Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Canadian National Railways Station
Heritage Research Associates Inc.
Orillia's VIA Rail station (Figures 1-3) was built in 1917 by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) after a fire burned the previous station to the ground. Both in form and in function, the design of this station reflects important social changes brought about by World War I. Orillia's proximity to Camp Borden made this an essential wartime facility. Its features were carefully planned, and they were built in the best manner possible. Their simple, practical character contrasts strongly with the exuberant vacation country architecture typical of Orillia in the preceding decades.
Orillia's station began operation as part of the Barrie Division of the GTR. Today it belongs to the Canadian National Railways (CNR) Great Lakes Region with headquarters in Newmarket. Although the CNR continues to own the property, the station has been leased to the City of Orillia since 1987. Orillia, in turn, leases facilities to VIA Rail and other tenants.
Orillia's station is a vital community resource. It has been restored to a 1920s character on both the exterior and the interior.
Orillia's GTR station was built during World War I as a replacement station to service Camp Borden, a new training camp for the armed forces. Both this camp and the station were essential components of Canada's contribution to World War I, one military and one civilian. They are features of a time when Canada was beginning to assert new control over its destiny. As wartime assets, they provided essential service again in World War II.
When Canada went to war as part of the British Empire in 1914, the nation was not prepared. Canadian citizens had come from around the globe and settled in mixed, often changing, population centres. Late 19th century Canadians were preoccupied with their struggle to establish a way of life. As one historian has stated, they had
almost no experience with war and most communities
shared no real military tradition.1 Once the war was underway, it became clear that Canada's specific role would be to supply troops, munitions and provisions for the front. All of these resources had to be produced and gathered within Canada, then transported through the country to deep water ports for their voyage to the European battlefields.
Fortunately, the country had major railway systems that could be diverted for wartime service. While the Government of Canada had the right to expropriate these railways under the War Measures Act,2 this was never necessary because co-operation from all Canadian railways was fully forthcoming. When war broke out, the GTR was under the control of a Board of Directors in London, England. After the conflict ended, the GTR and two other major Canadian lines were nationalized as part of the Canadian National Railways (CNR). The Flavelle Commission, which recommended nationalization, was underway while the Orillia station was being built. One of its major arguments was that with absentee management the GTR
could not properly manage a Canadian enterprise.3
Railways were part of a major civilian war effort in Canada. Community organizations knitted socks and rolled bandages, factories abandoned domestic goods to manufacture munitions, and farmers harvested record yield crops with a shortage of hands. The railways collected both provisions and troops, and carried them to waiting ships. Railway men operated ill-equipped cars on congested lines when
speed was usually a vital consideration, second only to safety. And at all times preparation had to be conducted with the greatest secrecy.4
Their days were lengthy, strenuous and anxious, but the job they did was vital and accomplished with pride.
This civilian participation was matched by equally determined activity on the military front. While Canadian soldiers joined British battalions once they arrived in Europe, the Canadian government equipped and trained its own men. When it became clear the war would be prolonged, the Canadian military opened a training camp on 17,000 acres in Simcoe County in 1916 and called it Camp Borden. Part of this base was located in the northwest section of Orillia.5 Within days of opening, Camp Borden housed almost 40,000 troops in training. In 1917 it was expanded and redesigned to accommodate a training school for Great Britain's Royal Flying Corps.6 Through the remaining years of World War I, Camp Borden was a major training ground for Canadian soldiers.
World War I fostered new pride and confidence in Canadian capability. When Canada assumed control of its own military forces, the Royal Canadian Air Force was formed in 1920 with Camp Borden as its chief training centre. In World War II, the base became a centre for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Between 1940 and 1945, it accommodated airmen from Canada and Commonwealth countries around the world.
Camp Borden's soldiers left for Europe from railway stations in Orillia, Barrie and Collingwood. Provisions created as the home front contribution of the area's civilian population left from these stations as well. This GTR/CNR station at Orillia was, therefore, a funnel of both civilian and military resources destined for the battlefields. It served in both World War I and World War II, and is a continuing symbol of the major role the railways played in conveying those resources into action.
When Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, began shopping for a site for a new military base in the spring of 1916, there were two critical items on his list. One was excellent transportation facilities; the other was a commerical and industrial base adequate to build and support a large military camp. Both of these conditions existed in Orillia.
86 miles due north of the Toronto . . . on the hillside overlooking Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching,7 had been developed in the preceding decades as a major tourist resort. The town was founded in the 1830s, and had grown as a transport centre for both steamer and rail. The Northern Railway arrived from Toronto in 1869, followed by the Midland Railway from Peterborough and points east in 1871.8 In the 1880s, the GTR acquired both of these lines, and Orillia became an important rail point as their junction. In 1910 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) also built north. Orillia was well connected, with
lines of railway running in four directions.9
These railways provided transportation to cottagers in the late 19th century. At Orillia they transferred to steamers to travel to resort islands like Geneva Park and Strawberry Island.10 In 1901 the Grand Trunk distributed 20,000 folders from the Orillia Board of Trade advertising the tourist attractions of their area.11 In the years that followed, both the GTR and the CPR sponsored vacation excursions to Orillia. These excursions lasted anywhere from a day to a month, and Orillia was prepared to handle both travelling crowds and an auxiliary population in its role as a popular tourist destination. Its character as a vacation area is reflected in the designs of its GTR (Figure 4) and CPR (Figure 5) stations. Both of these buildings were situated near large public parks adjacent to the harbour.
They were also conveniently close to the town's businesses. Orillia was
the commercial centre of the whole northern country. According to an 1897 publication, it
does a large trade in supplies for the lumbermen who operate in the Georgian Bay and Algoma districts.12 Orillia was the market town of a busy agricultural area13 and the government centre for its region.14 By 1910 it had a population of 6,000 and a number of well develo R ed merchants, and lumber and agricultural products industries.15 Orillia was also home to the Tudhope Carriage Co. which tested its first cars on the town's streets as the war began.
Tourism boosted the dimension of these industries, augmenting the development of industrial, commercial, trades and transport capabilities beyond those required by full time residents. As a result, when World War I arrived Orillia possessed the resources to assist in the building and servicing of a large military base. This was no mean task. In two short months, government plans required construction of roads to cover a six mile space, enough street lights for a large town, an up-to-date sewage system, a two million gallon per day water system, and a large bakery.16 These facilities not only had to be built, but their operation had to be sustained. Camp Borden would house a consistent population of 40,000 men (Figure 6) with no time for service failures.
Orillia was in thoroughly up-to-date form by 1914. City fathers had recently installed a large ca acity waterworks system and built a hydro-electric power dam.17 They had also secured an excellent fire insurance rating for the community and were in the midst of negotiating construction of Camp Borden when the GTR station burned to the ground on 1 March 1916. The town took the fire philosophically, stating the former station had:
long been inadequate for the town's needs. For a number of years back the Board of Trade has tried to induce the railway people to put up a modern and much larger building, but nothing was ever done.18
Despite the inconvenience involved, wartime shortages delayed approval for construction. The GTR did not commence construction of the station until summer 1917 and did not open the new station (Figure 1) until the end of December 1917.19
In 1916-17, transportation to and from Orillia was entirely dependent upon rail. A road network did exist, but it was so primitive that
a truck load of furniture, travelling from Toronto to Orillia, was stuck in mud holes, nearly 40 times, and ... had to be accompanied by a team of horses20 in 1922. By the end of World War I there were, in fact,
only two stretches of paved highway in Ontario—one between Brockville and Ottawa and the other from Toronto to Hamilton.21 Orillia's extensive rail facilities were, consequently, critically important to its selection as the site of a wartime military base.
World War I marked the end of an era in Orillia as well as in the rest of Canada. In the post war years, highways were built undercutting the critical role of the train. The town, nevertheless, remained a tourist centre. Its industry also developed, based on hydroelectric power provided by the dam completed just before the war.
Rail continued to play an important role in both freight and passenger transportation to Orillia into the 1970s. As recently as 1971, twelve passenger trains [a day] stopped in Orillia.22 This service rapidly declined during the rail cuts of the 1980s. The CPR closed its terminal in the early 1980s. The CNR cut its train service to three trains a day in 1987, and contemplated closing the terminal entirely, at which time the City of Orillia leased the station.
Orillia's GTR station (Figures 1, 7-10) was built in 1917, during World War I. Its design was drawn by the Office of the Chief Engineer of the GTR and approved by the Superintendent of the Barrie Division in July of 1917 (Figure 11). In concept Orillia's station is a transitional building, an interesting mix of pre- and post-war design ideas.
The station is distinguished by its simple clarity of massing and form. It is composed of a narrow rectangular body with a steeply pitched recessed hipped roof. The body and the roof are the same vertical height, providing a balance in massing. This core form is described by one contemporary as
54×142 ft. with umbrella roof.23
Visual interest is created by four extensions from this central form, one on each façade. On the north and south ends (Figures 8, 9) balanced porte-cochères create light weight wings. A porte-cochère also extends from the main entrance of the station on the east façade (Figure 10). It is balanced by a protruding telegrapher's bay on the west façade (Figures 7, 11). These protrusions share a common ridge line, lower than that of the main body of the building. In both angle and pitch, their roofs echo the "umbrella"lines of the main station. Together, these protrusions create a second, lighter mass that overlays the main building. This secondary mass adds variety to the form of the station. It also extends the station's exterior dimensions, creating the illusion that it is much larger than its core dimensions suggest.
The exterior of the building is carefully detailed. The front portico has an extra cap (Figure 12) and the asbestos tiles on the roof are octagonal in shape,
laid diagonally.24 The front door itself was
of French pattern, flanked by carved pillars (Figure 13). The upper halves of all of the station's double hung windows are paned, and the
Longford stone used as a splash panel is roughly textured in comparison to the smooth
dark brown fire flash brick.25 above it. Auxiliary doors without window lights are elaborately panelled (Figure 14). The brickwork on the portico pillars is deliberately ornate (Figure 15). While the station's brackets are restricted in size, they are finely detailed (Figure 15). From close up, this station is as rich in composition as its pre-war counterparts.
This lavish use of small scale detail provides points of visual interest that distract the eye from the overall simplicity of the station's form, expanding its dimension. The Orillia Packet summed up its effect by describing the new station as
not large but with an
exceedingly attractive appearance.26
The same interplay of massing-reliant modern form and Edwardian detail is evident in the St. Catharines' GTR station (Figure 16). Its design was described in Canadian Railway and Marine World along with that of the Orillia station in November 1917. Both buildings were situated near major military bases and were consequently of considerable public interest. While both designs are simple in basic form, the St. Catharines' station is much larger than that in Orillia. Ornate details are, consequently, more prominently displayed on its façade.
Orillia station's design has been compared to that of the St. Mary's, Ontario GTR station (Figure 17) constructed in 1912.27 While there is a comparison in the simple, clear, texture-dependent character of their designs, the Orillia station is a much larger, more ornate building. Orillia is an off-shoot of a common pre-war station design model, the 1896 initial design for Guelph's GTR station (Figure 18). This design has a recessed hipped roof central mass supported by secondary rooflines with a similar form. The main façade contains a balanced design grouped around a central door, although its central mass may be elongated on one end as in Orillia and the initial Guelph design. Buildings with this core form often have secondary wings as at Cobourg (Figure 19), or extending secondary porte-cochères as at Orillia. The example actually built in Guelph in 1911 (Figure 20) incorporates a tower. Orillia's station design is a simple later interpretation of this concept.
The exterior of Orillia's station retains its original appearance today. Although the east canopy was enclosed by the CNR to create additional storage space in 1952, this was removed during the refurbishment of the building in 1987.28
In functional terms, the Orillia GTR station resembles the 1896 Guelph model with one important exception associated with wartime evolution.
This change is lauded by the Orillia Packet:
The waiting room accommodation is much better than heretofor, there being one compartment for all extending almost the whole length of the building, with the ticket office and operator's room at the centre.29
A comparison of Figures 11 and 18 shows that the two walls providing separate ladies' and gentlemen's waiting rooms off the main waiting room are absent. This change, seen earlier but now accelerated by wartime social change, is one evident in other stations constructed during the war. The GTR stations built in St. Catharines (Figure 16) and Alexandria, Ontario in 1917 (Figure 2l), for example, have single large waiting rooms.
In Orillia, this waiting room was richly and imaginatively decorated for a time when there was a shortage of materials.
The side walls of the main waiting room will be divided into five ornamental plaster arches with pilasters in between. The plastering will be trowelled stucco finish, with white plastermoulds and ceiling beams. The floor will be ofterrazo, composed of varied color marble chips.... The walls of main waiting room to height of 4 ft will be covered with burlap.... The trim of main waiting room will be Geor ia pine, and all wood work will be finished in bog oak.30
Use of five arches as an interior motif is an interesting evolution of the original 1896 base plan for this station. On the original plan, and all of the pre-war versions built, five arches were used as aperture surrounds to establish the character of the buildings' exteriors.
These five ornamental arches were arranged along the east wall of the Orillia station interior. The one in the centre accommodated the station door, as
a small alcove with vaulted ceiling, and a seat on each side of same.31 Those on the outsides contained washrooms, with associated small ladies' rest room and gentlemen's smoking room under the second and fourth arches. These rooms were
finished in Georgia pine with burlap dado to height of 4 ft. with 3 in. strapping.32 The rest room and smoking room were separated from the main waiting room by glassed french doors.
Many of these features are still visible today. The arches and glassed french doors have been retained as a part of the present decor (Figure 22). The walls are still stuccoed and burlapped, although they are now painted green (Figures 23, 24). The ticket office retains its defining wicket arch and central location. Period artifacts such as chairs and a railway clock (Figure 25) have been added to give the interior special atmosphere. The size of the waiting room has been reduced to a three arch area today (Figure 22). New walls have been added along the north and south ends to accommodate modern functions (Figures 23, 24, 26). Those on the north end contain washrooms, and the former washroom and restroom areas have been converted into offices. The original lines of the waiting room are still visible over partial walls (Figure 24) and around carefully orchestrated dividers (Figure 22). The waiting room has, however, lost its spacious ambience and now has a cramped feeling. French doors have been added to provide access to some of the new offices (Figure 23), and it is difficult to distinguish some original features from new ones. Doors extending from the waiting room to the track have also been closed.
The south end of Orillia's station initially contained the baggage and express rooms. These were completely separate from the waiting room. They occupied the entire south end of the station, centrally sub-divided on a north-south axis. Separate doors which still exist under the south porte-cochère (Figure 14) provided access. Today these areas have been completely renovated as offices. There is no remnant of their original finish, although the original plans state it had a maple floor and lapped wall siding.
Orillia's station had modern utilities from the time it was built. As Canadian Railway and Marine World reported,
The lighting will be electric, of the a.c. system. It will be heated with hot water from boiler located in basement below baggage room.33 A crawl space extended under the rest of the station, constructed of concrete, like the station foundation.
With its large waiting room, spacious covered entrance, and extensive porte-cochères facing the track, Orillia's station was built to accommodate the movement of crowds. Porte-cochères were recommended by railway architects at the turn of the century to facilitate the movement of suburban commuters. In Orillia they were utilized to accommodate troop movement in war and crowds of vacation travellers in peacetime.
Orillia's CNR station is located at 150 Front Street South. It sits on the site of its predecessor, between Front Street and the water at the foot of King Street. Front Street is Highway 12, the major route between Whitby and Huntsville.
This is the third station associated with GTR track in Orillia. The first was built in 1874 by the GTR's predecessor, the Midland Railway. The station moved to this site in 1886 when the GTR built its own (the second) station (Figure 4).34 This site itself is on former swamp land stabilized by the railway embankments along the harbour.35
Track approaching the station site was altered when this railway station was built. The Midland line was moved to the west of the coal chute instead of the east.36 The coal chute disappeared long ago. This was the only other railway structure on the station site.
Selection of this station site was initially governed not by its association with the main street, Mississauga Street, but by its proximity to the harbour (Figures 3, 27). Until World War I, steamboats were the major form of transportation in the Orillia area, and much of the station's business was associated with the transshipment of goods that arrived by rail. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, vacation travellers also appreciated this proximity to the harbour. By the time this 1917 station was built, the railway itself had had an influence in shaping the town. While harbour and parkland flanked its site on the north, the area to the south housed large factories attracted by the rai1.37
The station site must once have had an extensive garden. Its porte-cochères were made to overlook extensive lawns, and the site still houses considerable green space (Figure 28). Gardens were an important tourist attraction in Orillia's harbour area. In the late 1880s the town acquired the former Orillia Asylum grounds and turned them into Couchiching Beach Park, a beautifully landscaped property within walking distance of the station.
In recent years, the station site (Figure 28) has been regroomed to suit modern transportation needs. Today, it has a large paved parking lot that is sub-divided into a formal taxi area by a prefabricated utility building. The site itself is large, and is identified on Front Street by a flag and baggage cart (Figure 29). The south end still overlooks a wooded area adjacent to the harbour.
Orillia values this station so highly that the town has accepted custodianship of it. When the CNR attempted to close the station in 1978,38 Orillia campaigned to keep it open. In 1987, when the CNR clearly intended to leave the station, the town acquired a grant from the Ontario government to finance the station's restoration, then sought clients to use it.
Today, Orillia's station is the city's transit centre. It acts as a bus and VIA Rail terminal. It accommodates the local Chamber of Commerce, the town's visitor bureau and its local license office. This station has also been designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act as a heritage building.39
The Province of Ontario recognized the heritage value of this station when it provided funding for its restoration. A comparative study of the Province's early railway stations describes this Orillia's example as a Class B Building
Historically significant. Architecturally unique period style for stations located in midwest region, though comparable to St. Mary's.40
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