Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Canadian National Railways Station
Anne M. de Fort-Menares, Toronto
The Canadian National Railways (CNR) station at 172 Second Avenue, North Bay (Figures 1-3) was built by the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) in 1916 to serve passenger and freight traffic.1 After 1921 it was also the southern terminus for the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario (T&NO) railway (renamed Ontario Northland in 1946).2
North Bay played a strategic role as a link enabling Ontario-based feeder railways running through Toronto to connect with transcontinental main lines. Its situation at the intersection of overland and water routes made the city a logical transfer point for four railway companies (Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), TCNO, CNoR, and Grand Trunk (GTR), before the creation of the CNR collapsed them into three companies sharing two terminals.
The station was designed by CNoR architect George Briggs in 1914 and built in 1916. It was attached by a canopy to additional buildings in 1920-23 (since demolished), and finally abandoned by CNR in 1990. The station was closed in that year when the Ontario Northland Railway moved its passenger operations to a new terminal. The former station has been extensively vandalized which has not, however, affected its structural stability. The station's plight has attracted considerable local attention, and the municipality is negotiating to ensure its preservation.
In its aloof autonomy from the large CPR yards, and in its ambitious design, the North Bay CNR station recalls the confidence that heralded the completion of a third transcontinental rail line in Canada, the CNoR. The activities of four railways at North Bay in those years contributed to the development of the near north in Ontario.
The CNoR was a product of the
economic euphoria of the early 20th century that led to the creation of two new transcontinental rail lines: the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern. Organized in 1899 by the redoubtable railway builders William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, within three ears the CNoR had a mainline from Lake Superior to Edmonton.3 Before the company failed financially in 1917, it stretched from Vancouver to Montréal. In Ontario its trackage grew out of the James Bay Railway, incorporated by Mackenzie and Mann in 1895 to link up with Mackenzie's Toronto Street Railway in Toronto as part of a larger proposal to reach the east coast.4 Though limited in its connections, the James Bay Railway gave them a combined rail and Great Lakes steamship route. The company's charter rights were deftly expanded by acquiring authorization to build north out of Toronto to Sudbury, northeast to Ottawa, and east from Port Arthur to Montréal. In 1906 the James Bay Railway was renamed the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway. This name, along with the reorganization of three Québec lines as the Canadian Northern Québec Railway, more accurately reflected the aspirations of the company.5
The railway's goal was to be transcontinental, but it would be achieved by piecing together the necessary sections through new and existing rail across the country. Ontario Premier Whitney persuaded his government that yet another railway merited land subsidies as part of what he considered his administration's
duty to develop the northern territory for both agricultural and mineral purposes, and the land is worthless without a railway . . .6 Thus in 1908 the James Bay Railway was granted assistance to build track between Port Arthur and Sudbury. Work did not begin immediately, however; without federal guarantees or aid, Mackenzie and Mann turned instead to uniting any existing lines they could acquire in Ontario and Québec and to pushing a line from Edmonton to Vancouver. It was 1911 before a federal bond guarantee could be elicited for the Ontario line7 and 1914 before the Board of Railway Commissioners approved the route between Parry Sound and North Bay. Permission was granted to open the line for freight from North Bay to Capreol in December 1914, clearing the path for the construction of this station.8
Financial difficulties between 1912 and 1914 netted largely an unsympathetic press and political response for the company. Finally, just as a compromise was worked out that gave the government 40 per cent of the common stock in return for security guarantees, the declaration of war in 1914 left Mackenzie and Mann without backers in the financial markets.9 Construction to join the line continued, and the company undertook major building projects at Vancouver, Montréal, Fort William, and across the prairies. Poor operating results after 1914 eventually ruined the company. Nationalization of the Canadian Northern and the National Transcontinental was finally enacted between 1918-23 as the only solution to their financial problems. Similar causes brought down the Grand Trunk, its western subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific, and the Intercolonial, which together made up the new Canadian National Railways.
North Bay was a product of transportation, and the CNR station illustrates the symbiotic importance of each to the other. The Nipissing district provided an early voyageur passage through Iroquois territory until 1821, when the amalgamation of the North West Company with the Hudson's Bay Company diverted traffic to Hudson Bay. The real and anticipated natural resources of the area became attractive to capitalists around the middle of the 19th century, particularly for lumber operators extending their operations up through Mattawa from Ottawa. A colonization road reached the south shore of Lake Nipissing in the early 1870s, where Nipissing Village emerged.
North Bay's railway importance was as both main line yard and feeder connection, the latter principally as a link to traffic through Toronto. The first railway, which predated the city, was the CPR from Ottawa in 1881, which brought a wave of settlement and secondary development. The second was the T&NO, instituted in 1902 by the Ontario government, and opened between North Bay and New Liskeard in 1905, to open mining territories and agricultural land. It became a leading railway force in North Bay.10 The GTR had been extended to Lake Nipissing from Gravenhurst in 1886, but it was only when the company was pushing for its own transcontinental project that it decided to build as far as North Bay. From there, running rights over the T&NO gave the GTR a connection to Cochrane and a westward mainline. The agreements were signed and a third railway entered North Bay in 1911.11 In 1914 the CNoR was the fourth railway to reach the town, whose council declined to subsidize industry, but actively solicited railway business and lavished concessions on the . companies.12
Of the four railways, the CPR was always an important employer and a high-profile industry, with the earliest line and the largest yards. The T&NO, renamed Ontario Northland in 1946, was the second most important of the railway companies in North Bay. Although its important head office is now a fine historic landmark, corporate identity was not expressed through station buildings. Since its beginnings, the line had reciprocal arrangements with GTR/CNR regarding track rights and terminal facilities. The formation of the CNR brought three of the four companies in North Bay into the Briggs-designed station, although yards and shops were located elsewhere. Ontario Northland is still active, and closely tied to the northern identity.13
North Bay consolidated its position in the district quickly, incorporating as a town in 1891, and attaining the status of County Town over Mattawa and Sturgeon Falls in 1895.14 Councillors were wary of Mackenzie and Mann, and doubted their intention to proceed with the rail line they promised. It took another 11 years for the company to seek a right-of-way, and in 1913 the town requested the company to establish a divisional point with repair shops and terminal facilities.15 CNoR applied to extricate itself from commitments made to council, but was obliged by the Board of Railway Commissioners to proceed with the station. Plans were approved at council in 1915,16 and the level of business necessitated the subsequent construction of a freight building in 1920. Plans, never implemented, were made for a new baggage room in 1923.
Founded by the CPR, North Bay experienced a great boom after the establishment of the T&NO. The population exploded from 2530 in 1901 to 7737 in 1911, after the railway moved its headquarters from Toronto to the town. North Bay boosters coined the slogan
Gateway to the North to recognize the city's status as southern terminus for the T&NO. The company used the old CPR terminal on the waterfront. The great railway era in North Bay began winding down in 1906, when direct lines between Toronto and Sudbury reduced the transfer business at North Bay.
The transportation sector was one important element underlying the diversified economy of the city, which has never been entirely resource-dependent in the manner of many northern Ontario communities. Manufacturing related to mining began to develop in the 1940s, and Air Defence Command upgraded its wartime bases in the city to headquarters after the war. The growth of population and positive economic indicators continued steadily after the 1940s, with the establishment of numerous government and business offices. Three railways made North Bay their regional centre. Despite the pivotal role played by the railways in earlier local economic development, all three railway companies are presently introducing further reductions in operations.
The CNR station is representative of the continued inflationary expansion of railway business in the city. The general district offices of CNR were situated at North Bay from 1925 until 1959, when they moved to Capreol. The station continued in use as a terminal for CNR and T&NO until it was transferred to VIA Rail in 1986. Passenger services at this location ceased in 1990.
For 34 years North Bay was the centre of CNR business. This building, shared between Ontario Northland, CNR and later VIA Rail passengers, functioned as a minor union station in the city.
The conventional sheltering attributes of Canadian station architecture are united in the North Bay CNR station, with its distinctive, post-1910 bigness of scale and durable materials, a combination that make the 20th century stations unmistakably updated versions of the older styles. The influence of the Romanesque Revival on the exterior design is clearly visible in the rhythm of the broad arches. A generosity of public gesture, in the porte-cochère, multiple public entrances, and expansiveness of facilities, fuses with good quality materials, well-lit spaces, and familiar forms in the station.
Plans for the development of the North Bay station site are well-documented through approximately 30 drawings dating from 1914 to 1971. Although the site runs diagonal to the cardinal points, the orientation of
south for west-southwest, and
north for east-northeast, as determined by CNoR architects, will be followed here.
The building is dominated by the long, low horizontal of the roof, originally slate, beneath which the various entrances and openings of the building are shadowed. Principal entrances are clearly visible and distinguished architecturally. A high triangular pediment on the south (town side) signals the principal passenger entrance. Beside it a porte-cochère carried on battered piers breaks forward. As drawn, the pediment had more logic in relation to the two entrance arches than it does when seen in situ (Figures 4-5). Nor was this pediment built quite as designed: instead of the circular disc with the company name framed in a draped surround, a more complex panel reminiscent of Florentine Gothic church façades was installed, nearly filling the tympanum. The result is poorly defined and has a cartoonish quality.
The asymmetry of the design is masked by the slope of the site and the accumulation of visual distractions: antennae, light standards, and the boiler building, Both north and south elevations have interesting rhythms established by three forms of fenestration. Largest is the broad semicircular arch around a glazed doorway. A tripartite composition with three-light transom under a cambered arch is secondary; and a pair of tall sash under a single transom constitutes the third, most vertical type (Figures 6-7). On the south, the rhythm established is a syncopated pattern of local symmetries. The north elevation introduces variants of the tripartite type: double doors with sidelights under three transom lights, and a quadruple-bay version of the window. The major openings have a corresponding bay on the opposite side. The porte-cochère, for example, balances the projecting hipped roof over the operator's bay: a nicety of plan unlikely to be appreciated in elevation.
Materials are red brick, laid in common bond with every fifth course headers, over coursed stone foundations that have been painted to look like concrete block. Cut stone trims the corbels under the canopy brackets, windowsills and keystones. The roof was originally slate with galvanized iron trim, but reshingling has resulted in the loss of the slate and the iron roof cresting.
Substantial wood brackets, detailed with chamfered edges and slimmed midsections, carry a protective roof canopy projecting seven feet beyond the building on all sides. The exposed rafters and diagonally-braced brackets had become standard railway vocabulary by this time, used on nearly every station of substance since the Grand Trunk stone stations of the 1850s.
The window arches are emphasized by five courses of header bricks, which also outline the cambered windowheads in rows of three or two, depending on the size of the opening (Figure 8). The arches and the roofline recall stations built for the Old Colony Railroad, and the Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A) by H. H. Richardson and his successor firm, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, between 1881 and 1894. The broad, massive roofs and compact plans of those stations emphasized the principal function of shelter.17 While none of the B&A stations had arched openings, Richardson's tremendously influential work for F. L. Ames at North Easton, Massachusetts, developed applications for the arch that reverberated through North American architecture for decades. Most Canadian railway architecture was dated, if competent, by comparison, but the majority of company designers were nonetheless capable of recognizing high quality precedents for inspiration.
George Carruthers Briggs was born in England in 1886, where he apprenticed to an architect and surveyor from 1898 to 1903, at which time he moved to Canada. He spent three years working in architectural offices in Toronto, before gaining employment in the drafting room of the CNoR engineering department. In 1912 he was made Architect of their Buildings Department, advancing to Inspector of Buildings in 1914, then Supervisor of Buildings for the Eastern lines of the CNoR from 1916 until the creation of the CNR. At that time he assumed the position of Architect, Eastern Lines.18 It might be presumed that Briggs was responsible for the design of most eastern division CNoR buildings through these years, although on1 one other (Hornepayne round house, 1921) is definitively known.19
Of 15 or so stations in Ontario built by the CNoR, seven were still in railway use in 1987.20 None have the form or Romanesque allusions of the North Bay station. The larger terminals built by the company after 1915, at Montréal and Vancouver for example, deviated from CNoR's better regional designs in following the trend to Beaux-Arts classicism, a move said to be a consequence of the
classical rush brought to the head of railroad companies by transcontinental status.21
The North Bay station retains its 1914 design, with the exception of the closed-in apertures and the removal of the canopy over the operator's bay on the north elevation. A 1923 proposal to extend the east end by one bay for baggage use, reusing brackets and replicating detail, was never implemented. Although its windows and doors are secured by plywood, the station has been vandalized inside and out.
The layout of the internal volumes and the sophisticated handling of materials reflect the contemporary influence of the Beaux-Arts style on railway station design. The plan of the North Bay station allows for an elegant and spacious accommodation of a full range of needs (Figure 9). Circulation and natural illumination were particularly nicely resolved. Passengers were offered two entrances, either directly into the vaulted waiting room and straight through to the tracks, or into a ticket lobby facing the ticket counter (Figures 10-11). One benefit of that layout was the possibility that arriving and departing passengers could use separate exterior doors, as recommended by planning manuals.22 The ladies' waiting room and toilet occupied the east end of the building, with entry from the ticket lobby, and a separate platform exit. A smoking room and men's toilet was provided on the town side of the west end, in front of the baggage room. The lower level was reached by a stairway from the waiting room which descended to the subway, and by an elevator from the baggage room. Functions of the operator, conductor, and ticket agent were spatially defined on the axis of the porte-cochère.
The handling of interior space was more sophisticated and disciplined than most stations warranted or received (Figure 12). Space was subdivided into modules that were repeated as organizing principles. The ticket lobby corresponded to one of the dimensions established by the four piers in the waiting room, and the ticket office fit within another such bay. The waiting room was sumptuously lit by chandeliers in the central vault and each of the corner bays, as well as by bracketed sconces on each of the piers. These geometries, and the dignified finishes, suggest a Beaux-Arts approach to programme.
Alterations to the building over the years turned the ladies' waiting room into the car control and engine room, then baggage handling, while the former smoking room served the track supervisor, and the bag age room was occupied by the trainmaster, then by police offices.23 A freight door was inserted into the west end, and the original dock opening bricked up (Figure 13). Little attempt was made to match earlier materials: new openings were crudely inserted, and the bolts for the iron corner bumper were left intact. As the new baggage room escaped renovation, the coffers and ochre colours of the ladies' waiting room ceiling are still visible. These and other early painted surfaces may represent the standard colours used by CNoR in its stations at this time.24
Inside, renovations by VIA Rail led to several changes. VIA dropped the waiting room ceiling, which obscured the vaulted centre completely. The company put in fluorescent lights, laid sheet flooring, closed the stair to the subway, and enclosed the ticket counter, although the rounded plaster corner was left. Deep maroon ceiling colours can be seen through breaks in the ceiling tile. Vandals have smashed the office glass and defaced the walls.
The basement under the west half of the building holds impressive mechanical services, the steam plant for the complex, as well as linemen's stores, the electrician's shop, and signaller's shop. Finishing is relatively crude, and the work spaces have been cleared out. Originally, the section west of the subway served as the express room, connected to baggage above by the elevator, and the rest of the basement was devoted to housing coal-fired boilers.
Vestiges of the extensive railway complex around the station remain as isolated structures: a boiler house built in concrete block, a crew shed in aluminum, and a retaining wall along the embankment. The station was formerly balanced by a two-storey freight/express building of identical roof profile with a shelter area between, whose footprint can be measured by the retaining wall (Figure 14). That structure, built in 1920, incorporated living quarters in the basement, with express facilities at the east end. It was demolished in 1990.25
Railway tracks determined the central city street grid of North Bay. The downtown streets parallel the lakefront and, more particularly, the CP rail yards. Two blocks beyond the CN line, the grid pivots from a diagonal to a true north/south orientation, Originally carried on trestles, the CN line now runs over six overpasses in the downtown area alone. The station terminates Fraser Street between Second and Third. The embankment raises the tracks about 15 feet above street level, and consequently the station is elevated above the surrounding buildings.
The town side environment is a mix of declining commercial and institutional uses. The immediate vicinity of the station comprises parking lots in front of the building, and in front of the CN-leased shops adjacent. Fraser Street south is a fringe commercial area of two-storey or lower buildings housing dining rooms, taverns, and small offices. The Ministry of Correctional Services has occupied a four storey, pink mirror glass building behind the historic Teacher's College building opposite the station.
North of the station, Fraser Street is a typical residential neighbourhood. A pedestrian subway at ground level permits passage under the tracks. The station has a looming prominence in the area that is projected beyond its site by the tracks (Figures 15-16.
The station has been the subject of intense local public interest, which has heightened as other historic buildings in North Bay have been demolished. Although there is no municipal committee to advise council on heritage matters, members of the Historical Society and of the Society of Architects have been active in seeking preservation and rehabilitation for the station.
In 1991 CN Real Estate was discussing the future of the station building and abutting land with the Ministry of Government Services. Charitable and non-profit organizations were invited to express interest in using the station, with the expectation that the building could be obtained by the city for $1.00 and a nominal land rent. At that time, the North Bay Area Museum Society, which presently operates out of an inadequate space, investigated the possibility of occupying the station for their own use. Railway stations by tracks are undesirable places for collections of artifacts, however, and the museum requires more space than the station offers. Another use being considered is as a food bank depot. Late in 1992 CN Real Estate decided to appraise the site more fully, which slowed events.26 In early 1993, the City of North Bay was discussing a purchase arrangement with CN.
in line with the policy of co-ordination between the C.N. Rys. and the G.T.R.
. . . the Town places itself at the disposal of the Company for the purpose of acquiring such lands . . .
a C.P. R. town, but today it is better known as headquarters of the Ontario Northland Rai1way.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
2 of this,
8 of this, and
3 of this. (Courtesy VIA Rail.)
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.
Image Not Available.