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Great Railroad Stations - Toronto

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl

Toronto, Ontario

As the commercial and cultural capital of Canada, Toronto is in an enviable position among North American cities.  It has a vibrant downtown, great cultural institutions, a flourishing commuter rail and streetcar system, and an intact, very much alive, classic railroad terminal.  Today Union Station serves a city many times the size of the provincial one into which it was born.  During the peak years of rail usage, well over 150 daily arrivals and departures called at the train gates.

Toronto began to grow rapidly in the 1960's, and some urban planners advocated demolition and replacement of Union Station with a sterile box topped with an office complex.  Luckily, common sense and an awakening of preservation efforts stymied such nonsense, and Toronto Union Station is today one of the showpieces of this great city.  It is at the very heart of Toronto's excellent metropolitan transportation network.

Toronto's Union Station was opened in 1927, replacing an older structure located near the present site.  Interestingly, old photos show the Toronto harbor area quite close to what is today's Front Street. Planning for the current station preceded World War I by almost ten years, after a disastrous fire cleared much of the waterfront area.  Years of controversy had to be overcome before the new Union Station would welcome its first travelers.  It was not until January of 1930 that the railroad viaduct serving the station would finally be completed and arrivals and departures could proceed entirely from the new building.

The Great Hall, Toronto Union Station, September 2, 1995. John Dahl photo.

The station is designed in the Beaux-Arts style. Its exterior facade on Front Street is dominated by a high colonnade of Bedford limestone. The Great Hall is still one of the finest interior spaces anywhere in the world. Take a moment some time to glance up and around while in the station. The attention to details carved in stone and brick is astounding. How can one not be impressed by this grand "Open Gate" as Union Station has been called?  A favorite pastime of mine when in Toronto is to wait in the Great Hall and listen to the train announcements.  Perhaps my favorite was "The Canadian" when it was still mostly a CP route. When it was announced, images of the gleaming streamliner and of several happy journeys within its elegant confines are recalled from memory.  City names carved around the perimeter of the upper walls tell a litany about Canadian geography and history better than any textbook could dare to match.

Pierre Berton, the great Canadian journalist, probably summed up best what Union Station means. "A railway station, especially a large one, is something like a home: it acquires a certain aura after is has been used.  I do not believe in ghosts or haunted mansions but I am always conscious when I enter any old building of the unseen presence of those who came before.  It does not matter if the furniture and bric-a-brac have been stripped away; a sense of presence remains - a feeling, an echo perhaps, that tells you lives where lived there, tragedies enacted, triumphs rewarded, loves consummated, and that this building knew the cycle of birth, life and death, of hope and despair, of sadness and joy."

 

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This page was last updated Thursday, December 06, 2001

2001 Jim Dent - Page created by Jim Dent
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