Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
VIA Rail/Canadian National Railways Station
Heritage Research Associates Inc.
The VIA Rail/Canadian National Railways (CNR) station (Figure 1) at Gananoque Junction was built in 1901. It is located 4.6 miles outside Gananoque, where the Thousand Islands Railway (TIR), built by the town of Gananoque, joined the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) mainline.
The Gananoque Junction station was designed by the GTR's Office of the Master of Bridges and Buildings in Toronto with a special purpose in mind. It was to accommodate tourists transfering from the GTRfs mainline to travel a short distance to Gananoque, gateway to the Thousand Islands area on the local TIR. This was one of the first resort excursions sponsored by the GTR under the new leadership of Charles Melville Hays, and illustrates the beginning of the GTRfs participation in an important early 20th century phenomenon, the vacation excursion.
The design of the station reflected this new role aesthetically in the incorporation of a tower and the maximization of detailing. Its rural site was also an early example of station grounds beautification. More important still, the design of this station is functionally rare in that it did not accommodate freight or express functions. Gananoque Junction station is a rare early example of a commuter station designed (and used) solely for passenger purposes. It still serves that function today as part of the VIA Rail network.
Gananoque Junction station is located where the GTR mainline joins the TIR line servicing the Town of Gananoque (Figures 2, 3). It was constructed when the GTR opened its first vacation service to the Thousand Islands at the turn of the century as a means of diversifying company revenues and clearly illustrates railway involvement in resort area development.
When the GTR built its original mainline from Portland, Maine to Toronto in 1855-56, it passed to the north of Gananoque which was already commercially well serviced by St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario steamboats (Figure 4) . Not until the 1880s, when railways had proved they could offer effective access to inland areas, was a spur line built to connect the harbour at Gananoque to the GTR trunk mainline. This short six mile line1 was the TIR. It was completed in 1889 by the E.W. Rathbun Co. of Deseronto.
The TIR was initially an industrial railway. It was built by
one of the most powerful lumber companies in Canada.2 According to railway historian Elizabeth Wilmot, the company:
required transportation for their lumber from the interior forests. Timber was shipped to Gananoque Junction, then switched to the short line, where it was then transferred to ships for overseas markets.3
It is more likely that the ships leaving Gananoque harbour travelled to Deseronto. Just as it built the TIR, the Rathbun Co. opened one of Canada's first wood distillation plants in Deseronto. Known as the Deseronto Chemical Works4, this plant processed thousands of trees in the manufacture of wood alcohol from 1889-98. In 1898, the Deseronto plant was up-graded by the addition of an iron plant and a charcoal by-product oven. By the turn of the century Rathbun had become Ontario's primary railway construction supplier. Its factories produced iron rails, railway ties, and the creosote to preserve them. The Deseronto Chemical Works' appetite for timber soon exhausted the supply provided through Gananoque, and in good business fashion, Rathbun began to look for a way to divest itself of the Gananoque line.
Much to its surprise, the railway was leased by the GTR itself. At the turn of the century, the GTR was looking for ways to consolidate and expand use of its own lines in Ontario. Under the leadership of Vice President Charles Melville Hays, the GTR signed co-operative agreements with American lines to broaden the connections available to its customers, then hired new managers to improve the service it offered. As part of this upgrade, the GTR double tracked its mainline (to the north of Gananoque), regrooming the road so that
it would be faultless in regard to gradients and alignment, ... in order to make the enterprize physically first class.5 To pay for all this activity, the GTR explored new sources of revenue. One of them was the business of transporting passengers to summer vacation resorts.
The railway offered wealthy North Americans a convenient way to travel to waterfront vacation areas to escape hot, smoke-laden cities. Seaside
health resorts permitted people to partake in what an advertisement for one such area described as:
the curative properties of the balsam-laden atmosphere, the general air of restfulness, together with the entire absence of mosquitoes and malaria, ... an elysium for the hay fever patient, jaded tourist, pleasure seeker and sportsman.6
The GTR's longstanding commercial links to the large American industrial centres along the Atlantic seaboard provided an existing road for this new passenger traffic. Gananoque, which had already begun to develop as a tourist route for steamer tourists,7 was a ready-made destination, and
in the early 1900s, [the GTR] used to run specials to Gananoque for tours of
the Thousand Islands.8 These were co-ordinated by the new Passenger Agency established by Hays under M.C. Dickson whose
the supervision of all the passenger business, both regular and special, arranging special excursions on holidays, the distribution of posters and necessary advertising and time-tables, making arrangements for extra coaches ....9
The Thousand Islands was the GTR's trial foray into the vacation area business. It was so successful that the company expanded its vacation services to areas like Muskoka10 in the following decade. Gananoque's Junction station was built in 1901 to service passengers on this new tourist route, and as a consequence it is also known as Thousand Island Junction station.
When this new venture proved a success the GTR purchased the capital stock, railway and property of the TIR on 6 March 1911.11 From that time forward, official sources claim the line
operated in the interest of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and its successor the Canadian National Railways (CNR). The TIR nevertheless maintained its identity as a separate company until 1957. Not only did it retain its own head office in Montréal,12 it also developed its own locally sensitive, casual style of operation. Gananoque's citizens have recounted many stories of flagging down the train to hitch a ride, and rushing to the rescue of winter passengers while they waited for snow to be thawed to run the boiler. On the TIR, a vacation atmosphere persisted, as both the TIRts staff and its atrons regularly fished from the comfort of plush rail cars.13
The Gananoque Junction station was initially maintained by a single GTR agent and telegraph operator14 who manned the switch. When the TIR was absorbed fully into the CNR system in 1957 its operation was assumed by the CNR's Great Lakes Region in Kingston. By 1962, the CNR had stopped TIR passenger service.15 Freight service to Gananoque was terminated in the early 1970s, effectively ending use of all TIR facilities except this station which contined to provide mainline passenger service from just outside the town. Recently Gananoque Junction station has been turned over to VIA rail for passenger use.
Construction of the Gananoque Junction station is allied to the development of two locations, Gananoque Junction itself and the Town of Gananoque. In Gananoque, it confirmed the town's transition from a mid-19th century commercial and industrial harbour centre to a turn of the century vacation area reliant upon long distance visitors. The presence of the station led to the creation of Gananoque Junction.
The Ontario Directory first lists Gananoque Junction as an entity in 1901.16 It was created late in 1900 when the GTR moved its facilities
about 1½ miles east of Cheeseboro,17 the site of its freight depot north of Gananoque since at least 1860-61 (Figure 4). This early depot was situated
on a steep grade at the bottom of a hill, and
trains experienced considerable difficulty in restarting after their stop.18 The new location, Gananoque Junction, was at
the top of the hill, to avoid the difficulties & danger involved in stopping trains at the bottom of the hollow.19 When this move occurred,
an additional track for the T.I.R. trains was laid along the south side of the main line,20 providing facilities for passengers to switch off the GTR mainline onto the small TIR for their journey into Gananoque. By the 1940s seven houses21 had been built in the area of the station (Figure 5). These, together with the 50 or so houses that have been constructed since, constitute Gananoque Junction. This small community, located in an agricultural area north of the Town of Gananoque, is governed separately as part of Leeds and Lansdowne Township.
Gananoque itself is about six miles south of the station, at the point where the Gananoque and St. Lawrence rivers meet. It was founded in 1792 by Loyalist Joel Stone, and prospered early as a commercial and industrial centre. The community was located on Ontario's most important early transportation route, the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes system, and it had water power critical to the operation of mills and manufacturing facilities.
By the 1850s the Gananoque River was lined with factories on both banks (Figure 6), and the town considered itself a mini
Birmingham of Canada.22 Its
principal goods were those made from iron and steel; wheels, springs and axles for the carriage trade, barrel hoops, rivets, nuts and bolts, rakes, shovels, and many other small items. At one time, too, it was estimated that one-quarter of all the flour received at the port of Montreal came from Gananoque's mills, and the lumber and ship-building flourished for many years until the timber was exhausted.23
The Town of Gananoque's24 investment in the TIR in 1889 was one of the avenues attempted to spark future industry. Its success was short-lived, but in the meantime Gananoque used the TIR to up-date its profile for potential investors. The TIR's route zigzagged all around town (Figure 7), stopping at every possible industrial and passenger location.
A second avenue provided more lasting results. As one promoter stated,
Gananoque has all the natural requisites for a charming summer resort, and the men who are plucky enough to aid Dame Nature will surely reap a rich reward.25 These assets were slowly cultivated at the end of the 19th century as Gananoque joined nearby Canandian and American communities as part of the Thousand Island resort area, an area dependent on yacht and steamer as its main forms of transportation. By the 1880s Gananoque was:
recognized as one of the leading summer resorts. The Town itself, the islands of the St. Lawrence River and the chain of lakes and streams to the north all combine to attract those who desire to spend the summer months amid varied scenery and wholesome surroundings ....
The name Gananoque is of undoubted Indian origin, and meansA Place of HealthorRocks Under Running water.26
This resort, which already had a recognized name, was where the GTR resolved to attempt development of its first vacation excursion destination at the turn of the century. The GTR built a new station at Gananoque Junction, as well as what came to be known as the Umbrella stop for tourists in the Town of Gananoque itself (Figure 8). The GTR then billed Gananoque as the
Gateway to the Thousand Islands and advertised it as a tourist resort where rail and water met, providing access to pleasant surroundings, peace, and healthful relaxation (Figure 9).
The success of Thousand Islands' excursions encouraged the GTR to purchase the TIR in 1911. During and after World War I, rail transport provided the main access to the resort. The station at Gananoque Junction was a critical transfer depot during this time period. Under the auspices of the CNR, a station at the wharf in Gananoque (Figure 10) was added to complement TIR facilities in 1929. This station sold tickets for steamer and train tours, permitting the TIR to take advantage of auto tourists travelling on Highway 2, the first through road from Toronto to Montréal. From 1930-50 the TIR carried short run picnic passengers to Gananoque Junction and back. One way and another, Gananoque Junction station was the hub of a profitable tourist industry for both the railway and the Town of Gananoque through the first half of the 20th century.
With the GTR's introduction of vacation area service came a new emphasis on passenger satisfaction. Charles Melville Hays was determined that the GTR's travellers would have the most pleasant trip possible.27 This included special attention to their travelling comfort, and extended to station design. He paid attention to the words of railway architects who claimed:
nothing advertises a road better than tasteful station buildings ... it is ... the most advantageous and best paying policy to provide the most convenient and best equipped stations for the public, regardless of cost.28
Passenger service was a new priority reflected in the GTR's design for a station at Gananoque Junction.
The design created by the Office of the Master of Bridges and Buildings in Toronto (Figures 11, 12) was a pleasant combination of proportioned balance and informal massing. From the track, the passenger function of the building was stressed by a dominant, passenger section on the east end of the station. The features of this section were perfectly balanced, and grouped around a modest central tower. On the west was a recessed, slightly smaller baggage section with a single door. To the west of that was an open platform, both smaller in scale and further recessed. In dimension, the combined length of the two recessed sections equalled that of the passenger portion of the station. This clever definition gave the station at Gananoque Junction the impression of controlled exuberance (Figures 13-15) that it retains today.
From the west (Figure 13), the shingled rooflines of the station present a series of stacked peaks and angles. Each roof has a steep pitch that ends in a reduced angle at the eave, an angle mirrored in the pitch of the platform roof. The peaks of the passenger and baggage section roofs and the tower extend in steps toward the track on a single angled line. Altogether the rooflines create a gentle series of angles that underline the station's informal feeling. They draw the visitor's attention towards the passenger section tower (Figure 16).
Details of the original station were equally well orchestrated. While most were familiar GTR elements to serve as a reminder of the line, others were exaggerated to stress both luxury and informality. The roof ridge, for example, had ornate metal cresting. The tower was topped with a carved finial. The windows were large, with diamond paned transom lights29 to add extra detail. The diamond shaped lights were duplicated on the windows of the tower. These details were small, but they provided a cumulative impression that was special.
The Gananoque Junction station had a picturesque quality reinforced by the large brackets and quarter wainscott that characterized its standard GTR body. The same small station design concepts were clearly used by the GTR in the station it created for its junction with the James Bay Railway at Beaverton30 (Figure 17).
Gananoque Junction station should also be compared to stations in other resort areas developed at the turn of the century. Most of these share the exuberant informality of Gananoque Junction's station, linking its design to such depots as Kenora (Figure 18, RSR 73), Algonquin Park (Figure 19), and Gravenhurst (Figure 20). While these stations differ greatly in appearance, they all have a common exuberance and informality that sets them apart from contemporary station designs in industrial/commercial cities and towns.
Today Gananoque Junction's station (Figures 13-16) has lost most of its special articulation. The building's open platform was removed in the 1960s, and all of the detailed features but its finial have been lost. The walls have long been uniformly covered with siding (first asbestos, now vinyl), obscuring their wainscott feature line. All of the paned windowlights have been removed and walled over. The size of the windows themselves has been reduced and replaced by standardized frames. The windows in the telegrapher's area in the tower, too, have disappeared. The station's large brackets are also gone.
Gananoque Junction's station nevertheless remains an attractive early station because the essential quality of the original design survives in its proportions and in its picturesque roof line.
Since Gananoque's freight continued to be handled at the earlier Cheeseboro depot, the Junction station was devoted entirely to passenger use.31 This functional specialization is quite unusual among railway stations, and is again an echo of Hays'determination that passengers receive special treatment. In single use station such as this, there would be no delays for freight and no question of who merited priority attention. In the winter, the Junction station was intended to provide limited service for small volume local passenger traffic. In the summer, it was to accommodate large tourist excursion groups, and facilitate their smooth transfer from GTR to TIR lines.
These groups had a number of special requirements. In the first place, they varied widely in size. Summer crowds were extensive, while the number of winter passengers was comparatively small. The designers provided a station with limited interior space, judging it sufficient to accommodate winter traffic and the few members of the summer excursions who preferred to be indoors. On the exterior of the building, there was a covered platform, similar to those used in suburban stations (Figure 21). Such a platform would serve to keep both waiting and transferring passengers dry. This shelter was located on the extreme west end of the station (Figure 11).
Separating the shelter from the enclosed station building was a discrete baggage area. The baggage room was linked into the overall design of the complex, but was functionally divided from passengers on the platform to the west and in the station to the east. It was a room that could be locked to contain carts stacked with luggage (Figure 22). It is interesting to note its freight doors were located adjacent to the GTR track to the north to permit quick, convenient access to the mainline, while TIR transactions were less carefully timed. The need for such a facility was clearly defined by the function of the station, for everyone who used it was in transit, and there was only an incidental requirement for access to baggage.
Today, all manifestations of these special functions have been removed from the exterior appearance of the station (Figures 23, 24). The covered platform is gone, and the doors on the south facade of the baggage area are no longer evident (Figures 13, 22). Instead, the exterior of the depot has been refitted to emphasize its similarities to a normal small urban or suburban station.
Fortunately, the interior is not so drastically altered. In Gananoque Junction station, as in many other small station facilities, the interior space of the passenger section was originally subdivided into three spaces (Figure 23). The eastern third of the building was a ladies' waiting room. The central third contained a ticket and telegrapher's office in front with public washrooms to the rear. The western third was a general waiting room area. Each of the waiting rooms was served by a separate ticket wicket from the office (Figure 25): each had its own washroom.
The interior of the Gananoque Junction station was distinctive only in the quality of its finishings. As Figures 26 and 27 show, both the waiting room and the office areas were finished in matched V-groove siding. In the waiting rooms, this siding was complemented by a high plate rail and a low wainscott, both defined by ornate moldings. An unusual rounded corner was also incorporated into the design of the waiting rooms. This, too, is faintly visible today (Figure 26).
While many details of the original interior finish of the building remain, its configuration has been altered (Figures 23, 24). In the early 1950s32 the station's two pot bellied stoves were replaced by a hot air furnace. Since the station has no basement, the two washrooms were moved outward to make a central room for the furnace, requiring the agent's office to be cut back to create a central hallway to provide washroom access. The new hallway joined the former men's and ladies' waiting room areas, and the ticket wicket from the ladies1 waiting room was moved to face the new corridor (Figure 27).
In the 1980s the station was renovated. The west half was sensitively refurbished for use by VIA passengers. The east half was adapted to house CNR automatic switching equipment. The latter has since become obsolete and has been removed, leaving vacant rooms with an early decor. Electric heat was also installed in the 1980s.
Although Gananoque Junction's station is in good repair today, the most unique functional feature of its design, the absence of a freight area, is no longer readily appreciated by modern travellers quite accustomed to transit stations which provide discrete passenger services. In functional concept, the station was ahead of its time.
The Gananoque Junction station is located on Station Road, off County Road Number 43, 4.6 miles north of Gananoque. It sits between two tracks, with the original line of the TIR to the south, and the double tracks of the GTR on the north (Figure 28). The station is located on flat table land in a rural area.
Chamber of Commerce literature from Gananoque in the early 20th century makes much of the town's role as
the market town for a large agricultural district, rich in natural fertility and cultivated according to the modern scientific methods of farming.33 This impression is underlined at the Junction station where the depot site is surrounded by farmland.
By all accounts, the grounds of Gananoque Junction station were beautiful (Figure 5). Elizabeth Wilmot comments that passengers
spending time at the Junction station during the summer months must have found it pleasant because of the exquisite grounds which surrounded the building.34 Indeed, Gananoque Junction had a reputation for
the most beautiful gardens of any station along the line.35
There is little doubt that Gananoque Junction's station had a garden from the time it was built. Beautifully landscaped station sites were consistent with the quality of passenger service Hays was determined to make a hallmark of the line. The Thousand Islands area was probably the first location in which a garden program was pursued by the GTR, as an extensive garden was also developed in neighbouring Brockville at the turn of the century (Figure 29).
As Figure 5 shows, the Gananoque Junction once also had a watertower which stood just to the southeast of the station building. The tower disappeared in the 1950s. There was also a shed in the rear which held coke for the stoves, and a garage for the stationmaster's car. No evidence of these features remains today.
Today, the TIR track which once ran south of the station is gone. A planked platform still exists between the two GTR tracks to the north. The station itself was once surrounded by a planked platform which is now gone. Instead, an elevated asphalt platform has been created which does not allow water to drain easily, and which is already undermining the foundations on the west corner of the baggage area of the building. A small parking area is located situated to the south. To the west is a prefabricated box which houses the computerized switching equipment, which until recently was contained in the station itself.
When the Junction station was threatened with demolition in 1978, citizens of the Town of Gananoque prepared a large petition36 advocating its retention, indicating their interest in its survival. The 1929 TIR station (Figure 10) was preserved by the Town of Gananoque after it was retired by the CNR in 1970, but it has recently burned (1990). The TIR's Umbrella shelter (Figure 8) still remains an object of great affectionate within the town.
Gananoque Junction station is, however, the only long distance railway station that has ever served Gananoque and Leeds and Lansdowne Township passengers. Both communities are proud of the refurbished condition of the station and enjoy commuting from its facilities.
The Gananoque Junction station is listed by the Ontario Government in Planning for Heritage Railway Stations as an unclassified building.37
the Thirty Thousand Islands.... In general character they are similar to the Thousand Islands, (p. 45) indicating that the Thousand Islands had become a well known standard for travellers to assess the potential of other resource areas.
operated independently and reports separately to the Dominion Government.The date of its final operation comes from Wilmot, p. 68.
to aid in the constructionof the Bay of Quinte Railway.
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