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A History of Toronto's Union Station Through the 19th and 20th Centuries

Front Entrance to Union Station

The front entrance to Union Station, looking west along Front Street in this circa 2000 shot. The photographer is unknown.

Article by Sean Marshall and James Bow

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Today, Toronto's Union Station is, by far, the city's most important public transportation hub. In 2004, when this article was first published on Transit Toronto, the facility was part of the daily routine of 200,000 weekday commuters, compared to just 80,000 passengers who used Pearson International Airport each day. It is a gateway into the city not only for people coming into work from the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area, but tourists and other visitors from Montreal, Ottawa, New York and places farther afield. Just about every mode of transportation is represented at Union Station. In addition to the trains of GO Transit and VIA Rail, there is the Toronto subway, buses using GO Transit's inter-city terminal next to the station, and rail links to the Ferry Docks south of the station and, coming in 2015, to Pearson International Airport itself.

With so many people passing through the station each day, and with plans afoot to expand the station's capacity to handle even more passengers in the future, it's easy to forget the storied history and the architectural grandeur of this landmark. It is also hard to believe that the building was once slated for demolition.

This article details the history of Toronto's Union Station, discussing not only the building itself, but its predecessors. It describes how its importance to the city of Toronto has shifted in the nearly ninety years since it was built. And this particular article stops at the year 2000. As of this writing (July 2014), Union Station has been undergoing renovations that substantially alter its configuration and capacity as well as its appearance. The details of those changes are worthy of an article all their own, which you will access soon. In the meantime, this article provides the context of what has come before, to illustrate how far the station has come, and how much farther it is about to go.

The Railways Come to Toronto

Union stations can be found in many cities across North America. The term describes a station where a number of railroads share space, as opposed to each railway having its own central station for that city. Toronto's current Union Station is actually the city's third such station, and only one of a multitude of railway stations that were built between Parliament and Bathurst Streets along Toronto's waterfront.

The first revenue passenger train to leave Toronto's waterfront was a little steam engine named "Toronto" pulling a passenger train on the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway on May 16, 1853. Its destination was the town of Aurora. Three years after the railway (known as the Northern Railway after 1858; the line was extended to Allandale in 1853 and later to Meaford) built its line to Aurora, the Grand Trunk arrived in Toronto and built lines to the east and the west, each served by separate stations. The eastern station, located on the east bank of the Don River, served trains from Montreal, while the western station, located at Queen's Wharf near Bathurst Street, served trains heading to such exotic western destinations as Guelph and Sarnia. The western line opened first in July 1856, followed by the eastern line to Oshawa in August 11 of the same year. (Service to Montreal would begin on October 27, 1856.) The Grand Trunk Railway connected its eastern and western lines in 1857 and received access to the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron station that year. It would soon build its own station just east of the OS&H station near the corner of Bay and Front.

Toronto's first official Union Station came about when the Grand Trunk Railway opened a new facility to the public in May 1858 and invited the Great Western Railway (which had arrived late in 1855) and the Northern Railway to join as tenants. The building was located between Simcoe and York Streets (closer to York Street), one block south of Front Street. The street directly in front of the building was named Station Street. The street remains to this day, long after stations on the site were demolished.

The first Union Station would not last, however. In 1866, the Great Western decided to build its own station and opened a four-track structure near Yonge Street. The Northern Railway followed suit, opening its own station behind City Hall (now the St. Lawrence Market) on June 10, 1867. In 1871, the Grand Trunk Railway decided to demolish the first Union Station, and a temporary station served passengers until July 1, 1873, when Grand Trunk opened its own permanent station at the site. It was a handsome structure, with three towers dominating the building and the centre tower (the tallest) bearing a clock. It had an enclosed train shed with three tracks, which the Grand Trunk deemed adequate for a city of 65,000 people.

The Grand Trunk, the Northern, the Great Western and the Toronto & Nipissing Railway each had their own stations until the 1880s. Consolidation of the railway companies (GWR into the GTR; the Credit Valley and the Toronto, Grey & Bruce into Canadian Pacific) resulted in some reduction of this confusing array of stations. The Great Western's station near Yonge Street closed to trains in 1882 following Grand Trunk's takeover. Thus Grand Trunk's three-track facility officially became Toronto's second Union Station (though technically, it was a "union" from the beginning, since the Toronto, Grey & Bruce had been using the northern track of the train shed). As for the old Great Western station, it became the Grand Trunk's bonded freight terminal in 1882, and continued until the GTR opened a new facility near Simcoe Street in 1904, whereupon the old station became a wholesale food terminal until 1952 when the building was consumed by fire.

The Need For a Modern Facility

The Grand Trunk renovated the facility in the early 1890s; when it reopened in 1896, it boasted a seven-storey Romanesque office building on Front Street that became the main entrance to the facility, as well as an arcade over Station Street that led to a 80-foot square waiting room. The north train shed was rebuilt and a new three-track train shed was built to the south of the 1873 station. Even so, it wasn't long before the second Union Station started to operate at capacity. As the 19th century came to a close, a new rail terminal was proposed to relieve the congestion. Unfortunately, nothing came of the proposal.

That changed, however, on April 9, 1904. On that day, a great fire swept across Toronto's downtown, destroying virtually all of the buildings in an area bounded by the railway lands, Wellington Street, Yonge Street and York Street. The only building saved in the area was the Queen's Hotel (located at the site of today's Royal York Hotel). This event, while tragic, did spark the need and desire to rebuild, and it helped the railroads assemble the land for a new station.

In 1905, plans were made for a new Union Station and a viaduct to separate the trains from the heavy foot and commercial traffic between the harbour and Front Street. To accomplish this, the Toronto Terminals Railway was incorporated by the Canadian Parliament on July 13, 1906. The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Grand Trunk (later the Canadian National Railways) each owned half of the new company. The TTR was given ownership of all the tracks between Bathurst Street in the west to the Don River in the east (30.36 track miles in total) and the construction of Union Station became the TTR's responsibility.

Front Entrance

Union Station, as seen from Front and York, looking southeast, circa 2000. The photographer is unknown.

Debate and More Debate

Despite this, it still took nine years for the various governments, railroads and property owners to agree on a proposal. A team of architects including the Montreal firm of G.A. Ross and R.H. MacDonald as well as Hugh Jones of the CPR and John M. Lyle of Toronto prepared the design of the station. On April 26, 1914, the plan for the Union Station was finally approved by the Board of Railway Commissioners and, on September 26, 1914, just weeks after the start of the First World War, construction began. War shortages slowed construction, but in 1920 the building was ready to be opened. However, the viaduct was not complete. Disputes over whether the tracks should pass over or under Toronto's streets kept the new Union Station closed for years. Finally, on August 6, 1927, the station was officially opened by the visiting Prince of Wales (the station actually went into use five days later, on August 11). Once the new station opened, the old Union Station at the foot of Simcoe Street was closed and eventually demolished.

Even as the station opened, the viaduct was still under construction. Passengers still had to use the old platforms from the old Union Station in order to board their trains. A temporary wooden bridge from the new station to the old station tracks was erected and used until the viaduct was completed (tracks 1-6 in January 1930, and tracks 7-12 in December 1930). Even then, the transfer was not complete. On June 14, 1916, the CPR had opened North Toronto station by Yonge Street on its mainline through the city, and its trains continued to use that station until 1930 before switching to Union.

Two years after Union Station opened, its complementary landmark -- the Royal York Hotel -- was welcoming guests. At the time, the Royal York Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to serve travellers, was the British Empire's largest hotel. To this day, it continues to function as Toronto's great railway hotel. It replaced the more modest Queen's Hotel, which stood on the same site.

A Tour of Union Station at the Beginning

Since 2010, extensive renovations promise to significantly alter the use of Union Station, although care has been taken to preserve its historic and architectural significance. From the beginning, Union Station was known to be an architectural gem: a mammoth Beaux Arts structure sitting on the south side of Front Street between Bay and York Streets. The building is 752 feet long from east to west and has an average height of 87 feet. Its centre block features 22 stone columns, each 40 feet in height and weighing more than 75 tonnes. The building is composed of portions of Indiana, Queenstone and Bedford limestone, the latter of which comprises the columns.

Union Station has a train shed on its southern side that initially extended over twelve tracks. Offices were built into the eastern and western wings of the structure. A depressed road separated Union Station from Front Street like a moat. This was initially was used for cab deliveries. Patrons from Front Street entered Union Station on a wide and short bridge over this moat, in front of the station's main doors.

the moat surrounding Union Station

The moat surrounding Union Station, looking west towards York Street, circa 2000. The photographer is unknown.

Entering Union Station, patrons come upon the centrepiece of Union Station: its Great Hall. At 250 feet long and 84 feet wide, the arched ceiling tops out at 88 feet above the floor and is set with vitrified Gustavino tile. This impressive space features detail work of carved stone, with large arched, composite windows on the eastern and western ends of the hall. Three quarters of the way up the wall, you see the names of various Canadian cities carved in stone -- possible destinations of passengers embarking from Union Station in 1921 (See the bottom of this article for more detail). The Great Hall's walls are made of Zumbro stone from Missouri. The stone reflects the light subtly and brightens the appearance of the space.

After buying their tickets in the Great Hall, passengers wishing to board their trains would head south through the the Great Hall and proceed down a ramp to the departures lounge. Wide columns here hold up the tracks and trains above. Stairs on either side of the concourse take the passengers up to the platforms.

Passengers from trains arriving at Union Station took different sets of stairs down from the platforms to corridors on either side of the Departures Concourse. These corridors led north, before turning sharply and meeting beneath the ramp connecting the Great Hall to the Departures Concourse. From here, they accessed the Arrivals Concourse, a much smaller area. Here, people could leave Union Station via ramps to Front Street, or via two stone stairwells leading back to the Great Hall. An exception was Track 1. Located nearest to the Great Hall, it was accessed directly from the station building itself.

Union Station also boasted extensive postal facilities. At the time, most of the mail was moved by train. Not only was there a public post office that took up much of the eastern end of the building, the Toronto Postal Delivery Building was located south of the station and featured a tunnel beneath the tracks used by staff to access it. In addition to this, there were also two sets of teamways, enclosed roadways built on either side of York Street and Bay Street, as they passed beneath the railway viaduct behind Union Station. These were initially used to receive freight by cart or truck, to be brought up to the trains above. As the importance of these tramways waned, they were boarded up and forgotten -- a fact that GO Transit took great advantage of when it renovated Union Station decades later. Remnants of Union Station's mail services can be seen to this day. Notice that one of the names carved into the post office (located over what is now the present GO Bay Concourse) is Franklin, referring to Benjamin Franklin, who was deputy postmaster general for the the British colonies of North America from 1753 to 1774.

Composite glass windows

The composite glass windows, showing some of the corridors inside them. This one is on the western side of the Great Hall, circa 2000. The photographer is unknown.

The offices located within Union Station are rarely seen by the general public. The Toronto Terminals Railway had its offices in the west wing of the building until after GO Transit took over operation of the company. The offices and corridors exist from the second to the fifth storeys and surround the Great Hall. The large arched, composite windows at the east and west ends of the Great Hall are actually a series of corridors connecting the southern and northern portion of these wings. These corridors not only have glass walls comprising the windows that the public sees, but glass floors and glass ceilings as well. People in the Great Hall can occasionally see the vague silhouettes of office workers passing through these glassed-in corridors. Similar glass-floored corridors exist at the two entrance arches leading from Front Street.

Great Hall Roof

The roof of the Great Hall, circa 2000. Photo by Sanj Arora.

The corridors encircle the Great Hall and have windows that open out on the outside of Union Station. The primary purpose of these corridors is to heat and cool the station. Designed in the era before mechanical air conditioners, this feature is still effective in moderating the temperature of the Great Hall. In the summer months, a circulation is started up within encircling corridors which cools the Great Hall. In winter, the corridors provide an insulation of air, keeping the Great Hall warm. The encircling corridors run through the second, third and fourth storeys of Union Station. A fifth, sixth and seventh level exists on the south side of the station. The seventh floor is a wide expanse, and has been used as a firing range to train railway police officers.

Beneath the Great Hall and the arrivals lounge, a network of service tunnels allows station personnel to move the baggage to and from arriving and departing trains, as well as keep the station itself operating. Freight elevators connected these service areas with the tracks, and motorized carts dating as far back as 1910 are to this day still used to move baggage to and from VIA trains. The basement levels house facilities for heating, ventilation and sewage disposal. A power substation, capable of supplying the needs of a good-sized town, is also located in the basement, as are self-contained carpentry, plumbing, electrical, machine and paint shops designed to handle Union Station's unique needs.

Depression and War. Car and Airplane

It is ironic that the opening of Toronto's long-delayed Union Station occurred just a couple of years before the onset of the Great Depression, just as construction had started just as the First World War began. After spending so much time and effort constructing a unified rail terminal for Toronto, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific found themselves facing dwindling freight and passenger markets. Some CN and CP passenger services were pooled, with formerly competing routes managed as one in order to save money. This arrangement on the Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa runs lasted until October 31, 1965.

The Second World War provided a respite from the loss of passenger traffic to the car and bus, however, and the station saw many servicemen parting from friends and loved ones on their way to overseas duties. Following the Second World War, the decline of the railroads continued, with more passengers being pulled away by the rise of air travel. With Malton Airport at the edge of the City of Toronto gaining increasing importance, adding flights to more and more destinations, the profitability of passenger rail became increasingly doubtful. Union Station was beginning a service transformation away from long-distance travellers, and more to Toronto area commuters.

On March 30, 1954, the Yonge Subway line opened just north of the station building, replacing streetcars that had served the Union Station since its opening. The original passage from the main station to the subway station crossed under the moat. Passengers from the arrivals level would go down a flight of stairs and then, after passing below the moat roadway, would return to more or less their original level by a long ramp, reaching the same passage as the stairs coming down from the south sidewalk of Front Street. From here it was a few steps down to the subway station's entry concourse. Subsequent additions to the TTC network, including the University subway line from Union to St. George in 1963, maintained Union Station's status as a major focus of Toronto's subway network.

GO Transit Begins

It was in the early 1960s that Union Station stopped being primarily a terminus for long-distance train travel, and started to take on a new role as a hub for shorter-distance commuter rail traffic. Canadian National had started a handful of commuter runs into the city, but they were not as successful as the company had hoped. The Ontario provincial government, however, saw the need for improved commuter service. The development that the government of Metropolitan Toronto was created (in 1954) to contain had started to spill beyond Metro's boundaries. In the 1960s, the Province of Ontario examined the issue in its Metropolitan Toronto and Region Transportation Study (MTARTS). This time, they were unwilling to expand Metro's boundaries to contain the runaway development, but they realized that without a coordinating regional authority to manage growth, commuter traffic into Toronto would increase -- especially along the provincially owned highways. To forestall the need to expand the Queen Elizabeth Way and the 401, the province created GO (Government of Ontario) Transit in 1967, and established a commuter service running from Oakville to Pickering along CN's Lakeshore rail line.

Unlike CN's commuter runs, the GO Train service was a runaway success, and soon the Lakeshore GO line was operating seven days a week, with trains coming as frequently as every ten minutes during rush hours.

Development Plans Threaten Union Station

Despite the emergence of commuter rail, Union Station's importance continued to wane through the 1960s and into the 1970s. With the opening of MacMillan Yard near Concord, Ontario (in today's City of Vaughan), freight services were gradually removed from the railway lands surrounding Toronto's Union Station and relocated to the edge of the city. The amount of land freed up by this process, and the fact that Toronto found itself in the 1960s cut off from the waterfront by a quarter mile of railway yard and expressway, resulted in a number of redevelopment proposals. Some of these plans called for the demolition of Union Station.

In one such plan, a new, intermodal Union Station was to be built south of the existing structure, much of it underground, to be used by both trains and buses. The area to the south of Front Street from Yonge to Spadina was to be completely redeveloped, with tall office towers being the order of the day. Canadian National and Canadian Pacific planned to remove all of their tracks, save for the tracks required to serve the new railway station. They would reap a windfall by building and renting out or selling the new office towers. Their proposal also included a retail mall, a convention centre and a new telecommunications and observation tower.

The proposal was unpopular in many quarters. A number of Toronto residents objected to the demolition of the beautiful Union Station structure. In acknowledgement of this sentiment, some redevelopment plans had called for the retention of the Great Hall, while other plans called for the entire structure to be retained, but repurposed as a shopping concourse. Few, if any, plans called for Union Station to remain as an operating railway station.

A redevelopment plan called Metro Centre, proposed by Canadian National and calling for the demolition of all buildings on the south side of Front Street, including Union Station, was approved by Metropolitan Toronto City Council in December 1970. The announcement enraged Torontonians, who were shocked by the potential loss of such an impressive structure. In the same grassroots movement that successfully protested against the Spadina Expressway, voters defeated many of the council politicians in the next election (December 1972). The new reform-minded council that came to power included future Toronto mayors David Crombie and John Sewell. The new council overturned the former City Council's decision and saved Union Station from destruction. Union Station was declared a national historic site in 1975.

Portions of the Metro Centre plan were built, albeit in a modified form. The CN Tower started construction soon after the Metro Centre plan was approved, and opened to the public in 1977. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre opened years later. The SkyDome (today known as the Rogers Centre), built in 1989 on part of the railway lands, was an addition to the plan, and part of the many rewrites of the development proposals made for the railway lands throughout the 1980s before serious construction began in the late 1990s. The construction of office towers, condominiums and entertainment space that now exist south of the railway tracks leading into Union Station was cobbled together in a series of agreements that were finalized in the late 1980s. In the end, much of the railway lands was redeveloped, leaving less than a dozen tracks leading into Union Station from the west and less than 15 from the east, as well as space for staging yards near Bathurst Street and Cherry Street. Although Union Station was successfully preserved, this significant reduction in the number of tracks would produce difficulties GO Transit's managers and planners would have to deal with in the years to come.

GO Transit Expansion and the Arrival of VIA Rail

As debate swirled about the future of Union Station, GO Transit quietly expanded its use of Union Station. In 1967, part of the current arrivals level had been set aside for a GO Concourse to handle passengers arriving and departing from GO trains. Tracks 2 and 3 were reserved solely for GO Trains, while Track One was set aside for CN's Rapido and Turbo Trains to Ottawa and Montreal. Then GO Transit began to expand, quickly taking over Tracks 1, 4 and 5. Soon after its second line to Georgetown (renamed Kitchener after December 19, 2011) opened in 1974, routes to Milton, Stouffville, Richmond Hill and Bradford followed. Very quickly, it became apparent that this arrangement was insufficient for GO's needs.

Despite CN's experiments with high-speed train travel, Canada's railways were finding passenger trains more and more of a burden. In 1978, the Canadian government took over all passenger services from Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, uniting them under the banner of VIA Rail, a name CN had been marketing its passenger services under since 1976, and which had been a CN subsidiary since 1977. VIA initially used most of the station, with arrivals and departures handled through the main concourse, but soon found itself outpaced by GO Transit and its increasing network. Quickly GO Transit outgrew its use of tracks 1 to 5 and acquired track 12 from VIA operations. It later took over track 13, located outside at the southern edge of the train shed, which CN and VIA Rail had been using through the 1970s.

In 1979, the GO concourse was opened in the east wing of the station, in the part of Union Station formerly operated by the Canadian Post Office, conveniently closer to the subway station than the main station is. This change also helped get GO out of VIA's hair, allowing the parts of the main station (especially the Arrivals Concourse) to be returned to their original uses. The new concourse was on the same level as the arrivals part of the main station, and the depressed road. Accordingly, a direct path between the subway and the new concourse was now provided as a level crossing of this road (which is no longer in heavy use, save for storing rental cars for the Hertz and National car rental establishments inside the station), partially protected from weather with a roof. This access via the GO station also replaced the original tunnel between the main station and subway station, which still exists, but is not open to the public.

The GO concourse was built to handle a large number of passengers and has not been modified extensively since its opening. At the southern end of the GO concourse, a maze of stairs, escalators and elevators (added later) take passengers to tracks one through five of Union Station, and all trains except for those bound for Milton and Bradford. The GO Concourse acts as a food court as well as a waiting facility. Among its tenants are Country Style donuts, McDonald's, Laura Secord and Cinnabon. The rental income provides GO Transit with hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, as the huge amount of foot traffic through the facility makes those locations very valuable.

Front entrance to Union, looking east

The front entrance to Union Station, looking east, circa 2000. Note the lettering on the cornice (see below). Photos by Sanj Arora

Front entrance to Union, looking east

Changes Made to Union Station

As the railway lands slowly redeveloped, changes occurred to Union Station to reflect these new destinations. When the SkyDome was built near the CN Tower in the late 1980s, a long elevated walkway called the Skywalk was constructed from the west end of the Great Hall to near the domed stadium. The walkway crosses York Street by a bridge, from which a door leads directly to track 1, for the convenience of some GO Transit passengers. The walkway continues past this door and travels between Station Street and the railway tracks to Simcoe Street, where it turns sharply south and crosses the railway tracks before ending at the base of the CN Tower. Used to seeing far more walk-through traffic in the early days of the SkyDome, this walkway featured a number of fast food and sports collectible outlets, but these have all been unceremoniously closed. Similarly, in the early days of the SkyDome, special GO Trains were scheduled to depart Union Station a few minutes after the game for Milton, Georgetown and Richmond Hill, but these too have faded along with the Blue Jays' attendance figures.

Other connections were built between Union Station and other facilities, including the Metro Convention Centre, which can be accessed directly from the Skywalk or from the west end of the lower level's Arrivals Concourse, via the moat and a tunnel beneath York Street and an escalator up to Front Street.

In 1990, Union Station added another transport mode to its growing list of functions, as in that year, the new 604 Harbourfront streetcar line launched, operating from Union Station to Spadina Avenue via Queens Quay. Up to that point, Union Station had had no streetcar service since 1963, when the Dupont streetcar was replaced by the 6 BAY bus. In 1997, the streetcar line was renamed Spadina, and extended northward to Spadina station; and in 2000, Union Station began playing host to a second streetcar line, one running to the CNE grounds via Queen's Quay and Fleet Street.

In 1996, the character of Union Station was again jeopardised. At that time, the management of the Toronto Maple Leafs considered building a new sports facility on top of the train shed directly behind the Great Hall. The Great Hall was to be used as the main entrance. The Toronto Raptors were to share this facility, and construction of their sports facility at the old Postal Depot at the foot of Bay Street would be cancelled and that site turned into a intercity bus station. When the deal fell through, the Maple Leafs bought the Raptors and completed work on the Raptors' arena in the old Toronto Postal Delivery Building. The Air Canada Centre, as it is now called, is linked to the GO Concourse via the tunnel beneath the tracks that had been used by postal staff. In a way, Union Station has still become the gateway into the Maple Leafs' new home as many of the hockey and basketball fans take the subway or the GO Train to and from the game.

A New Century and Massive Changes to Come

By the year 2000, Toronto's Union Station was a protected landmark and a vital component of the city's transportation network. Its historic and architectural significance were revered, and it was a big part of the working day of hundreds of thousands of Toronto commuters. However, even bigger changes were to come.

Even in the late 1990s, Toronto city planners knew that the current crowds were going to look small compared to the demands that were forecast for the decades to follow. Toronto was a rapidly growing city, and the Greater Toronto Area was expanding. The GTA's public transit networks needed to grow to keep up, and this was going to put additional pressure on Union Station. At the same time, the structure was getting older, and in need of renovations in order to preserve its appearance and its usefulness. As a result, the City of Toronto entered into negotiations with the federal government, the Province of Ontario and private interests to work out a plan on how to expand the use of Union Station in the years to come.

The deal worked out wasn't without controversy, and it has since meant significant disruption for the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use Union Station every day. However, it has altered the look of Union Station while preserving its significant architectural components, and it looks set to serve crowds that the original architects could not have imagined. These changes may also give birth to a new satellite station at the edge of the downtown core.

These changes and others will be detailed in the next article, covering the history of Union Station into the 21st century.

NEXT: See A History of Toronto's Union Station Through the 21st Century

Information Kiosk Clock

The clock above the information kiosk in the centre of the Great Hall. Photo by Sanj Arora.

Union Station Trivia

  • The old arrivals information place was on one's left just as one headed out of the Great Hall and down to the departures concourse. It was marked by a green ball lamp, while the porters' stand was marked by a red one.
  • � Before the new information kiosk was erected, the centre of the Great Hall was occupied by a square stand, each side of which displayed the scheduled arrival or departure times of all trains in illuminated lettering. (Each train had a black plastic strip with clear or white lettering on it, fitted into a black frame backlit by fluorescent lights.) From its styling, this information stand obviously was not an original feature of the station. Did it replace an earlier manned kiosk, or a display of the same information using older technology (just printed notices, say), or something else altogether? If you know, tell us!
  • � Since the information stand and its predecessors are/were in the center of a wide expanse of floor, support is required for them on the level below. Hence there is a cluster of four pillars set relatively close together. When the movie Silver Streak (1976) was being filmed, one scene required a newsstand in Kansas City, and the space between these pillars was where it was put. Years later, a real newsstand was put there.

About Those Carved Place Names...

North side, west wall: PRINCE·RUPERT
North wall, west to east along the wall (one line of carving): EDMONTON · SASKATOON · WINNIPEG · PORT-ARTHUR · NORTH-BAY · SARNIA · LONDON · TORONTO · OTTAWA · SHERBROOKE · LÉVIS · MONCTON ·
North side, east wall: · HALIFAX ·
South side, east wall: · ST. JOHN ·
South side, east to west along the wall (one line of carving): · FREDERICTON · QUEBEC · MONTREAL · HAMILTON · WINDSOR · SAULT ST. MARIE · SUDBURY · FORT-WILLIAM · REGINA · MOOSE JAW · CALGARY ·
South side, west wall: VANCOUVER


  • All places on the north list were then served by CNR.
  • All places on the south list were then served by CPR (of course, many of the places were on both railways).
  • This is appropriate, because the relevant CNR routes are mostly north of the corresponding CPR routes.
  • Saint John refers to Saint John, New Brunswick. When Union Station was built, Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada, and the Newfoundland Railway was not owned and operated by Canadian National.
  • All places in each list are in their actual east-west geographical order, except North Bay / Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie / Sudbury.
  • Sault Ste. Marie is misspelled, unless that spelling was then considered correct in English.
  • Some of the two-word place name are hyphenated, which definitely was not normal style then (or now). Others are not.
  • Centered dots ( · ) are used between place names. Presumably for space reasons, their use at the ends of the lists and where the lists turn corners is inconsistent, and PRINCE · RUPERT is written with a centered dot instead of a hyphen.
  • As these place names are to represent some of the places people could reach from Union Station, it is ironic that one of those places is Toronto itself.
  • Of these places, Saint John, Fredericton, Lévis(*), Sherbrooke, Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Fort William (Thunder Bay), Regina and Moose Jaw are no longer served by VIA Rail, or any other passenger train service.
  • As of the year 2000, four of the listed cities still had train service, but by carriers other than VIA Rail. These include Hamilton (GO Transit), North Bay (Ontario Northland), Sault Ste. Marie (Algoma Central -- now part of CN) and Calgary (the Rocky Mountaineer, CPR Tours). North Bay lost Ontario Northland service on September 28, 2012. Sault Ste. Marie almost lost the Algoma Central early in 2014, although it won a temporary reprieve.

Union Station 1929-2000 Image Archive


Special thanks to Mark Brader, Tom Box, Derek Boles and Patricia Bow for their kind assistance with edits and corrections to this article.

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