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A Brief History of Milliken Station

Text by Damian Baranowski

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On the border of Toronto and Markham, nested between the areas of 3…now at the moment 2 malls, lies Milliken GO.

A station that like the other Stouffville Line stations south of Unionville, is currently going under big changes. From a new 2nd platform to the long awaited road underpass between the Uxbirgde Sub and Steeles Ave.

As this is soon to be built, it will wipe away the last remnant of the GO station that was once here.

You see Milliken was not always south of Steeles at the location it is now. Before September 2005, it was located north of Steeles, in the city limits of Markham.

Going to the spot now, you won’t find anything other than another track and a noise wall.

Early Days

The community we know as today as “Milliken” was founded in 1807 as “Milliken’s Corner” and named after “Norman Milliken” who owned a Lumber Mill in the area. As the village grew, so did nearby rail lines.

The Stouffville Line (or the Uxbridge Subdivision) started out as the Toronto and Nippising Railway (or T&N). The line opened from Toronto to Uxbridge in July 1871, and was later extended to Coboconk in 1872. The line was built with a narrow gauge of 3ft 6in, instead of the standard gauge.

From the start, the line had stops at future GO Stations like Scarborough Junction, Agincourt, Unionville, Markham, and Stouffville.

But what about Milliken?

When you look at timetables from the time, you will not see any Milliken Station. So, was it added later?

Yes, and no. Milliken was a stop from start in 1871, but it wasn’t an official station till later.

It is because Milliken was a flag stop. These are stations where there was no scheduled stop, but if a passenger wanted to get off the train they had to tell the train conductor in advance so he could notify the train engineer to stop there. To get on, you had to flag down the approaching train using a big red flag (hence the term “flag stop”). These types of stations are still in use today on some remote VIA Rail and Ontario Northland routes.

Being a flag stop, Milliken started out with no features whatsoever.

This would change in 1876, when a waiting shelter was installed. Buying tickets was most likely done from the nearby hotels or from the conductor onboard the train.

By 1881 Milliken - or should I say Millikens (we will get to that later) - was finally given scheduled passenger service.

However, the narrow gauge of the T&N Railway was causing problems. As its narrow gauge made it incompatible with connecting with standard gauge railways.

In July 1881, the railway was bought by the Midland Railway, which put in a new 3rd rail to convert the line to standard gauge. The railway’s influence was noted in Scarborough History, for its name was used for Midland Avenue, which runs parallel to the rail line.

Almost 3 years later, in January 1884, The Midland Railway leased itself to Grand Trunk Railway who then fully took over the Midland Railway in 1893. Which in turn was merged into CN in 1923. Nothing worth noting happened at Millikens Station during this time.

Milliken or Millikens?

Now we said “Millikens” again because that was what the station was named at one point and another.

For example, if you notice from the timetables and pictures of the station. You will see that Milliken is spelt as “Millikens” or in the first GTR timetable as “Millikns”.

This was probably a shorter version of the area’s original name of “Milliken’s Corner”. As keeping track of proper names of stations was not really a priority, this typo was left unchanged and for now the station was called “Millikens”.

At this point the station was a small shelter in the middle of nowhere. But big changes were arriving soon.

CN departs, VIA Arrives.

After WWII, with competition from the buses, airplanes, and the automobile. Passenger railways across Canada took a dive in ridership. CN, which now ran passenger service on the line, was not really interested in funding passenger services on routes like the Uxbridge Sub. and looked to get rid of them as soon as possible.

In the 1950s, the cuts started with service being pulled from the terminus of Coboconk to Uxbridge. A decade later, service would be cut to back Markham.

At this point CN only ran a single train up the line from Toronto to Markham that left at 5:20pm. No service ran towards Toronto.

With only one train running, Milliken was underused, and its badly deteriorated shelter had to be torn down in 1962. It seemed to be the beginning of the end. However, a savoir was on the horizon. Its name: The Commuter.

Areas around the Uxbridge Sub division started to get a surge of new residents, most of them commuters to Toronto. With the roads getting more and more clogged with traffic.

The commuters wanted a new rail service similar to GO Transit’s service from Hamilton to Pickering, which started in 1967.

CN initially refused and tried to get rid of the service on the line. But the CTC stopped their plans and told CN to provide two-way service, and restore service to Stouffville. The rail service was saved, and Milliken now had two trains a day. Even though it was a victory for the commuters, it was a loss for CN and the new service would not last very long.

CN and CP, the two major rail companies in Canada, were tired of carrying the burden of these unprofitable routes and wanted to get out the passenger rail business as soon as possible. In 1976, CN started to market its passenger rail service as VIA Rail, and soon CP joined in. By 1977 VIA Rail Canada was its own Crown Company, operating all the passenger routes formerly run by the CN & CP. This included the Uxbridge sub and its Toronto to Stouffville train.

Very little was changed in terms of service. Milliken Station got a small renovation around this time, for a new concrete platform was installed.

The 1977 timetable called the station Milliken, but the station signage didn’t change from “Millikens” to “Milliken” until around 1981.

Millikens 1981.JPG

Milliken Station in 1981 (Notice the “S” has been painted over) photo by Charles Cooper

As North Scarborough and Markham grew. More and more houses were being built around Milliken, and despite the presence of a Limestone Quarry to the south of the station (with its own rail yard), the transformation from farmland to suburbs had begun. Milliken was now becoming a suburban commuter station.

However, VIA Rail was not without problems. As service was once again threatened.

Under New Management: GO Takes Over

In 1981, the federal government cut VIA Rail’s funding. As a result, VIA realized it had no chance in the commuter market and was preparing to get rid of some of its commuter services, like the Toronto-Stouffville train. However, a new owner was not far to find.

At this point GO Transit had grown to a massive bus and train network, connecting places like Pickering, Hamilton, Georgetown, Richmond Hill, and Milton to Toronto. Seeing how the Stouffville route was mainly a commuter route that matched GO Transit mandate of taking pressure off nearby expressways, it seemed to be a perfect idea to have GO Transit take over the service.

On September 7, 1982. The yellow and sliver intercity trains were finally replaced with double-decker green and white commuter trains.

The service was the same as before, with only one train inbound to Toronto in the morning and outbound to Stouffville in the afternoon, but Milliken was going under its first makeover in over 100 years. For the first time, passengers could buy tickets on-site, from a small GO Ticket booth that was a common feature at GO Stations around this time and there were multiple shelters and benches installed. Lastly. the platform was extended to accommodate the new trains. Milliken was now a proper train station. However, its issues would get worse.

Milliken GO: The Most Neglected Station On the System

Even though Milliken Station (now Milliken GO) was given the proper station status it was always meant to have. It was not the best station on the line, or even on the GO Transit system.

No parking was available at this station, meaning most passengers that used this station got here from a TTC bus or were dropped off by a friend or loved one. The station had no drop off facilities as well, so most drivers had to wait in the former Market Village parking lot or on Steeles Avenue.

The platform was small and rested on a sharp curve. This became an issue for customer service agents (CSAs) on the trains as they to look and see if all passengers were clear of the doors before they closed them. As a result, not all doors could open at Milliken.

Milliken GO 1982-2005

Milliken GO 1982-2005, “The Pariah Station”. Captured by Rob Burnet in July 2003.

Nowadays there are screens installed at stations with curves, to show CSAs that all passengers are clear of the doors. One example would be Mount Joy GO or Newmarket GO.

Lastly, the rail crossing at Steeles became more complicated as time went on. With more traffic coming through, incidents with train/vehicle collisions became common.

This was one of the many reasons why Milliken GO was one of the most neglected stations on the system, not being given upgrades or renovations as other stations had gotten over the years. There was also not much in the area at the time during these years.

With all this, it is possibly the reason why many railfans chose not to visit the station. It was too neglected and out of the way. The station had nothing interesting to offer. Even the rail yard south of the station was closed and redeveloped in the 1990s.

This might be why there are few pictures or videos of this station. It was just not a photogenic station nor a memorable spot to take pictures of trains. For that, not that many pictures or videos exist of the station in its early GO years. For the next 20 years Milliken would sit like this, until the turn of the Millennium.

Rebirth

When GO took over the Stouffville line in 1982, nothing changed besides the additions of ticket booths, benches, and shelters. However, new suburbs were being constructed in the Town (now City) of Markham and in North Scarborough. This caused ridership to grow on the Stouffville Line, and meant that the current stations needed to be upgraded.

The first major upgrade to the Stouffville Line was the relocation of Unionville GO, from its impossible to extend historical location, to a new location with plenty of room to expand. More changes were on the way, like the addition of more trains, and 3 new infill stations at Centennial (2002), Mount Joy (2004), and Kennedy (2005). The line would later get a new Yard and Station in Lincolnville just north of Stouffville in 2008, the line’s first extension since GO took over in 1982. Long term plans also call for the restoration of rail service to Uxbridge that was lost in 1963. But as all these upgrades and changes were happening, one thing was clear: Milliken GO needed to upgrade.

With houses and malls now in the area, demand for a better station was growing.

With the station north of Steeles being impossible to expand, the decision was made to move the station south near where the former rail yard was.

On September 6, 2005, nearly 23 years since the line’s takeover by GO, the brand new Milliken GO Station opened in its new location south of Steeles Avenue, within the Toronto city limits in Northern Scarborough. The difference is night and day.

18671420_1089213751222522_7939961921740191720_o.jpg

The Old Milliken Site in May 2017.

The new Milliken Station now has a long straight platform that is fully accessible. There is a station building where passengers can buy tickets, wait for their train, and use the restrooms. There is lots of room to park and a dedicated kiss’n’ride area for drop-offs and pickups. The new station was a big improvement over the old one.

But speaking of which, what happened to the old one?

Not long after GO moved to the new site, the old Milliken GO was torn up. GO didn’t have any use for this outdated station anymore, and wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible. For years, all that was left was a sign saying “CN Milliken” where the station used to be. Now, over 134 years after the original flag stop opened, the original Milliken GO station was now gone.

The Future

It’s been 14 years since GO moved to the new Milliken GO Station and changes are still happening here. GO bought the Uxbridge sub from CN in 2001. This gave it the ability to add more trains and in turn, it increased ridership. In the late 2010s, GO started working on upgrading the track from Scarborough Junction to Unionville. There will soon be a second track for 7 days a week, 2-way service.

But it’s not just the track that’s getting upgraded. All the stations from Kennedy to Unionville are getting rebuilt to have a 2nd platform and new station features.

Milliken GO is expected to have a new platform and canopy but also after years of waiting, the Steeles Avenue road underpass will be built. This will finally separate the rail tracks from the busy traffic on Steeles Avenue.

Alas, this will also finally remove the last traces of the old station.

Currently, the site is now occupied by the new track that was installed in 2017. But once the crossing becomes an underpass, the last pieces of the station that was once Milliken’s Station will finally go away for good.


Milliken GO Station Image Archive

References

  • Burnet, RG. “GO Transit Motive Power Website.” GO F59PH INDEX - RGBurnet, 2020, www.trainweb.org/railwayop/.
  • Cooper, Charles. Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages. 2014, railwaypages.com.
  • Personal interview with Charles Cooper
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