This Week in History

Archives

A Gateway to Canada for Many Newcomers

For the week of Monday June 4, 2001

On June 7, 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were received at the Canadian National Railways (CNR) station in Hamilton, Ontario, during their cross-Canada tour. Designed in the grand Beaux-Arts style, the station symbolizes the importance of immigration and rail service in Hamilton.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth leaving the Hamilton CN station, 7 June 1939.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
leaving the Hamilton CN station, 7 June 1939.

© Courtesy Special Collections, Hamilton Public Library

The years leading up to the First World War had seen more immigrants arrive in Canada than ever before. Between 1900 and 1914, they came from Britain, Europe and the United States to farm the prairie provinces and settle the north and west of the country. Successive waves of immigrants arrived after the Second World War, as the federal government gradually opened its borders to welcome people from many different countries. For example Dutch, German, Italian and Polish immigration peaked in 1954, while most Portuguese, South Asian and West Indian settlers arrived during the 1960s and 1970s.

Immigration made a significant contribution to Hamilton's development and industrialization. The city was the destination of choice for many post-Second World War European immigrants due to its prosperity as a major Canadian steel manufacturing and agricultural centre. Many newcomers on their way to Hamilton first arrived by boat at Pier 21 in Halifax, now a National Historic Site, took the train to Hamilton and entered the city through its large, impressive station — a memorable introduction to a new life in a new land.

Sculptural stone panels over the main doors illustrate the role of transportation across Canada

Sculptural stone panels over the main doors illustrate
the role of transportation across Canada

© Photographed by A.M. de Fort-Menares, 1991

Constructed in 1929-31, the Hamilton train station was designed by CNR's chief architect John Schofield in the Beaux-Arts style, named for the école des Beaux-Arts in Paris. This French school instructed its students in the study of classical forms (columns, capitals, arches) of ancient Greece and Rome. As one goal of railway station design at that time was to create important transportation hubs and impressive civic monuments, the use of the grand theatrical Beaux-Arts style with its huge columns and classical detail was ideal. A number of stations across the country were designed in the style, including Toronto's Union Station, also nationally commemorated. The Hamilton building, one of Canada's last grand stations, exceeded the expectations of the local inhabitants — it was a station fit to welcome the king and queen!

No longer functioning as a railway station, the building recently became a banquet hall. The former CNR station in Hamilton is both a National Heritage Railway Station and a National Historic Site. It was commemorated with a plaque in 2000.

For more information on immigration, see the This Week In History story on War Brides.

Date Modified: