Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Canadian National Railways/Ontario Northland Railway Union Station
Peterson Projects, Murray Peterson, Winnipeg
The Canadian National Railways (CNR) and Ontario Northland Railway (ONR) union station at Cochrane was built in 1909-10 (Figure 1), shortly after the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) and the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (T&NO) reached the community.1 The town is located at Mile 1027.9 west of Moncton, New Brunswick on the NTR line2 and 440 miles northwest of Toronto (Figure 2). The town owes its existence to the railways. Both lines established repair and refuelling complexes and were almost entirely responsible for Cochrane's initial growth. Much of this early railway activity has now disappeared or diminished, and passenger service along the CNR line had been severely reduced.
The popularity of tourist trains along the ONR, however, has obliged the company to refurbish the station and to continue to operate the locomotive shops. The station's extensive renovations are a unique mix of the old and the new: exterior ornamentation once removed has been returned, the waiting room/ticket counter area has been renewed, a second floor hotel and meeting rooms were added, and the restaurant was remodelled with glass extensions and walkways (Figure 3). Though extensively renovated, the station still represents the work of an important Toronto architect, John M. Lyle.
By World War I, northern Ontario was crossed by three transcontinental railway lines. These lines were crucial to the development of the north, bringing settlers and goods into the area. Even more essential was the role the railways played in the exploitation of the vast natural resources of the region, especially lumber and minerals. The construction of a union station reflects the growing trend among Canada's railway companies to share quarters and thus reduce costs.
The T&NO3 was created as a provincially-owned line in early 1902 to build a 110-mile railway north of North Bay, an important regional centre on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). The new line was intended to open land that included rich timber stands, mineral deposits and excellent agricultural areas.4 Construction progressed slowly and the northern terminus, New Liskeard (130 miles north of North Bay) was reached by rail on January 4, 1905. Regular trains began running on the line 12 days later.5
Although the T&NO had fulfilled its original mandate, plans were quickly completed after reaching New Liskeard for an extension to meet the new transcontinental railway, the NTR, running through northern Ontario. Competition between the lines was not feared by either side, rather the link was fostered. The NTR
... viewed the T&NO as being of potential assistance: supplies for the construction of the NTR could be transported into the wilderness by way of the T&NO. Furthermore, the T&NO would link the NTR with its sister company, the Grand Trunk Railway near North Bay, thereby providing the new transcontinental railway with links to both Toronto and Québec.6
Surveying and construction of the T&NO northward to a yet unchosen junction with the NTR began in earnest in 1905 and in the winter of 1906 a townsite for the junction was surveyed, to be named Cochrane.7 The first T&NO train pulled into Cochrane on 28 December 1908.8 The line could now be utilized to bring NTR construction supplies to Cochrane from southern Ontario, which was connected via GTR lines with North Bay.9
The NTR, on its way from Moncton, New Brunswick to Winnipeg, Manitoba, was likewise experiencing delays and problems associated with the terrain and the weather in northern Québec and Ontario. The company had been created in September 1903 by a complex agreement between the government of Canada and the GTR. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier firmly believed, along with many of his contemporaries, that Canada's growth could support two and even three transcontinental railways. Unlike Sir John A. Macdonald, Laurier was not interested in protecting the monopoly of the CPR, and saw increased rail service as the only method of efficiently fostering settlement and long-term economic growth in the West, northern Ontario and Québec, thereby benefitting all of Canada.10
The last spike on the NTR was driven 200 miles east of Cochrane in November 191311 and the first through train on the NTR Grand Trunk Pacific (GTPR) system arrived in Prince Rupert, British Columbia on 8 April 1914.12 Owing to the difficult terrain, which necessitated numerous bridges, rock cuts and muskeg and swamp fillings, the line through northern Ontario, both east and west of Cochrane, was among the last to be completed.13 The First World War, the end of Canada's economic boom, the underestimation of actual construction costs, and the duplication of lines and facilities ultimately spelt disaster for both systems.
Almost exactly a year after the first train arrived in Prince Rupert, the federal government announced it was taking over the operation of the NTR rather than leasing it to the GTR.14 The GTR, due to the financial strain of western expansion, was in no position to enter into such an agreement. When the Canadian Northern Railway (Canada's third transcontinental) was nationalized in 1918, it was entrusted with the control of the NTR.15 The GTPR was nationalized in 1920 and when the GTR declared bankruptcy, the federal government added it to its holdings and by 1923 completed the formation of the CNR to oversee operations of all federal railway holdings.
Union stations became more common around the turn of the century, when companies began sharing premises to reduce costs. For the NTR, still in its construction phase, a union station at Cochrane was desirable in order to check skyrocketing costs. The T&NO had ample resources to construct a station with extra room, and the company could profit from a long-term lease agreement.
Cochrane was suitably located for development as a crew changing site, as well as a repair and refuelling facility on both the NTR and the T&NO lines. For years, the town was the northern terminus of the Ontario governmentfs very successful northern railway venture. It was also a centre for the construction of Canada's second transcontinental railway system north of the Great Lakes, and mileages completed after 1908 were often quoted from Cochrane east or west.16 When Cochrane was also selected by both companies as a divisional point, the community's immediate development was assured. The station is reflective of Cochrane's two-railway background, and it is also reflective of its heightened status both in northern Ontario and within the context of Canada's railway system. Due to the number of men and managers working out of the divisional point, office space was required. The construction of a large station recognized the importance of the location, and the need for office space and amenities such as restaurants and residential space.
Unquestionably, the construction of railway lines through northern Ontario was the major catalyst in the region's modern development. Discoveries of large mineral deposits before, during and after this construction, exploitation of large timber stands, and the easy transportation of these resources over the railways fuelled the development of towns and cities, fostered related service industries, and provided important revenue for the railways. Cochrane, like other centres, developed as a result of the economic effects of the railways.
When railways finally pushed through the inhospitable land of northern Ontario, Cochrane became an early focal point. The town of Cochrane was built around a group of small lakes that were seasonally occupied by local native bands. A survey party for the NTR arrived at the site on 9 June 1905, located a marker and thereby completed the survey line through the region.17 In the winter of 1906, the locating engineer for the T&NO chose the site for the junction town, near the lakes, to utilize fresh water for both the town and for railway activities.18
In the fall of 1908, as the T&NO tracks pushed closer to the site, railway officials began laying out lots and clearing heavy bush for roads. Work crews quickly cut a right-of-way and completed light grading in order to claim jurisdiction first, so that the NTR would therefore
be obliged to put in and maintain the diamond necessary for the crossing.19
The next step, similar to the T&NO's development of other centres along its line, was the advertising of an auction of town lots, slated for 26 November 1908. A temporary frame station, 30'×150'20 was completed in 12 days to receive the 600 buyers, T&NO officials, and reporters who packed a special train to Cochrane. In total, 146 lots were sold, none for less than $300, which netted the government over $50,000. Part of the purchase agreement stipulated the construction of a building worth at least $500 within the first year, thus discouraging speculation.21
Within a week of the auction, the T&NO began building its refuelling and switching complex. Because of its terminal location, Cochrane would be a divisional point—a major refuelling, repairing, switching and bunking centre for the T&NO. By the end of 1909 the T&NO complex boasted a 50-ton coal dock, round house and machine shop, extensive switching yards, a 40,000-gallon water tank, section houses, a foreman's office, several stores buildings, a large freight shed (the converted temporary station) and the beginnings of the brick union station sitting between the NTR tracks to the north and its own lines to the south.22
The town would also become a divisional point for the NTR, which followed the common railway practice of locating such points approximately 130 miles apart. This dual designation fostered the unusual situation of two separate industrial facilities located within view of each other in Cochrane. It also guaranteed Cochrane a stable pool of employment at the two refuelling and repair shops. As with other railway centres, the early economic development of Cochrane was totally reliant on the railways, which supplied not only jobs, but a link to the outside world for information and goods.
The town developed quickly, spurred on by the T&NO shops and by the NTR construction crews that used Cochrane as a headquarters for much of the northern Ontario construction of the line.23 Cochrane was incorporated as a town on 1 January 1910, ending the T&NO's administration of the community. Retail businesses of every description—banks, pool halls, hotels, a barber shop, boarding houses, a bakery, and restaurants—all located along the rough, muddy street of the town.24
In 1910, 1911 and 1916, fires destroyed most or all of Cochrane. Each time the town was rebuilt, and each time only a handful of families left. The railways, their employees, and the union station, all figured prominently in the response to these disasters. Each time, citizens took refuge from the flames inside the brick walls of the station, and were taken to safety by T&NO or NTR trains. After each fire, the T&NO brought supplies, food and temporary shelter for citizens.25 The ties between citizen and railway were strengthened even more. Cochrane's dependency on the railways began to decline during the 1950s with the conversion to diesel locomotives, and later with the reorganization of the railway business. The new engines could travel farther, and required fewer maintenance and refuelling stops. As Sir Henry Thornton, head of the CNR from 1922 to 1932, had noted in the mid-1920s,
The time may come when they [diesel engines] will cross the continent without a necessity for additional water, fuel, or anything, in fact, except the taking on of crews at the different divisional points.26
The number of repair facilities and round houses was reduced, and the consolidation caused many of the divisional point shops to be closed. The centralization of much of the railway industry also reduced the number of jobs located at each of the divisional points. Supervisors and other administrators were concentrated into fewer points, again resulting in the loss of jobs along the line. In tandem, the reduction of office and yard staff often spelt doom for the communities which relied solely on the railway for employment. The growth of many rural centres across Canada stopped, families and businesses moved on and some towns disappeared.
The situation was not repeated in Cochrane, however, because of its location. The CNR shops, the 18-stall round house, and the administrative offices were closed and the divisional complex was demolished. Once as many as 200 had been employed, but today there are less than 10 positions remaining.27 The T&NO, however, which was renamed the ONR in 1946,28 has continued to operate both its shops and its service positions. Today this railway employs approximately 40 mechanics in the shops and an estimated 500 other employees either working in Cochrane or using it as their base of operations in passenger services, communications, track maintenance, food services, freighting and administration.29
Another railway-related development in Cochrane is the ONR's Polar Bear Express. The summer excursion train annually carries thousands of sightseers to Moosonee on James Bay. As the southern terminus, Cochrane has enjoyed a renaissance in tourism, harking back to the early days when people came north to see the land and the newly developing mining and lumber towns all along the T&NO. Local restaurants, hotels and other service industries have been able to capitalize on this stream of tourists. Cochrane, more than many other northern Ontario towns, has continued its economic link with the railway that fostered its initial growth and development. The town's position at the junction of two major railways, its designation as a divisional point on both lines, and the evolution of a successful tourist industry have all combined to make this town of over 4,400 people30 viable railway town, with its train station at the centre of its present prosperity.
As originally designed and built, the union station at Cochrane was a well-detailed, generously proportioned structure measuring 35'×150' (Figures 4 and 5). There have been numerous and drastic changes. This large-scale station was built of red pressed brick, on a raised concrete foundation. Upon low-pitched roof of the extensive first floor was inset a second storey of slightly smaller proportions, also topped by a low-pitched hip roof and featuring two small semi-circular dormers on both the north and south slopes. The most striking features of the original design were the cross gables, decorated handsomely with stone parapets and detailing, including large, semi-circular arched windows, framed by two smaller windows with segmental arches. All three openings featured stone keystones. Above the central window on each side were carved stone medallions with the year '1910' inscribed (Figure 6). Topping the station was a wooden cupola, complete with weather vane, located at the meeting of the crests of the cross gable and hip roofs. Another prominent attribute was the encircling canopy formed by the overhanging eaves of the main floor roof.
In designing the station, the architect incorporated many characteristics similar to other railway stations across Canada. The over-scaled wooden brackets as support for the heavy eaves and the projecting bay window are both typical features. Because of the separate tracks both sides of the station had a high degree of ornamentation and small, four-sided bay windows. Both the bay windows and the eaves are functionally driven elements, the former to afford increased vision of the tracks, platform and yard, the latter to provide waiting passengers with shelter.
Main entrances to the station were simple, through the double doors located in the projecting space below the centre gables on both elevations. The arched window openings on both storeys of the building echoed this simplicity, neatly framed with stone lug sills and radiating brick heads. The double hung windows were multi-paned and set in plain wooden frames.
The Cochrane station design, produced by Toronto architect John M. Lyle for the T&NO, was unlike any other station on either the ONR or CNR systems in its size and elegance. Certain aspects of its design conform to general railway design criteria of the era for divisional points and rural stations in western Canada and northerly locales. Built to an ample enough scale to allow for increased future use, these stations were designed to address specific functional requirements with minimal ornamentation. That the Cochrane station was built with more ornamental complexity was a reflection of the 'boom' mentality of the leaders of the T&NO, who recognized the enormous mineral and timber wealth of the region that the line served. Given the importance of the newly completed line, Cochrane's significance as its northern terminus, and its selection as a NTR divisional point as well, it is likely that the embellishment of the basic design would have been viewed as appropriate. Roughly similarly sized stations, although lacking the same high degree of ornamentation, are Cranberry Portage, in northern Manitoba (RSR 84), and Armstrong (RSR 156, Figure 7) and Hornepayne (RSR 154, Figure 8) both in Ontario.
This station is the work of a nationally prominent architect. John Macintosh Lyle, whose signature appears on the plans for this station, designed this station and the T&NO's 1909 brick and stone station which still exists at Cobalt, Ontario.31 He rose to prominence during a long and distinguished career. Lyle was born in Ireland on 13 November 1872. He graduated from art school in Hamilton, Ontario, and later obtained his architectural degree in the United States. In 1894 he enroled in the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After completing his studies, Lyle worked in several large New York architectural firms before returning to Canada in 1906. He was instrumental in the adoption of Beaux-Arts ideals in Canada, and his use of Canadian floral and faunal motifs in the 1920s led to a distinctly Canadian style, paralleling developments of the Group of Seven. This building is rather modest in comparison with his major works, which include Toronto's Union Station (1913-27), the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto (1906), and buildings for the Bank of Nova Scotia in Ottawa (1923-24), Calgary (1929), and Halifax (1929). He became a leader of the City Beautiful movement through his work in urban and regional planning, and died in Toronto on 19 December 1945.32
Alterations to the original Cochrane station have been numerous, and some have been severe. In 1917, a one-storey addition of similar design and ornamentation was built at the west end of the station and used as a baggage and express building. It was connected to the station by a covered walkway (Figure 9). This sympathetic addition did not adversely affect the original design. The wooded cupola was removed at a later date.
In 1968 the station was redesigned on both the interior and exterior, to the detriment of the aesthetic beauty of the original design. The high, second storey roof, the most prominent ornamental feature, was reduced to a lower, plain hip roof. Gone were the cross gables, the embellished gable ends, and the swept dormers (Figure 10). The station had become much more similar to the plainer NTR and CNR designs in northern Ontario and Manitoba.
In 1990-91, major alterations again occurred to the union station. In an attempt to recapture something of the original elegance of the building, architects reconstructed a gable on the north façade; however, its ornamentation was much simpler than on the original (Figure 11). Originally the partial second floor was not centred, flush only with the eastern end of the ground floor. As part of the renovations, the second floor was expanded and made a full floor.
Windowless dormers were added to both the north and south roof slopes. Windows were replaced throughout with aesthetically inferior, single-paned, aluminum units (Figure 12). Another major change was the two-storey addition built to the west of the station and connected by a glass walkway over the original path. The 1917 express building was demolished and replaced by this new building, which was designed to match the scale and ornamentation of the station. The final result fits somewhere between the elegance, complexity and attractiveness of the original design, and the stark, simplistic station that resulted from the late 1960s alterations.
As originally laid out, the union station's interior was divided into four functionally separate areas (Figure 13). In the east end was: a large restaurant with ample kitchen and cold storage space; through a short hall was the spacious general waiting room, with its two-storey ceiling;33 further west in the building were the ticket offices of the two railway companies and a separate ladiesf waiting room; and at the west end was a baggage room of surprisingly small dimensions relative to the rest of the structure (approximately 700 square feet). It is understandable, therefore, that a new baggage and express building was added in 1917. Support for the reinforced concrete floors of this level was carried on steel beams.34
The second floor of the station (Figure 14) was divided into two separate and equal parts by the ceiling of the waiting room. The eastern half was occupied by a crew quarters. Five bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom were occupied at various times by members of crews using Cochrane as a stop over. The west end had small private offices, a larger general office, another bedroom, and a bathroom, all off the central corridor.
At present, all the interior space has been renovated. The basement now boasts small meeting rooms (Figure 15), as does the original restaurant area. The general waiting room (Figures 16 and 17) has been totally remodelled, and its once towering ceiling has been lowered. Because of the hotel facilities on the second floor, one central corridor runs the entire length of this level (Figure 18). A second storey, glass covered walkway (Figure 19) leads from the hotel rooms to the ground floor restaurant found on the first floor of the new building to the west of the depot (Figure 20). The nature of the original finishing materials could not be ascertained from surviving records. Any trace of these materials has been removed from the structure.
The proprietory companies, which have continued to care for and maintain the union station, stressed beautification of railway property throughout its route almost as soon as the line was completed to New Liskeard. Several of the railway's commissioners took fact finding trips along other lines in North America and Europe to research and adopt the best methods.35 Flower gardens appeared as early as 1909 and
a mild competition developed among the station masters regarding their floral designs.36 A T&NO experimental farm supplied the managers with their flowers into the 1930s. At Cochrane, beautiful gardens were also planted for many years.
The station and the railway yards mark the southern boundary of the Town of Cochrane (Figure 21). The railway complex east of the station contained, during its peak years, round houses, coal chutes, ice houses and water towers for both the NTR, now the CNR, and the T&NO, now the ONR.37 The extensive yards were utilized by both companies (Figure 22) for switching and for the storage of rolling stock.
Today, the station and the extensive yards are the only remnants of the once busy railway complex. The CNR round house (Figures 23 and 24) was sold and converted into a plywood saw mill, and continues this role to the present. The massive coal chute burnt to the ground ca. 1946. The CNR bunkhouse and water tower nearby were demolished in the 1960s. The ONR complex has suffered a similar fate. The coal chute, ice house and water tower were torn down and the round house (Figures 25, 26 and 27) was demolished ca. 1955, and replaced by the present diesel shop. The bunkhouse was demolished ca. 1987.38 Many of the town's original buildings were destroyed in one of the three major fires between 1910 and 1916, making the station one of the town's oldest existing structures.
Understandably, the union station is presently one of Cochrane's most prominent buildings and a source of much pride. Daily, year-round ONR passenger runs to Toronto, the seasonal Polar Bear Express tourist train to James Bay, the new restaurant and meeting rooms, and the hotel have once more made the station a centre of community activities.
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