Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Canadian National Railways Station
Heritage Research Associates Inc.
South River's Canadian National Railways (CNR) station (Figures 1, 2 & 3) is located on Ottawa Ave. in the middle of the old portion of South River. It was built in 1884 and moved across the track in 1904-05.South River-Machar Public Library (SR-ML), file
Railways, essay The South River Railway Station. In 1884, this station was constructed to a standard design used by the Northern and North Western Railway Company (N&NWR). The building was enlarged and modified by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) when it was moved in 1904-05.
The history of South River is tied to the railway. The village grew from the site of a railway survey crew's base camp, and until recently, its economic and geographic development has been railway oriented.
The station was closed when CNR freight service to South River ceased in 1986. Today South River remains a VIA Rail stop without a shelter. It is the only passenger rail stop between North Bay and Huntsville.Interview with Richard V. Clouthier, Clerk-Treasurer of the Village of South River, 27 January 1992.
South River is located on the 111 mile Gravenhurst to Callander section of the CNR. This portion of railway line was built jointly by the Hamilton and North Western Railway and the Toronto-based Northern Railway under the title Northern and North Western Railway CompanyR.S. Logan, Synoptical History of the Grand Trunk System of Railways (n.p., 1912), p. 10. Actually, the line from Gravenhurst to Callander originated as the Northern, North Western & Sault Ste. Marie Railway NNW&SSMR (incorporated 21 March 1881), later the Northern & Pacific Junction Railway (N&PJR)Stevens-1960, pp. 419-420 and was leased to the N&NWR 24 June 1884Hopper-1962 p. 644. (N&NWR) between 1884 and 1886. Its purpose was to link the existing rail of both companies to
Lake Nipissing, where it could effect junction with the Canadian Pacific transcontinental main line.G.R. Stevens, History of the Canadian National Railways (Toronto: Macmillan, 1973), p. 127. In the competitive railway environment of the time, however, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) would not agree to an exchange of traffic once the N&NWR road had been completed.
In 1888, the N&NWR was acquired by the CPR's great rival, the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). Under the leadership of Sir Henry Tyler, the GTR was engaged in developing from a railway line into an integrated railway system. The first major step in this process occurred in 1882 when the GTR launched a successful takeover of the Great Western Railway (GWR). In 1888 it made two more important acquisitions, the N&NWR, and the Midland Railway. By 1895 when Tyler left, the GTR owned 49 different rail lines, with
a grid of branches and feeders that covered almost all of the settled areas of Ontario, which secured a very valuable entry into Chicago and which assured substantial volumes of traffic to and from its eastern and western terminals.Stevens, p. 134.
According to The Railway and Shipping World in July of 1898, this constituted an aggregate of 4,186 track miles.Grand Trunk History, The Railway and Shipping World, July 1898, p. 116. South River was the second to last stop on the northern western extremity of this system.
The GTR had a cautious management style, one often ascribed to the thirst of its English investors and Board of Directors for profit. One result of this approach was that its administrators opted for qualitative improvements and carefully secured investments in established areas rather than undertaking the risk of constructing new lines. In 1878, for example, Tyler had refused to consider building Sir John A. Macdonald's national railway because he thought construction in the unpopulated areas north of Lake Superior constituted an unnecessary risk.Robert E. Leggett, Railroads of Canada (Vancouver: Douglas, David & Charles, 1973), p. 81.
It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that the GTR acquired a town like South River with the N&NWR in 1888. South River (Figure 3) was the epitome of railway expansionism, one of the many new towns that
had to be created 'in the bush'... when divisional points were necessary for major servicing of locomotives.Leggett, p. 98. Such towns were a chronic result of the construction of railways through unsettled areas. They began as survey points, developed as supply bases for railway construction, then continued to serve as divisional points to provide operational and repair support to the line. The development of South River, located at the mid-point between Gravenhurst and Callander, followed this pattern precisely. It was an anomoly in the GTR system.
When American Charles Melville Hays assumed operating control of the GTR in 1899, he continued under the
Not Growth But DividendsStevens, p. 192. restrictions that had plagued his predecessors. Hays was, however, hired to
Americanize the line, and he did so by introducing two initiatives that had an impact in South River.
The first was the introduction of vacation tourism to broaden the base of GTR revenues from existing facilities. Hays established passenger agents especially to organize and promote special functions and tours.The Grand Trunk Railway System, The Globe, 17 April 1897. While the main thrust of GTR tourism activities on the former N&NWR line centred in Muskoka to the south,John Wardle, Ontario—A Summer Province in A Tour of the Pioneer Railway of Canada (London: Fletcher Price, c1910), p. 34-37. spin-offs nevertheless were felt in South River. According to William Crozier, former station agent at Paisley:
The railroad would give the use of a colonist car and a baggage car to clubs of 40 or more hunters who loaded and unloaded their own equipment and they only bought the tickets. Their deer and game was carried without charge. Game was quite plentiful but gradually decreased as the woods operation opened up more territory allowing the hunters a greater scope of operation, and less protection for the deer.SR-ML, fileRailways, clipping Early Days of Railroad.
The second initiative was a concerted search for industrial investors to develop plants adjacent to the company's more vulnerable lines, thereby financially securing their long term viability. In 1903 the GTR attracted the Standard Chemical Company to the South River area. Standard Chemical, which produced pig iron and creosote for railway construction, moved to South River when the GTR received approval to establish the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) route in 1903. Until 1903, Callander (immediately north of South River) had been the GTR's remote western terminus. Potential for railway construction to the west suddenly catapulted its remote location into a springboard of opportunity.
Although this portion of the NTR route was not operational until 1910SR-ML, file
Railways, essay Transportation—Rail., both the GTR and Standard Chemical spent the intervening seven years preparing for its construction. The NTR was eventually joined with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR) which crossed western Canada to join existing GTR track south of North Bay in southern Ontario. The Gravenhurst to Callander line became part of the GTR's Ontario mainline when this occurred. By World War I, the depot of South River in the Northern and North Western Division of the GTR had become a much more central location.
South River station is evocative of the 1880s, an era of competition between numerous minor rail companies who were soon swallowed up by larger rivals. It is also associated with Canada's burgeoning railway industry in the early 20th century as the GTR strove, through the GTPR and the NTR, to create a second transcontinental rail line.
South River was created by the railway. Machar Township, in which it is located, was surveyed by Elihu Stewart in 1875.A. Kirkwood and J.J. Murphy, The Undeveloped Lands in Northern and Western Ontario (Toronto: Hunter and Rose, 1878), p. 191. Initial settlement in the area was cursory and largely associated with lumbering development.SR-ML, manuscript in file
Transportation. A town was not established until 1882 when the N&NWR selected South River as a base site for the survey of its line. Once work began,
Many South River and Machar men found employment ... constructing the road bed for the railway. Wages were 5O¢ a day.SR-ML, file
Railways, essay Grand Trunk Railway. Entrepreneurs soon arrived, and the village of South River was born. The first N&NWR station, which forms part of the present building, was built in 1884 as one of the town's initial structures.
The railway provided impetus for development of the entire area. It offered a means to transport plentiful local lumber to market. According to its boosters:
The whole township is well-timbered—the swamps with spruce, cedar and tamarac; on low but not swampy land are found hemlock and birch, with ridges of pine—on the higher land, maple, birch and balsam, and on the hill tops maple and beech.Kirkwood and Murphy, p. 191.
South River soon became a lumbering centre. By 1895, it boasted three shingle mills, four saw mills, two carpenters, and a stone mason as well as a grist mill and a hotel.Might Directory Co., Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory, 1895 (Toronto: Might Directory Co., 1895), p. 716.
A significant share of the village's economy was based on railway operations. In the age of steam, South River was the major fuel, water and repair point between Huntsville and North Bay. One former railway man recalls:
The steam locomotives could only handle approximately thirty cars, the yard was continuously filled with cars waiting to be picked up by the steamers [i.e. steam trains]. Steamers would run on controlled grades from North Bay to South River and could bring possibly forty five cars from North Bay with a pusher engine, drop them off in South River and continue south, because the grades from North Bay were much steeper. Once in South River a van hop, consisting of a head end crew and a tail would pick up the resting cars a make a new train.SR-ML, fileRailways, essay The South River Railway Station.
The GTR maintained a round house, a coal
shute and a water tower to service its cars at South River. It kept section houses to accommodate its repair crews. South River was also an important local freight and passenger point. Once the GTPR route to the west was established, four passenger trains a day stopped for food, exercise and occasionally accommodation.Ibid As the necessary passing loops and sidings were installed to prepare for this volume of traffic in 1904-05, the original South River station was moved and rebuilt to form the station (Figures 4, 5 & 6) that remains today.
When the Standard Chemical, Iron and Lumber Company (Figure 7) arrived in South River in 1903, the company built a wood distillation plantCanadian Manufacturers' Association, Canada Trade Index (Toronto: CMA, 1903). to process the area's plentiful wood supply:
They made saw logs out of the good trees and cordwood out of the poorer trees. This cordwood went to their chemical plant where charcoal, wood alcohol and acetate of lime were manufactured. South River became known asThe Charcoal Town.Everett Kirton, History of Eastern Parry Sound District (unpublished manuscript in SR-ML), p. 27.
Once lumber in South River had been exhausted, Standard Chemical cut wood from more distant locations along the GTR line and carried it by rail to South River for processing. Through the GTR and Standard Chemical, South River dominated the surrounding district.
By 1904-05 when the station was renewed, South River had become a busy supply centre (Figure 8) for its remote region. In 1907 it was incorporated as a village with four general stores, one bank, one butcher, one baker, one tailor, one watchmaker and jeweller, one sawmill, as well as one hotel. This was the Queen's Hotel, established in 1887 by James Prunty (Figure 9), and said to be
the best eating place on the Grand Trunk line or any other line.SR-ML, file
Railways, clipping South River Thriver as Railway Community. Two of South River's stores also had large public halls, one of which
seated about 600 persons.Ibid. Since the total population of South River itself was 600, patrons clearly relied on drawing an extensive audience from the surrounding area. The rail line was South River's life blood. Nothing stresses this more clearly than the fact that South River had no bank. All of its larger financial transactions were handled by the telegraph and money order service offered at the stationRecollection of long term agent, George Tiernay, when interview
by for a local student project. Recorded in SR-ML file
The South River Station. (Figure 10).
The importance of South River as a railway service centre diminished with the end of the steam age. Standard Chemical, on the other hand, grew during World War I when it acquired
expensive distillation facilities and shifted its operations from the production of charcoal for pig iron to creosote and other chemicals. In 1916 the company built its own rail line around Round Lake to link its remote timber berths to rail and processing facilities at South River.Ibid, essay only. As Standard Chemical grew, South River continued to serve as the headquarters of its northern operations.
The function of rail facilities in South River shifted from rail service to industrial support during World War I, and remained such until the Standard Chemical Co. plant closed in 1967. Throughout this time, the plant, the railway and the village were tightly knit in a long established interdependent economy.
According to local knowledge, the original 1884 N&NWR station in South River was moved
across the tracks in 1904-05SR-ML, file
Railways, essay Grand Trunk Railway. to accommodate GTR rail line expansion. Research in railway documents has yielded no evidence to either support or deny this claim. The configuration of the building itself (Figures 11-14) supports this local contention but suggests that the South River station was both expanded and re-roofed with a standard GTR roof line in 1904-05.
Today, South River's station is a narrow, rectangular building massed under a recessed pitched roof that gently slopes in all four directions. The roof line on the end façades extends from an exposed triangular apex in a configuration characteristic of many GTR stations of the 1904-05 period (Figures 15 & 16). Many features of the South River station design, however, resemble N&NWR station plans used by both the N&NWR and the GTR during the 1880-1890 period.
Two such plans survive. These are designs for an N&NWR station in Utterson Ont. dated 1885 (Figure 17), and plans for a station approved by the GTR in Novar Ont. dated 1890 (Figure 18). The similarity of these two plans confirms that the GTR trimmed its expenses by initially continuing the building practices of the lines it absorbed. The body proportions, special eave configuration, and gable and bay similarities between these plans and today's South River station suggests that South River's original 1884 station is still incorporated in the present building.
Novar, Utterson and South River all have the low wainscot line counterbalanced by large windows typical of late 19th century stations. The same proportions are also evident on GTR stations built in Burlington in 1883 (Figure 19), and Gananoque in 1901 (Figure 20). The Gananogue station design also incorporates a second horizontal line on the body above the apertures which was once characteristic of the 1904-05 South River station as well (Figure 16).
Today, the South River station exhibits an eave configuration (Figure 21) that is also visible on the Novar design. These eaves are in the form of an inverted V in which the facing surface next to the building façade slants up. The brackets have two joints, and are ornately sawn. Both eaves and brackets are quite different from the standard brackets used on GTR stations built at the turn of the century (Figure 22), confirming their early origins.
A slant-sided telegrapher's bay topped by a pitched gable with a window dominates the track façades of the South River, Novar and Utterson stations. All of these gables contain the ornate shingle work and facings found on the South River gable (Figure 23) today. All of these gables are also thin and vertical, reminiscent of those found in designs for late 1880s wooden railway stations (Figure 24).
In South River, the gable outline is in proportion with the bay below. Its balance, however, is determined by the gable's roof rather than its body. The gable body is disproportionately small for the bay below, suggesting the gable may once have been placed low like the one on the Novar station. Today, however, the gable ridge at South River joins the main ridge of the station like the one.in Utterson. It has been raised, leaving the gable on the South River station sitting unusually high for its size, a fact that is masked in the building's design by slightly flared eaves which extend to form a platform cover. This probably occurred when the station was moved in 1904-05.
There is little doubt that the roof line of the South River station was altered at this time. The Utterson and Novar stations (Figures 17 & 18) share a distinctive two sided peaked roof with indented ends that gives them a gambrel-like appearance from the track façade. This common roof line projects such a strong image that it was clearly the common visual link between the N&NWR stations. It disappeared in South River when the station was moved. South River, nevertheless, remains the only surviving station with N&NWR design elements.
South River's station was probably lengthened in 1904-05. Addition of an express bay adjacent to the office as well as an extra freight bay in the centre of the building are both in keeping with the facilities required of turn of the century stations and the configuration of the present building. Such changes would have required a new roof, and the roof added was the same recessed pitched form found on other turn of the century GTR stations (Figure 15). The resulting aesthetic combination of designs was reasonably successful.
Although the South River station (Figure 16) was once finished with the same vertical board and batten material shown on the Novar and Utterson station plans, today its exterior is covered in grey insulbrick sheeting. The building's wainscott is outlined in unpainted board, while its remaining trim is white. As Figures 11-14 show, South River's station retains its turn of the century appearance today, although the building's finishes are rapidly deteriorating due to vandalism and lack of maintenance.
The interior of the South River station still exhibits the original finishes typical of the N&NWR stations. Its interior is also remarkably sound despite its unkempt condition.
The spatial configuration in the agent's office and waiting room areas of the South River station reflects in detail the configuration described on the N&NWR plans (Figures 17 & 18). The South River building still contains its original counters, complete with the safe in the location marked on these plans.
There is only one slight variation. The counter across from the agent's door has been moved to rest against the wall adjoining the freight area.
The ceilings in the agent's office and waiting room are high, as shown in the N&NWR plans. Although many of the walls in the agent's office have been covered with beaverboard (Figure 25), those in the waiting room retain the matched V-groove siding (Figure 26) specified for such stations. The only significant change to the original N&NWR interior of the north end of the building is the addition of a small washroom in the corner of the waiting room. This is accessible from both the agent's office and the waiting room areas.
To the south of the agent's office is an express area which does not appear on the N&NWR plans, and was probably added by the GTR when the station was moved. By 1904-05 the GTR had become the agent of the Canadian Express Company, and express service was a major component of its business operations.General Passenger Department, GTR, The Grand Trunk System, (n.p., 1911), p. 23. At South River, this service was accommodated in a special bay next to the agent's office. Today this bay is clearly identified by small double door on the track façade marked
Baggage and Express. This door opens to a single room with its floor at ground level to permit loaded carts to be rolled into the building. It is finished with V-groove walls and extends the full width of the station.
The extreme south end of the South River station is occupied by a large, roughly finished double freight shed. This area has an elevated floor to permit easy loading from a cart or a platform dropped to the floor of an adjacent freight car. From the interior of the station it is reached by steps which mount from an indentation in the wall separating the freight area from the express area. This freight shed is much larger than that shown on the N&NWR plans, and freight space may well have been doubled by an extension of the building's length by the GTR in 1904-05. The functional plan of South River's station has always been simple. Here, as at other remote settlement stations, one waiting room has always been considered adequate. The CPR station in IgnaceCanadian Pacific Railway Station, Ignace, Ontario, RSR-72 is another such example. Like the original waiting room in Ignace, South River's facility was constructed with considerable pride. Today it still contains an interesting chair rail made of diagonal siding set inside a frame.
Under the GTR, South River evolved as a
through station rather than one built to serve the travelling public. When long distance trains stopped, their passengers went immediately to nearby hotels for food and rest facilities (Figure 9). After the age of wood-burning steam trains ended, South River's station operated primarily as a freight and short distance commuter depot.
This functional tone is reinforced by the facts that the station has never had a basement or central heating. For most of its life the South River station was heated by a wood burning stove (whose pipes were cleaned by special openings still visible in the station walls). Today an oil burner still sits in the waiting room. Electricity was, however, installed in 1907-08 because power was an an important pre-requisite to the town's industrial development.History Project, South River and Surrounding Townships (manuscript in SR-ML), p. 54.
South River's station sits on the site to which it was moved in 1904-05 with its north side facing the village's main street, Ottawa Ave. (Figures 2 & 10). The 1884 N&NWR station sat near this site, slightly to the east on an area that was covered by track just after the station was moved and rebuilt in 1904-05 (Figure 7).
The station site is located at the edge of South River's older commercial area. This is still an active district although a second economic centre has recently grown up along Highway 11 on the west perimeter of the town (Figure 3).
The station is inset to the south of Ottawa Ave. facing the track to the east, permitting an ample parking lot beside the building. This parking lot meets the road at a train crossing signal (Figure 27), visually marking the end of the commercial core of the town. Today the station's parking lot is continually used as a turnaround for local cars leaving the commercial area. As a result, the station site is an active component of the village's traditional public traffic pattern, and the station itself is a significant visual landmark.
The tracks have always been an important visual crossing point on the main street of South River (Figure 28). In earlier times the busy GTR site formed a broad band of activity that crossed Ottawa street and extended to the north and south. The station marked the southern boundary of this site. It once contained extensive sidings and tracks, sheds, a round house, a turntable and two section houses. The north boundary of the site was marked by a prominent coal
shute. Over time, these facilities have disappeared. One of the section houses burned down and the other was eventually moved to another town.SR-ML, file
Railways. The roundhouse burned around 1932Ibid, essay Grand Trunk Railway. , and so did the original coal
shute. The latter was replaced (Figure 29), and along with the station it is all that remains today to define the boundaries of South River's once prominent railway property. This wide north/south GTR/CNR site has crossed the east/west main street of South River since the village was founded (Figure 28), and is still a visible characteristic of its public space.
In fact, the station property stands at the intersection of all of the major activities in the village. To the south is one of the village's major lumber yards. To the west extends the main street of town. To the north are additional rail facilities and a second lumberyard. To the east is a residential area in front of the former Standard Chemical plant.
The railway played a critical role in the founding and development of South River, and this is echoed in the critical position occupied by GTR/CNR property in the lay out of the town. The station is an anchor point in the definition of that property.
South River's citizens feel that
the Village ... has always been a rail town.... The community was built around the railroad and that relationship still exists.Letter Richard V. Clouthier, Clerk-Administrator, Village of South River to Mr. A.E. Deegan, Vice President, Great Lakes Region, CNR, 15 June 1992.
The Village of South River has repeatedly informed the CNR of its interest in retaining the South River station. A Save the Station Committee has been established, and is actively seeking a useful role for the building with the support of the municipal council and Chamber of Commerce.
Local government does, however, recognize that it will be necessary to form
an allianceIbid. with other levels of government to accomplish this project in view of the depressed economy of the area.
At the moment the community is attempting to purchase the building and lease the land from the CNR. It plans to restore the station and erect a fence to separate the site from the still active rail line. This strategy is based on the assessment of Save the Station Committee member Tom Tekavcic, a builder, that the station is sound and in good structural condition (Figure 30).
The degree of vandalism visible on the site is, however, a matter of concern. The station door is open. The windows are not boarded and many have been broken. There is no fence or other impediment to entry. The village paid to have the station's electrical service terminated because it represented a fire hazard. The CNR, which retains custodianship of the site, clearly does not share the Village's opinion of the station's heritage value.
The Ontario Heritage Foundation did not classify the South River station in its 1987 inventory of CNR stations. This means that no conclusion was reached concerning its potential value as a heritage resource.Ontario Heritage Foundation, Planning for Heritage Railway Stations: Inventory (Toronto, 1987), Volume 2, South River and introductory explanation of
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