Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Railway Station Report
Former Canadian National Railways Station
Analytica Associates, Edmonton, Alberta
The Canadian National Railways (CNR) station (Figure 1) at Bradford, Ontario (Figure 2) was erected by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in about 1900, though the exact date of its construction is unknown. A replacement for an earlier station at the site, on a line built by the pioneering Ontario, Simcoe and Huron
Railway ( OSH) and later taken over by the GTR, the Bradford station was a product of the latter company's far-reaching programme of upgrading its lines, rolling stock and facilities in Ontario during a period of intense competition with other railway companies.
The design of the Bradford station, which incorporates several distinctive features into a standard third-generation GTR station plan, reflects the growing importance of the town as the shipping point and distribution centre for the surrounding agricultural district. The later history of the building is associated with the commercial exploitation of the nearby Holland Marsh market garden.
While the general outlines of the station's original exterior appearance have been fairly well preserved, many decorative details have disappeared. The interior of the building has been extensively modernised in successive renovations, with the loss of much of its distinctive finish and virtually all of its fittings.
CNR passenger and freight facilities have long since been removed, but Bradford station remains open, on a limited basis. GO Transit, which operates a daily commuter train service to Toronto, leases space for a ticket office, and other parts of the building are used by the CNR for office and storage space. No decision has been taken, as yet, concerning the future of the station.
Built during the last great railway boom in Ontario, in the decades prior to the First World War, the Bradford station is associated with key themes in the social and economic history of the province. The first steam railway line to operate in Canada West, the
OSH line between Toronto and Bradford, opened in 1853, was the harbinger of the epoch-making transformation of British North America
from a primitive economy based on water transportation to a more advanced industrial economy based on overland commerce.1 The subsequent northward expansion of the
OSH, and the rapid proliferation of competing railway lines across southern Ontario, played a crucial role in the pattern of settlement, the development of industries and markets, and, above all, in the concentration of economic power in the largest, most favourably situated centres, especially Toronto and Hamilton.2
Agitation began as early as the 1830s for a railway linking Lake Ontario with Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay, along an established fur trading route, to assist in the opening up of the fertile region to the north of Toronto.3 At the same time, the projected railway line was intended to act as a portage connecting Lake Ontario with shipping on the upper Great Lakes, thus enabling Toronto to attract a share of the burgeoning passenger and freight traffic between the Atlantic seaboard and the states of the American mid-West, then
in the real rush of settlement.4 Eventually constructed in the early 1850s with financial assistance from municipal, county and provincial governments, the
OSH, popularly known as the "Oats, Straw & Hay", ran north through Aurora, Newmarket and Bradford, to Barrie, on Lake Simcoe, and provided an immediate stimulus to settlement and to local production of grain, timber and lumber for export.5 With the completion of the line as far as the Georgian Bay port of Collingwood, in 1855 (Figure 3), and the commencement of steamship service to Lake Michigan ports, American grain also began to move through Toronto, which was rapidly developing as a railway hub and entrepot.6
OSH, however, was dogged from the outset by severe financial difficulties, exacerbated by sub-standard equipment and facilities. Re-christened as the Northern Railway ( NR) in 1858, the line was forced into receivership in 1859, only to be reorganized and largely rebuilt in the 1860s, and extended north from Barrie in the 1870s.7 In the event, the NR owed its survival, not to the American transit trade, but to increased revenues from local freight traffic, as the grain and lumber industries in the region expanded, and towns like Bradford, Barrie and Collingwood developed.8 Toronto, in particular, reaped the benefits of this growth; in effect, the NR created for the city a thriving hinterland which allowed it to consolidate its position as
the greatest distributing and marketing centre
Although a rival line backed by Hamilton interests, the Hamilton & North Western Railway (
H&NW), running from Hamilton via Barrie to Collingwood (Figure 3), was opened in 1878, the duplication of the NR's service proved unprofitable, and the two competitors soon merged to form the North & North Western Railway ( N&NW). Thereafter, the new company worked to secure the long-term interests of both Toronto and Hamilton by establishing a link with the transcontinental line of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), located further north.10 In 1886, the N&NW assumed control of the Northern & Pacific Junction Railway, with a charter to build a line extending north from the terminus of the NR at Gravenhurst to meet the CPR. With this connection, the N&NW, still primarily a carrier of agricultural and forest products, assumed an added strategic significance as a potential conduit for the burgeoning traffic to and from the Canadian West. Recognising this potential, and seeking to forestall the CPR, already a major presence in southern Ontario, the GTR took over the N&NW in 1888, and incorporated it into the expanding GTR system.11
In the era of rapid economic expansion in Canada prior to 1914, the policies of the GTR were dictated largely by its rivalry with the CPR.12 Despite its often precarious finances, the GTR moved to protect its territory from the encroachments of the CPR by systematically acquiring a number of strategically located smaller lines, like the
N&NW, and by carrying out a major upgrading of the tracks, rolling stock and facilities throughout its system, as traffic increased. Double-tracking began on parts of the GTR line, curves and gradients were reduced, faster and heavier trains were introduced, and many of the company's older passenger depots, including the one at Bradford, were replaced with new buildings reflecting the GTR's corporate image.13 This far-reaching programme of improvements, reflecting the dynamic management style of Charles Melville Hays, strongly enhanced the earning capacity of the company, despite its failure to exclude the CPR from its territory.14
Meanwhile, the GTR, through a subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific, pushed ahead with the construction of a third transcontinental line in the West, to rival both the CPR and the Canadian Northern Railway, and, ultimately, this massive project ruined the parent company. After the First World War, the GTR was amalgamated into the government-owned CNR system, which still operates over sections of the old GTR routes in Ontario, including the former
NR line through Bradford. Although the CNR has long since discontinued passenger service, the Bradford station, a survival from the pre-1914 boom era, is still in use today, serving commuters on the Government of Ontario (GO) Transit System.
The origins of Bradford can be traced to the extension of Yonge Street beyond Holland Landing to Lake Simcoe in the 1820s, and the subsequent influx of settlers into the territory on the west side of the Holland River.15 The village was laid out in the 1830s, but its development continued to be hampered by poor communications. Regular stagecoach service from Toronto eventually began in 1850, and the road from Holland Landing was planked in 1851,16 but it was the arrival of the
OSH (later NR) line, in June 1853, which transformed Bradford (Figure 4). The opening of the railway provided an immediate impetus to the growth of the villages along the line, and to the establishment of local industries.17 Bradford, hitherto an isolated agricultural hamlet, rapidly became a busy sawmilling centre and shipping point.18 For several years, it served as the landing for Lake Simcoe steamships transferring cargo to the railway, until the NR constructed port facilities on the lake itse1f.19
NR line pushed northward, through heavy pine forests, the lumber trade came to dominate the economy of the region, and though the focus of lumbering activities gradually shifted from Simcoe County to the area around Georgian Bay, Bradford long remained an important mill town.20 At the same time, with the Toronto markets easily accessible over the NR, Bradford began to develop into a major grain storage and shipping centre, serving the surrounding wheat-growing district.21 Warehouses and elevators were constructed at the town, and the amount of grain shipped to Toronto increased dramatically in the 1860s.22 The population of Bradford grew apace, reaching about 2,000 in the early 1870s, as the local export trade flourished.23 Nevertheless, the long-term decline of the lumber and grain industries in South Simcoe in the last decades of the 19th century finally resulted in the stagnation of Bradford's economy; mills closed and the population of the town fell sharply after 1880.24
Recovery was gradual, but a measure of prosperity had returned to Bradford by the turn of the century. Towards the end of 1899, the town's newspaper observed that, with a number of new houses under construction, Bradford had
certainly taken on a boom.25 A thriving livestock industry had developed in the district, and it was reported that large numbers of hogs and cattle were being herded to the GTR depot to be shipped by rail to the market in Toronto.26 Meanwhile, the modernization of the equipment at the Bradford flour mill had raised production capacity to 300 barrels a day,
with a volume of business which kept the mill running day and night during six or eight months of the year, served by its own elevators and railway siding.27 In addition, a planing factory was established at Bradford in 1899 and soon became one of the chief employers in the town; its high annual turnover was dependent on the GTR rail link.28 Indeed, booming local industries generated much valuable freight business for the railway, and it was during this period of economic growth that the GTR replaced the old station at Bradford with a more modern building, probably in 1900.29 The same year, the GTR also replaced stations further down the line at Newmarket and Aurora, laid new rails between Toronto and Barrie, and introduced new passenger coaches on the route, as part of its system-wide programme of improvements to its physical assets and facilities.30
The viability of Bradford's economy was based on access by rail to the Toronto market, and the new railway station long continued to be the focus of industrial activities at the town, with mills, elevators and warehouses situated nearby.31 The draining of part of Holland Marsh, just outside Bradford, in the 1920s, and an influx of immigrants to the area, led to the commencement of commercial market gardening operations on the reclaimed marshland in the 1930s.32 The remarkable success of this project, and rapid population growth in the area after the Second World War, revitalized Bradford. A number of cold storage, processing and pre-packaging plants were constructed at the town to handle the large-scale vegetable production of the marsh garden farms.33 Despite growing competition from trucking firms, the CNR for many years played a key role in the export of this produce; adjacent to the railway tracks there grew up
a continuous row of industrial buildings, with loading platforms on either side of each building, one for loading refrigerated cars on private railway sidings, and the other for the packing of vegetables into the huge refrigerated trucks.34 A survival from an earlier boom era, the station remained active, and had to be extended in the later 1950s, to cope with the expanding freight business at the town.
While the railway's impact on the local economy has gradually declined, Bradford continues to thrive as a regional processing, distribution and service centre, well-served by provincial highways.35 In recent years, the amalgamated town of Bradford West Gwillimbury, with a population approaching 17,000, has also developed as a residential suburb of Toronto, and GO Transit, which leases part of the Bradford station, operates one commuter train a day along the CNR tracks.
The station constructed at Bradford by the GTR around the turn of the century, replacing an earlier depot at the site, was a product of the company's extensive programme of improvements to its physical assets and facilities, in the boom era before the First World War. Between 1890 and 1905, as passenger and freight traffic increased, the GTR replaced most of the depots along the old
NR line with modern buildings,36 their architecture intended to embody the corporate
identity and personality of the GTR under Hays.37 While these "third generation" GTR stations were most often of relatively simple frame construction, they did not lack visual style, exhibiting in varying degrees that characteristic combination of
structural rationalism and visual romanticism which architectural historians have noted in a wide range of buildings of this vintage.38 The gable and dormers, bellcast hipped roof, and deep-set eaves of the Bradford station (Figures 1-5), for example, are typical features of a number of pre-war GTR stations, and impart to these functional structures an appealingly picturesque quality.
The basic external design of the Bradford station, a one-storey, rectangular frame building, appears to have been adapted from a cost-saving standardized plan widely employed by the GTR in this period and later designated by the company as its "Standard No.3 Station" (Figure 6). The formula was not rigid; the GTR was prepared to allow more local modification of its stock plans than some other railway companies,39 and details sometimes varied significantly from station to station. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to reconstruct with certainty all the details of the original design for the Bradford station, as neither the blueprints, nor any early photographs of the elevations, survive.40 It is clear, however, that the Bradford design exhibited some similarities to the plans for other replacement stations constructed around the same time along the former
NR line, at Aurora (1900; RSR-13; Figure 7) and Newmarket (1900; RSR-138; Figure 8), both still standing.
The overall dimensions of the three stations were roughly the same (approximately 70'×20', though all three were later extended), In each case, the long hipped roof was broken by a central gable over the track side bay; the Aurora and Newmarket examples also had end gables, while the Bradford plan included small, hipped dormers, front and rear (Figures 1, 5 and 7-9). All three stations were finished, originally, with vertical board-and-batten siding (Figures 7, 8-10), which has been described as the "salient feature" of the so-called "Stick Style" of station architecture.41 Drawing on a contemporary American housing style
which focused on the bones, or framing of a building..., Stick Style stations mimicked High Victorian Gothic on a domestic scale, relying for their effect on the use of contrasting colours and surface textures, with a limited range of added decorative details.42 With their vivid paint schemes, ornamental roof ridges, and elaborate bargeboard decorations at the gables, the stations at Aurora and Newmarket were typical products of the genre (Figures 7-8), and there is evidence that the Bradford design, too, incorporated elements of the Stick Style. In addition to the trademark board-and-batten siding, for example, the Bradford station, as constructed, also featured a distinctive canopied shelter, extending from the south end of the building at a slightly lower level than the main roof, and supported on two slender wooden posts (Figure 11). Open shelters of this type were characteristic of Stick Style station design; a smaller example was constructed at Aurora.43
In its original state, then, the Bradford station undoubtedly bore at least a superficial resemblance to its sister stations at Aurora and Newmarket, but the fragmentary nature of the surviving evidence concerning the Bradford design precludes more detailed comparisons. Of the original exterior finish of the Bradford building, nothing now remains, apart from a small patch of Victorian "fish-scale" woodwork under the gable; the board-and-batten siding and other decorative details (if any) have long since disappeared (Figure 12). What is left is recognisably a turn-of-the-century GTR depot, but with few distinguishing characteristics. The gable is unusual; sharply truncated, it is perched atop a flaring, hipped overhang at the track side bay (Figures 12-13). Other notable features include the very wide eaves, which produce the building's trademark profile (Figures 5-14); exposed wooden canopy brackets (Figures 9, 13-15); and raised loading platforms serving the front, back and end doors of the freight room at the north end of the station (Figures 5-16).
The hipped, canopied shelter, which introduced a degree of complexity into the original roofline of the Bradford station, was removed, together with part of the main roof, when the building was extended by some 25 feet at the south end, in 1953 (Figure 11). While care was taken to continue the line of the existing roof as seamlessly as possible, the elongation of the station clearly has upset the symmetry of its original proportions, making the building seem overstretched, and weakening the visual impact of the central gable and dormers (Figures 1-17). The construction of the extension also necessitated some changes in the configuration of the station's doors and windows (Figure 11), and further rearrangement occurred during later renovations. In the course of these alterations, the exterior of the building has taken on a slightly ramshackle appearance, with patches of mismatched siding much in evidence, and the dormers boarded over (Figures 14, 17-18). Still, the station's exterior remains in fairly good condition, overall, though it urgently requires paint (Figures 14, 15-18), and the raised loading platforms, in particular, are showing signs of wear-and-tear (Figure 16).
Shorn of much of its decoration, the Bradford station nevertheless continues to convey something of the turn-of-the-century original. Features such as the GTR-style station nameboards (Figure 5), the track-side signal pole (Figure 13), and the tall, brick chimneys (Figure 17), provide authentic touches. One glaring anachronism is the glass and steel commuters' shelter erected by GO Transit just under the eaves on the west side of the building (Figures 17-18).
A one-storey structure, the Bradford station was built without a basement, at grade. The plan did not include living quarters for the station agent and his family, but, as a "combination station", the building was designed to provide both passenger and freight/baggage facilities, as well as operational and general offices, under one roof. The original layout, with the baggage and freight rooms occupying one end of the station, the waiting room the other, and the ticket and operator's office in the middle (Figure 6), was a conventional response to the requirements of both the public and the station staff, which would have included day and night operators, baggage, express and mail clerks, and the agent.
Initially, the largest single space in the building was the north end freight room, which had a raised floor and raised loading platforms on three sides (Figures 5, 12-19), specifically designed to facilitate the handling of burgeoning exports of agricultural products from the town.44 Connecting with the freight room, down a set of steps (Figure 19), was a much smaller baggage room, with public access by a door on the track side (Figure 6). The baggage room, in turn, opened on the central office area. In this rather narrow space, the operator sat at a desk in the track side bay, with a clear view up and down the track, and access to the signals (Figure 20); behind him was the ticket and telegraph office, with a wicket and counter opening on the public waiting room, which occupied the south end of the building. The waiting room, with its large windows on three sides, and a single door on the track side, does not appear to have been segregated by gender; both the mens' and ladies' washrooms were located along the west wall of the room (Figure 11). Outside the waiting room, beyond the end wall, a canopy supported on tall wooden posts, created an open shelter for passengers and their baggage.
Over the years, as traffic patterns shifted and the role of the station changed, the functional division of space within the building did not remain static, but also evolved, to meet new demands. The most significant change, the extension of the station, in the 1950s, by 25 feet at the south end, to create a large express room (25'×20'), coincided with the post-war boom in shipments of vegetables from the Holland Marsh farms. Inevitably, this addition necessitated extensive modification of the building's interior walls, doors, floors and windows (Figure 11). Further alterations have resulted from the subsequent decline of passenger and freight traffic at Bradford, and the eventual termination of CNR passenger service in the 1970s. Thus, for example, parts of the former office and baggage room have been adapted for use by conductors and crews (Figure 21), several partition walls have been added, and the former waiting room has been converted into a ticket office by GO Transit, which operates a daily commuter train service between Bradford and Toronto (Figure 22). The express room occupying the south end extension has been closed off and now serves as storage space for the CNR.
Successive conversions and renovations have obliterated almost all vestiges of the original interior finish and appointments of the Bradford station. No trace survives of the tongue-and-groove sheathing of varnished pine on the office and waiting room walls (Figure 23), which was a distinctive feature of the Bradford building and its sister stations at Aurora and Newmarket.45 Modern panelling has been installed throughout these areas, together with dropped ceilings, flourescent lighting and linoleum flooring (Figures 20-22). The former baggage room, too, has undergone a number of changes, including the partitioning off of the boiler, and the replacement of the standard baggage doors with an overhead door (Figure 24). Only the freight room, with its floor of rough boards and exposed rafters, still conveys any real sense of the turn-of-the-century interior (Figure 19); a local seed company is currently using it for storage space.
Apart from two authentic-looking wooden benches in the ticket office (Figure 22), all of the station's characteristic original furnishings, such as the pot-bellied stoves, operator's desk, and ticket wicket and counter, have been removed. Nevertheless, the interior of the building generally has been well-maintained, and remains in good condition.
The Bradford station is located at 1 Station Road, a short distance to the east of the intersection of Holland Street and Bridge Street, on a site somewhat detached from the residential and commercial areas of the town (Figure 25). Like its predecessor, the building stands on the west side of the CNR (former
NR) tracks, at the point where they curve sharply northward after crossing the Holland River (Figure 26). The NR made a practice of locating its stations well away from the centres of the towns through which it passed,46 probably to save money, but the Bradford site, at the eastern limit of the town, immediately proved popular with local exporters of lumber and grain. Massive wheat bins were built on either side of the first station,47 and other storehouses were later erected nearby. Despite grumblings from the travelling public about the condition of the road and footpath to the station,48 passenger traffic also flourished, though the station remained some distance from hotels or other amenities (Figure 26). At the turn of the century, when the GTR constructed the present station, the site remained sufficiently isolated to handle large shipments of hogs and cattle bound for the Toronto market.49
wide open spaces.. .backed by the CNR tracks were eventually built up, with
a continuous row of industrial buildings and shippers' warehouses, in the boom era after 1945, when large scale shipments of Holland Marsh vegetables began.50 A number of buildings of this type still stand in close proximity to the Bradford station, to the south (Figure 27) and west (Figure 28), and somewhat further away to the north, beyond the commuters' parking lot (Figure 29). To the east, directly across the tracks, a large open area of waste ground produces a wide vista from the station (Figure 30), and a residential area is just visible in the distance, on a hill to the northeast (Figure 30).
While the Bradford station remains open, at least on a limited basis, for the time being, its future remains uncertain. Neither CNR nor GO Transit have given any indication of their plans for the building. There seems to be no imminent threat to its survival, but, by the same token, little has been done to ensure its long- term viability. There is no Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) at Bradford, and, given the apparent lack of urgency, the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury has so far been reluctant to take the planning initiative.51 However, there is some evidence of local interest in the station, and the Bradford West Gwillimbury Local History Association recently has undertaken some research into the building's history.52
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