived this fire and remained a dominant element of the station's design until the 1960s.
This station was the only railway station in a community that was to become a major manufacturing centre in southwestern Ontario. Kitchener was founded as Berlin, and the Germanic origins of its population both attracted immigrants with the skills to build a solid future and provided its citizens with a somewhat unusual attitude towards contemporary boosterism. Nowhere is this reflected more clearly than in the town's practical assessment of the value and siting of its station. This once delicately detailed station has spent most of its life pressed between the flat walls of the factories it was built to attract.
Berlin (after 1916, Kitchener) was located on the original Toronto to Sarnia main line of the GTR built by Casimir Gzowski between 1854 and 1859. The GTR was one of several railway schemes launched in Canada in the mid-19th century. All of them had the same over-riding objective, to link the remote inland areas of the province to major markets. As Sir Alexander Galt stated:
Unless Canada can combine with her unrivalled system of inland navigation a railroad system connected therewith and mutually sustaining each other, the whole of her large outlay must remain forever unproductive.1
This prospect appealed to British investors, and with their help the GTR bridged the area from Toronto to Montréal to the Atlantic port of Portland, Maine in the 1850s. At the same time, it began to look for ways to extend its line to the rich areas of the American interior.
The opportunity to accomplish this was provided by Berlin's neighbour, Guelph, whose citizens held the right to build a railway line from Toronto to Sarnia. Their line, the Toronto and Guelph Railway, amalgamated with the GTR in 1853 and provided the means to extend the road west to the American border.2 By 1860 the GTR was the longest single rail line in British North America. It provided small inland communities like Berlin new access to British North American, American and British goods and markets.
Berlin was an early participant in this new opportunity. When the construction of the first westward phase of the GTR main line reached Guelph on July 1, 1856, it was met by a small local bridge line completed by the Toronto, Guelph and Berlin Railway the previous month.3 This line immediately provided Berlin access to the entire GTR network to the east. It appears to have been the brainchild of Casimir Gzowski, and in gratitude Berlin named the street next to the railway's terminal Gzowski Street (now Edward Street).
Heady with the success of this venture, the town of Berlin invested in a second railway scheme to link itself to Hamilton in 1858. This scheme came to nothing, and the town paid dearly for its ambitions by footing the debts until 1873. Chastened by this experience, Berlin's citizens resolved to rest content with their place as a depot on the main line of the GTR’s Western Division and trust their future to railway expansion.
During the 1860s and '70s the GTR, too, faced sobering circumstances as it scrambled to pay the interest on its debts, acquire branch lines and compete with its many rivals. This was particularly difficult in southwestern Ontario where the Great Western Railway (GWR) had also built main lines connecting Hamilton to the American railways at Buffalo and Detroit in the 1850s. In 1882 the GTR merged with the GWR, consolidating this network. According to railway historian A.W. Currie,
acquisition of the Great Western was important to the Grand Trunk in terms of mileage, gross revenues and strategic importance but not, unfortunately, in terms of dividends.4 For the next decade the GTR continued on, grooming its operations to maximize profits. One of the careful extensions it made was construction of a Guelph and Waterloo branch line which passed through Kitchener in 1884.5
With potential for the election of a Liberal government high, the GTR began to prepare itself for expansion in the mid 1890s. Laurier’s free trade policies augured prosperity for a railway line like the GTR with major American extensions, and also offered the possibility that GTR ambitions to expand into western Canada might find support. In preparation, the GTR introduced a new management structure in 1895 under Vice President Charles Melville Hays.
He amalgamated the engineering 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.6 The result was a reorganization that placed Berlin in the first district of the GTR’s Eastern Division, and generally consolidated administrative facilities to enhance the GTR’s balance sheet.
With its new profitability, the GTR approached British investors for new capital and the federal government for permission to expand into western Canada. Approval for the latter was contingent on the GTR’s ability to demonstrate its standing charter was well fulfilled, and the railway undertook a program to up-grade its stations in southwestern Ontario with some of this new capital. The present station in Kitchener, built in 1897, was one of the first second class stations to be constructed in this program. Others included Sarnia (1891), Grimsby (1900), Goderich (1902), Brantford (1904), Georgetown (renovations, 1904), Brampton (1907), Guelph (1911) and Stratford (1911).7
In 1903 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) would be permitted to construct a main line from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert. This new line proceeded slowly, initiating new communities as it went. In the established communities of western Canada already serviced by the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian Northern, it competed on the basis of transport of goods manufactured by communities like Berlin for the fast-growing western market.
Berlin profited by this access, but unfortunately the GTR was unable to sustain the cost of the GTPR after World War I. It collapsed and was absorbed as part of the public Canadian National Railways (CNR) system.9
Located in southwestern Ontario's Waterloo County, in the heart of a rich agricultural belt, Berlin (later Kitchener) was the centre of a region settled by Pennsylvania German Mennonites
whose language and culture had attracted later migrants from the German states.10 Until well into the 20th century it was the largest German settlement in Ontario.
Berlin was a late blooming community. As the seat of Waterloo County, it grew as the marketing ''central point for the farmers of the Townships of Woolwich, Waterloo, Wellesly, and Peel"11 as well as the local political centre. Its development was, nevertheless, much more modest than that of the nearby towns of Galt, Guelph and Preston.12
Berlin was incorporated as a town in 1853, and included on the Toronto to Sarnia rail line built by the GTR in 1856. The town's first station was built by a Mr. Kingsford,13 the maintenance contractor of the Western Division of the GTR, and Berlin's citizens considered the arrival of the first train to be
a moment to truly savour the progress of the cornmunity.14 The most immediate effect of this new accessibility was a dramatic growth in the area's population. It seems Dominion immigration agents at Québec began to reroute German arrivals to Berlin automatically.15
In the years that followed, Berlin's economy developed as an adjunct to Toronto. As soon as the GTR link was complete, wheat buyers built two large grain warehouses to develop the direct link to the Toronto market,16 and this characterized Berlin's economic growth as an agricultural product processing, storage, and marketing centre in the decades that followed.
It was not until the turn of the century approached that Berlin's industries ventured into a broader range of manufactures. When the prospect of free trade and the growth of western Canada spawned new markets, the Berlin Board of Trade joined with the town council to promote diversification on the
shared belief that industrial growth was the key to the success of the community.17
The year 1897 marked the peak of this concerted effort to establish Berlin as
one of the most prosperous manufacturing centres in the Dominion.18 The town's Board of Trade recognized that, as the link providing access to a broader range of raw materials and markets, the railway was key to this effort. Plans for expanded rail facilities which included a new station became an important component of the city's campaign for industrial expansion. Indeed, the need for a substantial station became a symbol, for the nature of a community's station was considered a measure of its importance. This, according to the Berlin Board of Trade, had an impact on its ability to attract potential investors. Of course, acquiring a new terminal at a time when building construction was not on the agenda for the GTR was no small task. At the beginning of the year 1897, the Board of Trade expressed its disappointment that the
the new GTR depot cannot be recorded as an improvement to the town during the past year, and nothing definite has been received from the officials of the G.T.R as to its erection.19 By the end of the year, however, it was
commending the GTR Company for the handsome passenger depot.20 Clearly the GTR was
fully alive to the wants of Berlin's big manufacturing interests.21
By 1903, a special Industrial Edition of the Brantford Expositor—called Berlin
the most progressive town of its size in Canada.22 With a population of just under 10,000 it boasted both gas and electric lighting, street railway connections to Waterloo and Bridgeport and a number of social amenities. Prominent among its industries were the manufacture of furniture, shirts, buttons, boots and shoes, felt, pianos and organs. There also were tanneries, foundries, a brewery, and a grist and saw mill.
Berlin waited until 1912 to seek city status. By 1911 its population was 15,196, more than double that recorded in the 1901 census. The value of its
industrial production increased 408 per cent between 1890 and 1910, the eighth fastest rate of growth in Canadian municipalities of the same size.23 The city changed its name from Berlin to Kitchener in 1916, and
even in the immediate postwar doldrums, Kitchener managed to secure major new industries.24
During the next 20 years, Kitchener continued to build on this industrial base. During World War Two its economy was diversified by construction of a military base. In 1945 its boosters noted the city had
an area of 3,477 acres, boasting upwards of 150 industrial establishments which turn out some 215 different commodities.25 All this, they stressed, had been obtained while retaining a high quality of life. In the 1960s, retention of this lifestyle was emphasized as the city continued its diversification with establishment of the University of Waterloo. Today Kitchener remains a pleasant, mid sized urban centre. It is linked to the major transportation networks of southern Ontario by its location on Highway 401, and is also well served by a network of subsidiary roads. Rail, nevertheless, continues to play an important role in shipping its industrial freight .
Rail facilities at Kitchener were administered by the CNR after 1920, first as part of the Brampton then the Stratford Sub-Divisions of the Central Division, then as part of the Guelph Sub-Divison of the London Division of the Great Lakes Region. As long as the city's freight volume remained high, the Kitchener depot retained a large staff without the added advantage of being a railway administrative centre. When the CNR withdrew from passenger service in 1983, it abandoned the station building and identified it for demolition.26 Fortunately, the building was leased by VIA Rail in 1984 and since then has been used as a passenger transit and administrative centre. The CNR continues to operate freight facilities in the Express Building next to the station today.
At first glance, the VIA Rail station that serves Kitchener today bears little resemblance to either the CNR station that served Kitchener from 1922-83 or the GTR station built in Berlin in 1897. Since the time of its construction, this station has been dramatically expanded, altered and re-shaped.
The station built by GTR crews in Berlin in 189727 is depicted in Figures 4 and 5. It was a picturesque building designed by the Engineering Department of the GTR in Montréal under Chief Engineer Joseph Hobson, and his signature is prominent on both the original plans prepared in 1896 (Figure 6) and the revised version built in 1897 (Figure 7). Both depict buildings with rectangular floor plans broken by a protruding telegrapher's bay on the front and the rear. The 1896 plans show an enlarged bay at the east end of the station which was eliminated in 1897. Instead, the 1897 version contains a prominent, highly detailed tower on the track façade.
In all likelihood the request for the addition of a tower came from the town. Such towers were common design elements in contemporary American GTR stations, and during the same period were to be incorporated in most of the second class GTR stations in neighbouring communities renovated around the turn of the century because community residents considered such towers added to the importance of their towns.
Berlin's tower (Figure 8) was to provide the dominant continuous image of the station through most of its history. It was four-sided, and stretched to a peak high above the building. Its distinctive cap was originally decorated with contrasting shingles, distinguished by triangular base gables containing clocks, and surmounted by an ornate weathervane which rose from the apex. The tower was set above the telegrapher's bay to the west of centre on the track (north) side of the structure.
The tower provided a strong vertical line below which the rest of the station stretched horizontally. Its body was readily subdivided into two strong horizontal spaces, above and below the eave line. The base portion was built in buff brick with limestone wainscotting over the lower third. A feature band of decorative brickwork ran around the upper portion at the two-thirds mark, breaking to form stepped arches over the apertures. Doors and windows alike were housed under rounded arches of varying width but similar height. Stylized brackets stretched from the high band on the building to under the eave line. All of these features were incorporated in later additions to the station and can still be seen today (Figures 9-17).
The original design of the upper or roof portion of the station was conceived to complement the tower. A prominent peaked gable rose from the roof edge on the south façade to fill the area occupied by the tower on the north (Figures 4 and 7). The east end of the roof of the station was counter-balanced by a distinctive half-timbered gable which sat behind the protruding eave platform. It stretched high above the recessed centrally gabled line of the rest of the structure. A small ornate dormer was placed between these two strong features as a unifying element. Open covered platforms continued the roof line at a lowered level on both ends of the station. Below the eave line these were supported by insubstantial cast iron poles.
This varied roof line disappeared in 1908 after the station roof was struck by lightning and
destroyed June 22 with $15,000 damage.28 The entire roof was replaced by a much simpler configuration that extended the main horizontal roof line to cover the rest of the station, eliminating all protruding features but the tower and the small intermediary dormer to its east (Figures 8 and 9). A second small dormer was added to the west of the tower to balance the bulk of a new open brick platform. This platform replaced the lighter platform of the original station. It was conceived in the form of a square with large arches on each side pinned by solid corners. One arch faced each façade, and the twin west end windows of the original station were removed and replaced by an arch to complete the concept (Figure 15).
The station roof was vertically squared as a result of this roof replacement, although both ends featured gently pitched lines which rose to meet an exposed recessed apex. This triangular area was ornately decorated (Figure 9) adding new feature to the ends of the building and echoing the roof shape of the separate express building constructed just to the east of the station in 1901 (Figure 9). Another change brought about by the fire occurred on the south façade where a high gable had originally broken the roof line above the protruding telegrapher's bay. There, the entire south surface of the building west of the bay was extended to the depth of the former bay, and a round tower was added to the corner of the building. This tower (Figure 10) was capped by a high conical roof which complimented the north tower above the roofline and added feature to the south side of the station. It is possible this tower was counterbalanced by a high gable over the east end of the south side of the station.29 A light brick porte-cochère was also added to the south façade (Figure 10). This has subsequently been removed, although the vertical brick bands which once supported it are still visible as protrusions (Figure 14). The body of the station continues to show most of the changes made in 1908 even today (Figures 12-17).30
A new freight building had been constructed to the east end of this station complex by 1925 (Figures 18 and 19). This was a large simple structure that acknowledged its relationship to the earlier station through complementary stone wainscotting and brickwork. Its configuration recognized the east/west orientation the station complex had achieved since the turn of the century as it was sandwiched between the vertical walls of surrounding factories. The freight building included an office complex on the east end, facing Ahrens Street, with an ornate
public east end (Figure 20). The remainder of the building was a simple flat roofed shed.
In 1932, a bridge was built to incorporate the original turn of the century express building into the station proper (Figure 21). On the exterior this was accomplished by in-filling the roof so that the eastern extreme of the former express building became the east end of the station proper.
The Kitchener station was modernized in 1966-67. Windows and doors were replaced and the upper areas of many of the windows were shut off. The most significant change made at this time was removal of all of the building's roof features. Both the dominant tower on the north façade and the smaller one on the south were demolished as were the remaining dormers and gables. The unadorned centrally peaked roof that is visible today was then placed on the station. It is likely that the east façade of the express office was also simplified at this time.31
When VIA Rail took over the station in 1984 it was renovated to provide modern handicap access. As part of this process the porte-cochère was removed and the area was fitted with a ramp.32
In summary, it is evident that Kitchener's station has had three distinctive exterior configurations. The first, that in which it was built by the GTR in 1897, lasted little over a decade. The second, which existed from 1908-67, was modified somewhat through the construction and incorporation of outbuildings. It was nevertheless the configuration that characterized the station under both the GTR and the CNR. The two early versions of Kitchener's station were dominated by the tall tower which disappeared in 1967, leaving the third and present station form.
In 1897, local officials touted Berlin's new GTR station as
a creditable building, and one so well adapted for the requirements of the town.33 This may well have been an expression of appreciation for the impressive exterior design of the new station, for a functional analysis of its design over the next few years raises some interesting questions.
According to its original plans (Figure 7), the Berlin station constructed in 1897 contained an agent's office that stretched through the telegrapher's bay section of the station from north to south. On the west this was flanked by a ladies' waiting room with special washroom and smaller waiting room facilities on the west wall. To the east of the agent's office was a large general waiting room. This was sided on the east by a central express room, with a baggage area on the extreme end. Large open platforms to accommodate commuters were constructed on both end façades of the building.
By all contemporary standards, this was a generous station. With its separate exterior platforms it was well designed to accommodate short distance commuter travel: with its separate waiting rooms, it was well suited to long distance traffic. One wonders, however, at the nature of some of these facilities. Why, for example, was the baggage area located next to the exterior platform while the express area was incorporated in the centre of the building? Surely this would be somewhat awkward in a community that was shipping bulky agricultural produce and manufactured goods, yet there was no other express facility.
Drastic changes were made to the station in the 1900s. The most obvious functional change was the addition of a separate express building to accommodate shipment of the community’s bulky products in 1901. Alterations made to the organization of the rest of the station after the 1908 fire were similarly substantive.34 The general waiting room of the building was moved to the west end where double doors led out to the new (smaller) covered platform. Ladies’ washrooms were accommodated in the extended south façade, and a single small ladies’ waiting room was created in the tower. A separate ticket wicket was built across from the main station entrance in the general waiting room to replace the former combined agent and administrative area. Administrative offices were located separately in the east end area vacated by the express office. Initially, a men's smoking room may have been situated in this area as well. The baggage area remained in its former location. This renewed organization certainly reflected facilities much better suited to the needs of the community.
On the interior, this must have been a well appointed station. This is indicated by the building's original cost of $12,000,35 and the 1908 fire damage estimate of $15,000. Unfortunately no description has been found. The little evidence that remains visible on the site (Figure 22) is in the early express building appended to the present station (Figure 23). The V-matched siding, and ornate window and ceiling mouldings of this former service area indicate that the early public portions of the station would have been finely conceived.
As Kitchener (formerly Berlin) expanded industrially, the express facilities in the station clearly experienced stress. The new express building added in 1925 contained at least four sets of freight doors to receive large scale goods. It also provided facilities for the office accommodation required to manage and distribute a large quantity of freight. By 1933 these facilities were not adequate to the task, and the early express shed was integrated with the station to extend freight office accommodation (Figure 24). From 1933 to today, the central area of the station interior east of the general waiting room has been occupied by railway offices. A small baggage area was nevertheless always maintained on the extreme east end of the structure.
When the station was modernized in the 1960s the entire interior of the station and express buildings were covered with panelling. False ceilings were also added, requiring the arched upper portions of the station apertures to be filled. Interior access to the covered platform was probably also blocked off at this time. These and other changes performed on this building since 1925 appear to have been designed by CNR engineers and executed by the railway's own work crews.
When VIA Rail assumed control of the station building in 1984 it repainted, repointed the brickwork and added glassed-in vestibules to the main entrances (Figure 25). The former baggage area was converted to an employee lounge at this time. These changes were designed by Moffat, Kinotisha, Architects and Planners. Further renovations in 1990 have resulted in relocation of the ticket booth to a glassed in enclosure on the east end of the waiting room. Batjac Roof Consultants also supervised the application of a new roof as the result of a minor second fire.36
The freight building has remained in CNR hands as an express office and continues with little additional change. Today its freight doors have been removed and the area is used primarily as an administrative office.
The GTR station built in Berlin in 1897 was constructed on approximately the same site as its predecessor (Figure 26) on Victoria Street at the head of the market street, Weber Street.37 This site was selected by the GTR in 1853 because it was the
point where the Waterloo Road crosses the rail line, and therefore
a very central point for the farmers ... to bring their produce to.38
By 1897 industries based on these primary products had also been established to the north and east of the station because they depended upon the railway for transportation. Some of these, like Breithaupt's Leather Works, contained tanneries, and were too noxious to be welcome in the core commercial area of the city. As a result, the station sat as a somewhat isolated centre point. It was near, but not directly in, the main commercial area to the south west on King and Queen streets. It served as a delivery point for agricultural products to the farmers' market to the south on Weber Street and to the factories to the north.
It was not until the new station appeared in 1897 that Berlin began to attract a new type of more highly skilled industries. These new industries depended on the importation of raw materials by rail as well as requiring access to far away markets to sell their goods, and it is not surprising that they clustered around the station site and clung to the tracks (Figure 27).
By the 1920s industrial development had built around the station and the tracks until the area nearby had become an industrial zone unto itself. As a result, the station and its industries evolved apart from town’s daily commerce, and were little affected by the 1920s urban renewal that left
only traces of the old Berlin ... in the city centre.39 Evidence of large scale factories is still plentiful near the station site today (Figure 28). Unfortunately, although this area was once considered to be the heart that drove the community, many of the turn of the century factories are now closed and today’s depot is criticized as
being out in the middle of nowhere.40
This attitude played an important role in shaping the site of the present station. When Berlin gave permission for the Berlin Furniture Factory to be constructed in the middle of the block between Victoria Street and the station in 1900, it effectively limited the station grounds to a narrow strip of land along the tracks. While the station had always been practically restricted to this area by a natural cliff running parallel to Victoria Street, construction of the Berlin Furniture Factory visually cut the depot off from the city core. This situation remained until 196641 when the furniture factory burned down. Its practical effects were compounded by the almost immediate isolation of the station site from the north by a full block of solid factory construction. For most of the 20th century the station site has been oriented towards the streets on its ends, the only places from which it was visible (Figure 29).
Today, a formal public front of the station is still maintained by a grassed and treed area that extends from the arched waiting platform to Edward Street (Figure 30). As Figures 5, 8 and 11 show, the Kitchener station grounds were once extensively grassed and decorated with flowers and bushes. From 1908 until the 1960s a circular drive restricted travellers to the west end of the site, encouraging them to enter the grounds from Edward Street and disembark under the porte-cochère. Once the 1925 Express Building was built with its formal façade facing Ahrens street on the east, the central part of the site was reserved for the railway’s use. This clearly defined pattern was destroyed in 1967 when the entire site to the south of the building was converted into a parking lot.
The Kitchener station's location on this slip of land between Edward and Ahrens streets at one time meant that both streets developed as busy thoroughfares. Railway enthusiasts recall that until about 1960, traffic safety on both of these streets was governed by moveable barricades controlled from the tower of the station.42
The CNR station in Kitchener has presented considerable problems to local planners who generically recognize that it is important to the community but have not, as yet, come to terms with the inter-relationship of its site to the city's early industry.
Despite the number of historic homes that have been developed in the Kitchener area, commercial and industrial heritage have not been phenomena underlined by the planning of the city. The Kitchener LACAC is nevertheless an active group that is slowly beginning to recognize the industrial potential of the area. At the present time this group is compiling an inventory of heritage buildings that should include the station. The LACAC will use both this list and informal response to assist the community in planning for its heritage.43
The CNR had drawn up plans for station demolition before VIA Rail took it over in 1984. VIA Rail assumed control as a result of public protest and initially developed plans to make the station a transportation centre which would combine a terminal for long distance bus and train travel with city transit facilities.44 To date, this plan has not been implemented.
The station has, nevertheless, been renovated several times for use as a VIA Rail terminal. The central VIA Rail Property Management Division in Toronto is interested in acknowledging heritage property in the treatment of its buildings, and would like to further emphasize the heritage aspects of the station interior. Local VIA management, on the other hand consider the station to be an inconvenient point of operations.45
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
BerlinGTR station after 1908 (Kitchener Public Library. Photo by Forde Studio.)
GTR Station, Berlinafter 1908 with express building. (Kitchener Public Library. Photo by Forde Studio.)
Existing Shed and Offices, Kitchener, (CNR Engineering Department, Toronto.)
Image Not Available.
Proposed Addition Between Buildings, January 1932. (CNR Engineering Department Toronto, Plan C 7385.)
Image Not Available.
Proposed AlterationsDecember 1932. (CNR, Engineering Dept. Toronto.)
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.