Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Railway Station Report


Former Canadian National Railways Station
Hornepayne, Ontario


Peterson Projects, Murray Peterson, Winnipeg



The former Canadian National Railways (CNR) station at Hornepayne, Ontario (Figure 1) was built in 1921 at Mileage 572.4 northwest of Toronto, Ontario (Figure 2).1 Ever since railway lines passed through this region, Hornepayne has played an important role as divisional point, service centre and refueling depot. Its initial growth and continued prosperity are based on these railway functions and the expansion of CNR activities in the town.

Unlike many small northwestern Ontario communities, the CNR has not significantly reduced its local operations in Hornepayne and continues to employ several hundred people in the offices, yards and shops. 2 The station, however, has been vacant since the mid-1980s when a new office building and VIA Rail waiting room were constructed east of the 1921 structure. Vandalism has necessitated the boarding up of all windows and doors.

Historical Associations


The construction of this large station reflects the CNR's conscious decision to continue Hornepayne's traditional role as an administrative, service and refuelling centre in northern Ontario. It also illustrates the optimism which permeated the CNR during the 1920s.

The Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) was incorporated in 1899 as the result of the merging of two small Manitoba branch lines. Its backers, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, saw the railway industry in Canada as extremely profitable. By 1901 they, and many westerners as well, saw the CNoR as a legitimate competitor of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Major expansion plans were set in motion, aiming on creating a second transcontinental railway.

Over the next decade, the CNoR began a large-scale program of amalgamation and construction that gave the company nearly 3,700 miles of track nation-wide. Only 353.7 miles of this total was located in Ontario, which included mileage from Port Arthur to the Manitoba border, Toronto to Sudbury and other connected lines in southern Ontario. 3 To complete their dream of a transcontinental system, however, Mackenzie and Mann had to finish one of the most difficult sections in the country: from Port Arthur to North Bay, on to Ottawa and ultimately Montréal. This line ran through the rugged Canadian Shield north of the Great Lakes and posed many engineering difficulties.

In 1911, in the face of reciprocity proposals advanced by the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Mackenzie and Mann pressed the federal government for assistance to complete this section. An agreement was reached whereby the government provided a bond guarantee of $35,000 per mile between Port Arthur and Montréal.

For the CNoR, it paved the way for construction in northern Ontario and for Laurier it would reaffirm dramatically his support for the Canadian trade patterns that had been developed.4

Construction through northern Ontario was slow and expensive, but the route chosen, north of the CPR and the lake-shore, proved less costly than that of the earlier carrier. The last spike of the CNoR's transcontinental line was driven in January of 1915 and by the end of that year it was fully functional from coast to coast. 5

But the cost of the CNoR's expansion, stiff competition from other lines and the war spelt doom for the railway. In June of 1919 it was taken over by the federal government as part of a large-scale rescue effort of the railway industry. Between 1917 and 1923, the federal government acquired five financially troubled railways, amalgamating them as the CNR: the Grand Trunk, its subsidiary the Grand Trunk Pacific the National Transcontinental, the Intercolonial and the CNoR. 6

In October of 1922, Sir Henry Thornton (1871-1933) was appointed chairman and president of the CNR, and given the task of turning the debt-ridden conglomerate into a unified transcontinental railway system. 7 Thus began a decade of growth and prosperity for the CNR. Thornton had many ideas to improve the public's perception of the company: securing a lucrative silk contract with Japan, offering pension packages, providing medical services in isolated areas with Red Cross cars, and using CNR facilities to develop a network of radio stations. By 1928, the CNR had posted a surplus of $58 million. 8 This profitability, combined with heightened public support, created an optimism within the CNR that lasted into the 1930s.

The development of a CNoR refuelling facility at Hornepayne after 1915 followed traditional railway practices of locating such centres at 130-150 mile intervals. Known as divisional and/or turning points, the CNoR planned similar complexes for each of the five designated points between Montréal and Port Arthur, Ontario (present-day Thunder Bay). Each had a 10-15 stall roundhouse with a small attached machine shop to facilitate repairs. Large switching yards, bunkhouses for train crews on layovers, a dining hall, and various small storage sheds were also built. Stations, built to standard no. 8 plans by the Imperial Construction Company, were constructed at four of the five centres, including Hornepayne. 9 These small 1½-storey frame stations provided space for passengers and baggage, as well as the office staff, which was housed in the rear and upper floor of building. 10

As part of the overall expansion scheme of the CNR, a large brick station was built in 1921 (Figure 3) to provide more space for administrative personnel, increased passenger, baggage and freight space, and to provide restaurant services for employees, passengers and local inhabitants.

The construction of this substantial depot in an isolated area of northern Ontario reflected the importance of the site within the newly-organized CNR system and the corporate belief in its future success and expansion. Ample room was provided in the 1921 station for both the immediate and future needs.

Local Development

Prior to the coming of the railway, a small group of Cree Indians had settled near the present-day site of Hornepayne to hunt and fish. A Hudson's Bay Company trading post was established soon afterwards to trade with area natives. With the arrival of the first passenger train on 15 October 1915, a community developed. 11 It was originally named Fitzback, changed to Hornepayne in 1920, 12 in honour of Robert Montgomery Horne-Payne, a long-time CNoR financier in England. 13 a Permanent settlement of the area began when the CNoR built its line north of Lake Superior and created a divisional point at this site. Building began immediately: houses were needed for railway employees and their families; service industries, such as restaurants, a Hudson's Bay store and other retail ventures were quickly established along the community's main street to serve both the new residents and train passengers; a hotel was opened to serve visiting dignitaries and passengers; and numerous railway-related structures were built.

The CNR's commitment to Hornepayne was tested soon after it took control of the former CNoR property. In 1919 the round house was destroyed by fire. Construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility was quickly begun and the new 16 stall facility was opened in early 1921 (Figures 4 and 5).14 At the same time, the CNR developed plans and built a large brick station replacing the small, outdated depot. Ample room was now provided for any future expansion of railway services or activities in the town.

Because of the town's near total reliance on the railway for transportation, communication and employment during its initial development stage, Hornepayne was a classic example of a railway town. Nearly everyone was employed by the railway, and everyone utilized the railway to send and receive information or to travel. Unlike many other communities across Canada that have seen a major decline in the railway's local role, Hornepayne is essentially still a railway town. The conversion to diesel engines from steam in the late 1950s and the construction of a highway in the early 1970s linking the town with the Trans-Canada Highway, 15 two events that in many centres ended the railway's primacy, had little overall effect on Hornepayne.

Today, Hornepayne's economy has diversified slightly to include timber harvesting and tourism; however, the main employer of the town of approximately 1,400 continues to be the shops and offices of the CNR. The 1921 station, although vacant, serves as a reminder to visitors and residents of the railway history of the community.


Aesthetic/Visual Qualities

This is a utilitarian, two-storey brick station (Figures 6 and 7) whose imposing, somewhat bulky design has not been moderated by the use of ornamentation. The roof is also simple, a departure from the common device of using a complex systems of gables, dormers and hips to alleviate the overall plainness of design.

The foundation rises to the level of the first floor window sills. The balance of the structure is comprised of red pressed brick, 13" thick on the ground floor and 9" thick on the upper level. 16 A canopy, supported by large wooden brackets, runs between the first and second storeys along the front and at both ends of the station. The roof is medium-pitched and hipped. It is interrupted by a hipped, windowless dormer that accentuates the centrally-located, two-storey bay window of the north façade. The rear slope is broken into two sections of similar pitch, the roof over the east end being wider and higher. Windows throughout the structure are rectangular and set in plain wooden frames with radiating brick heads. They are also embellished with concrete lug sills on all façades.

The elongated plan of this station is a common design, used throughout Ontario and western Canada. The complete second floor is also not uncommon; other examples of this type of station in northern Ontario can be found at Armstrong (Figure 8) and Cochrane (Figure 9). It should be noted that all three locales are divisional points, and therefore required extra room. The Hornepayne station, the last of the three to be built, is also the largest.

The only significant alteration to the exterior was a two-storey addition built on the west end of the station in 1951. It measures 65'×27'17 and has been used as a telecommunications centre. It presently houses Unitel equipment. Because it does not share a wall with the station (it is connected by a second floor ramp), is built of similar materials, and is of like scale, the addition does not adversely affect the aesthetic impact of the depot. What stands today is an attractive though modest structure which was designed to suit a small town yet provide ample space for both public and company functions.

Functional/Technological Qualities

Satisfactorily built according to contemporary standards, this building has been extensively altered and is now vacant and in a state of disrepair.

The elongated plan measures 134'×34', with a reinforced concrete slab main floor and second storey floors resting on 2x10" joists. Ceilings in the basement are 8, high, and 10' on both upper levels. 18 The station rests on an 18" Portland cement concrete foundation, which was carefully waterproofed and drained because of the water-bearing mixture of sand and clay beneath.

The full basement originally supplied space for the boiler room, coal and record storage rooms in the western end and central sections, while in the eastern end were a kitchen and cold storage room connected by stairs and a dumb waiter to the restaurant above. From the boiler room rose a 60, brick chimney. 19 In later years, part of the basement was converted into a fall-out shelter. 20 Because functioning water and sewage lines run through the basement, power and minimal heat have been maintained in selected areas (Figure 10).

The original first floor was divided into both public and company areas. The west end held the 15'×20' baggage room with concrete floors. The central area held an L-shaped, 300 square foot office for the dispatcher, as well as agent's and ticket offices, a 7'-9"×8'-2" conductors' enquiry room, a telegraph office measuring 14'×20', a general waiting room (21'×31½') and a smoking room (14'×21'). Located in the east end of the station was the 28½'×31½', restaurant or Beanery. It featured a horseshoe shaped counter with a Douglas fir front and birch top with a centre serving counter running up the middle. Four doors, three double doors to the platform and one single door to the rear gave access to the restaurant. 21

Alteration to this area has been severe. The restaurant was removed and much of the original finish has been removed or covered (Figures 11 and 12). Access could not be gained to the baggage room area.

The second floor was devoted entirely to divisional offices. All interior partitions were designed to be moveable, without damaging either the partitions or the building. Over time this area's role had not changed, although renovations have covered much of the original interior (Figures 13 and 14).

Another major feature of the building was the enormous wooden platform. It measured approximately 1,000' long and was 25' wide in front of the station and 12' wide beyond the ends. 22 1t was replaced with asphalt in the 1940s. 23 The interior of the station has begun to deteriorate because of vandalism and the lack of heat. While it is still structurally sound, the decline of the interior elements will accelerate with time.



The railway yard, station and repair and refuelling complex mark the eastern boundary of Hornepayne (Figure 15). Most of the early development occurred along Front Street which paralleled the tracks. In the following years, the community grew westward, away from the tracks.

Because of the highly public nature of the station, used frequently by both visitors and residents, the station and station grounds often received special attention from railway employees. A large greenspace with flower gardens and a flag pole was located east of the station for many years. 24

Much of the railway complex that dates to the early 1920s remains intact (Figure 16). The round house is still fully utilized, as are a number of small tool houses and storage sheds. 25 The large coal dock, although not used, still stands. A number of residential and commercial structures in the town are also contemporaries of the station.

The station is located at the bottom of a hill that partially obscures it from view. The former greenspace that set it apart from the town has been filled by CNR buildings. As a result, the 1921 station is not as visually prominent as it once was.

Community Status

The situation in Hornepayne is different than that in many other northern Ontario and western Canadian towns along the railway. There is a thriving railway presence in the town that is not at present threatened by the evolution of the railway business. This presence, however, has necessitated the abandonment of the station in favour of a more efficient and cost-effective office structure. The CNR does not have any plans to redevelop the station.

The Town of Hornepayne and its residents, while understanding the historical importance of the station, do not presently have plans to reuse the building.


  1. ^ Canadian Railway and Marine World (below as CRMW), Volume 25 (January 1922), p. 14.
  2. ^ George Henry, Bridges and Buildings Maintenance Supervisor, and Keith Bromley, Assistant Track supervisor, CNR Northern Ontario District, Hornepayne, Ontario, in conversation with the author, 18 November 1992.
  3. ^ T.D. Regehr, The Canadian Northern Railway (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1976), p. 476.
  4. ^ Ibid., pp. 316-17.
  5. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988), Volume 1, p. 346.
  6. ^ Ibid., Volume 1, p. 345.
  7. ^ R.F. Legget, Railroads of Canada (Vancouver: Douglas, David and Charles, 1973), pp. 134-35.
  8. ^ G.R. Stevens, History of the Canadian National Railways (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1973), pp. 331-2, 343.
  9. ^ CRMW, January 1914, pp. 6-8.
  10. ^ A Trip Down Memory Lane, Hornepayne, 1928-1978, (Hornepayne: Town of Hornepayne, 1978), pp. 6-7. Below as A Trip Down Memory Lane.
  11. ^ Ibid., p. 6.
  12. ^ N. and H. Mika, Places in Ontario (Belleville: Mika Publishing, 1977), Part 11, p. 306.
  13. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 1007. Horne-Payne is credited with having brought $500 million of British capital to Canada between 1894 and 1928. He was the CNoR's chief fund raiser and acted as the London director of the company from 1901 to 1918.
  14. ^ CRMW, December 1920, p. 647; CRMW, March 1921, p. 128; CRMW, August 1921, pp. 412-13; and A Trip Down Memorv Lane, op. cit., p. 7. The brick round house was actually rectangular, covered an area of 1½ acres and held an 80 foot turntable. At time of construction, it was Canada's first covered turntable.
  15. ^ A Trip Down Memory Lane, op. cit., p. 50.
  16. ^ CRMW, Volume 25 (January l922), p. 14.
  17. ^ CNR files, courtesy of George Henry.
  18. ^ CRMW, volume 25 (January 1922), p. 14.
  19. ^ Ibid.
  20. ^ Victor and Dorothy Bauer in conversation with the author, 17 November 1992. Victor is a retired CNR Bridges and Buildings Supervisor and both are long time residents of Hornepayne.
  21. ^ CRMW, Volume 25 (January 1922), p. 14.
  22. ^ Ibid.
  23. ^ Victor Bauer, in conversation with the author, 2 February 1993.
  24. ^ Ibid., 17 November 1992.
  25. ^ The engine house was considered by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, but deemed to be of national historic or architectural importance. "Minutes", Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, February, 1992.


  1. Former Canadian National Railways (CNR) station, Hornepayne, Ontario; built in 1921, designed by the CNR engineering department; track side (north) façade. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  2. Northern Ontario, arrow indicating Hornepayne, Ontario. (Reproduced from M. Bray and E. Epp, eds., A Vast and Magnificent Land, [Thunderbay: Lakehead, 1984], p. 205.)

    Image Not Reproduced

  3. CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; n.d. (Photo courtesy of the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, Negative 974.2.32A.)

  4. Floor Plan of the round house at Hornepayne, Ontario; built 1920-21, measuring 223'-3"×287'-7½", architect G.C. Briggs, CNR eastern lines architect, built by the CNR. (Reproduced from Canadian Railway and Marine World, August 121, p. 412.)

    Image Not Reproduced

  5. Front elevation of the round house at Hornepayne, Ontario. (Reproduced from Canadian Railway and Marine World, August 121, p. 412-13.)

    Image Not Reproduced

  6. Former CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; track side (north) elevation. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  7. Former CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; town side (south) elevation. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  8. Former CNR station, Armstrong, Ontario; built ca. 1932; track side elevation. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  9. CNR station, Cochrane, Ontario; built jointly by the National Transcontinental and Temiskaming and Northern Ontario railways in 1909-10; track side elevation. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  10. Former CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; basement. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  11. Former CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; first floor. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  12. Former CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; first floor. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  13. Former CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; second floor. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  14. Former CNR station, Hornepayne, Ontario; second floor. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)

  15. Hornepayne, Ontario, arrow indicating the location of the former CNR station. (Map courtesy of the offices of the Town of Hornepayne.)

    Image Not Reproduced

  16. Hornepayne, Ontario railway complex. The concrete coal dock (right of centre) and round house (far right) are the most prominent structures along with the station. (Murray Peterson, 1992.)