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 GWR/GTR/CNR Stuart Street Station

Great Western Railway/Grand Trunk Railway/Canadian National Railway Stuart Street Station

Prologue

Hamilton's first railway station was built on Stuart Street in 1853 by the Great Western Railway (GWR) as part of their Niagara Falls-Windsor line. By 1855 with the opening of the GWR's Hamilton-Toronto line, the GWR Hamilton station was already too small for the crowds, despite being the third largest station on the GWR. Plans were drawn up in 1856 for a larger station, but were rejected by the GWR board of directors due to lower than expected earnings. As a result the station was renovated instead of replaced in 1858. By the early 1870s Hamilton's population had reached 30 000, twice as large as the city's population when the first GWR station opened 20 years earlier. GWR management finally decided to replace the old station with a larger building.

The Beginning

Construction on the new station began in June 1875, behind the existing station. Designed by GWR chief engineer Joseph Hobson, construction was overseen by Peter Brass, with Mr. North responsible for the masonry and roofing. The new station was built in the Gothic Revival style, measuring 350 x 36 ft (106 x 11 m). A second storey was built in the centre of the station measuring 100 x 36 ft (30 x 11 m), with offices for the General Superintendent and the General and Assistant-General freight agents. Built of red brick from the Aldershot brick works with red, green and dark blue slate roof tiles, the new station was built behind the old station, closer to Stuart Street between Tiffany and Caroline Streets. The interior had high ceilings and was finished in ash, pine and walnut. The GWR would go on to use the same design to build a new station in Niagara Falls in 1879, which still stands to this day.

Construction of the foundation of the new station proved to be troublesome, as the high local water table resulted in flooding and collapsing of the excavated hole. Heavy shoring was required, and the delay in construction meant that the foundation was not complete until mid July. The new GWR station formally opened for business on January 15, 1876, with a large banquet held in the station's dining room. However construction on the site continued well into the summer. By the end of March the old 1853 station and freight shed had been demolished, and by early May awnings over the platform had been added.

In August 1882 the GWR was merged into the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). As the GTR would go on to own and operate this station for the majority of its lifespan, the second Stuart street station would be commonly referred to by historians as 'The GTR station', while the previous station on Stuart street was referred to as 'The GWR station'.

Rapid growth

During the 1880s and 1890s the Stuart Street station saw a large increase in traffic. Branchline trains from Hamilton travelled south to Port Dover and north to Collingwood and Barrie. The GTR partnered with American railroads to operate numerous sleeper car connection between Toronto and various cities in the USA, such as Boston, New York, Chicago and St. Louis. At one point a sleeper car ran through as far as California. All of these stopped in Hamilton. In 1893 the GTR began routing their Toronto-Detroit trains along the former GWR line, and by 1905 all Toronto-Chicago trains had been routed as well. This route bypassed Hamilton to the northwest, along the north side of the Dundas Valley. This resulted in most passenger trains headed east or west diverting into Hamilton from Bayview Junction, loading/unloading passengers, and then running in reverse back out to the mainline. This detour would add up to 40 minutes to a train’s running time.

Replacements

All of this train traffic combined with Hamilton's growth to 60 000 residents meant that by the early 1900s, the station was seriously overcrowded. In 1907 three proposed sites for a new station were announced by the GTR; a location somewhere between Bay St & Hughson St on the main line, or on the Port Dover line at either Ferguson and Barton or Ferguson and King. Nothing came of these plans due to the panic of 1907, followed by WWI and the decline and bankruptcy of the GTR and its merger into the Canadian National Railway (CNR) in 1923.

By 1928 Hamilton's population had doubled again to 120 000, and the CNR decided to build a new railway station at James & Murray Sts. Construction of the new James Street station began in 1929 and opened in 1931. The Stuart Street station was closed in February, and soon demolished. The site sat vacant for several decades, just part of CNR's Stuart Street yard. However, in recent years the site has become part of a new passenger station. On July 9, 2015 the West Harbour GO Station opened. The former site of the GTR station is now in use as an adjacent parking lot on the north side of Stuart Street.

1911 Fire insurance plan showing the second Stuart Street station

Part of a 1911 Fire insurance plan showing the second Stuart Street station between Caroline and Tiffany streets. From McMaster University Digital Archive

The second Stuart Street station in 1882

This woodcut by American artist William T. Smedley is the earliest known image of the second Stuart Street station, made in the summer of 1882. From Picturesque Canada; The Country As It Was And Is

The second Stuart Street station in August 1892

The second Stuart Street station in August 1892. From Hamilton: the Birmingham of Canada

The second Stuart Street station, looking west from Bay St, June 1 1916.

The second Stuart Street station, looking west from Bay St, June 1 1916. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

The second Stuart Street station, April 5, 1906

Postcard of the second Stuart Street station. The earliest postmark found for this card is April 5, 1906.

The second Stuart Street station, September 20, 1906

GTR #974 at the head of a train at the second Stuart Street station. The earliest postmark found for this card is September 20, 1906.

The second Stuart Street station, August 30, 1914

Postcard of the second Stuart Street station. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 30, 1914.

The second Stuart Street station

The second Stuart Street station. From an unused postcard.

The second Stuart Street station

The second Stuart Street station. From an unused postcard.

Steam engine at James St Station

A closeup of the 'HAMILTON' sign next to the station. The caption reads 'Garden and Embankment at GTR station, Hamilton Ont.' The earliest postmark found for this card is 1907.

Steam engine at James St Station

Another closeup of the 'HAMILTON' sign next to the station, this time looking along Stuart St east to Bay. The earliest postmark found for this card is 1910.

Looking east from the platform of the second Stuart Street station, date unknown

Looking east from the platform of the second Stuart Street station, date unknown

Looking west from the platform of the second Stuart Street station, date unknown

Looking west from the platform of the second Stuart Street station, date unknown

Queen Marie of Romania arrived in Hamilton by train on October 26, 1926.

Queen Marie of Romania (on the left wearing the hat) arrived in Hamilton by train on October 26, 1926. On the left is the west end of the station and the adjacent Canadian Express building. (Photo courtesy of Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives used with permission)

Looking west from the platform of the second Stuart Street station, date unknown

Queen Marie of Romania (on the left wearing the hat) arrived in Hamilton by train on October 26, 1926. On the left is the two storey centre section of the station. (Photo courtesy of Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives used with permission)

HSR 62 on Stuart St, circa 1900.

HSR #62 at Stuart St & Caroline, circa 1900. The building on the right is the west end of the Stuart Street station. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)

HSR 427 (ex 119) at the Grand Trunk Railway station on Stuart Street

HSR #427 (ex 119) at the Stuart Street station, date unknown (from the Stephen M. Scalzo collection, used with permission)

Sources

"Brief Items" Hamilton Spectator May 29, 1875, pg 3

"Great Western Railway-New Station and Freight Shed-Active Building Operations going on" Hamilton Spectator July 23, 1875, pg 3

"The New Railway Station" Hamilton Times Aug 31, 1875, pg 3

"Great Western Railway Station" Hamilton Spectator Sep 4, 1875, pg 3

"The New G.W.R. Depot" Hamilton Times Dec 15, 1875, pg 3

"Great Western Railway-Opening of the New Passenger Station" Hamilton Spectator Jan 17, 1876, pg 3

"Great Western Railway Station" Hamilton Spectator Apr 10, 1876, pg 3

"The G.W.R. Station" Hamilton Spectator May 11, 1876, pg 3

Manson, Bill. Footsteps in Time; Exploring Hamilton's Heritage Neighbourhoods, Vol 1 North Shore Publishing, Burlington ON, 2003

Smith, Douglas N.W. "A Tale of Two Stations" Canadian Rail Passenger Yearbook, 1995