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Toronto's Union Station

For the week of Monday August 9, 2004

On August 11, 1927, the first passenger trains passed through Toronto’s Union Station. This Ontario railway station is the finest example in Canada of stations erected in the Beaux-Arts style during an era of expanding national rail networks and vigorous urban growth.

Union Station under construction, March 1916
© Peake & Whittingham / Library and Archives of Canada / PA-067277
The idea of constructing Union Station began in 1904 when a huge fire gutted a large part of Toronto’s manufacturing and warehouse district. Through the destruction, the railway companies saw an opportunity to develop a larger, shared station to accommodate the growing number of passenger trains. The idea to build a station that would accommodate two railway companies was not new in Canada, as it reduced the cost of construction and maintenance to individual companies. The concentration of facilities in one location was also more convenient for passengers. The Toronto Union Station was built between 1914 and 1927 as a joint project between the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian National Railway Company.

The interior of the Great Hall shows the grandeur and style of the architecture of Union Station
© Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto
The Toronto Union Station was, in its day, a project of a size and complexity previously unmatched in railway terminal construction in Canada. It was also part of the last great phase of railway construction. The idea called for an immense building measuring over 227 metres that would accommodate up to 240,000 people per day! A team of architects was assembled to design and construct the terminal building. They chose the popular Beaux-Arts style which reflected the teachings of the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Founded in 1819, it promoted the use of a grand scale, a sense of drama, rational planning and large-scale classical detailing. It was a style well suited to the large railway stations being built in both Canada and the United States.

Despite several obstacles throughout the construction, including delays due to the First World War, the station was designed, built and opened for business within 23 years. Eventually the growing population in Toronto led to the creation of a rail commuter service, the GO train service. Union Station continued its function as the centre of the city’s rail systems. More than 100,000 passengers using either VIA, GO or the Toronto subway system pass through Union Station on a daily basis.

The successful use of monumental design, classical detailing and formal setting make Union Station one of the largest and most elaborate examples of Beaux-Arts railway architecture in Canada. Union Station is a designated National Historic site.

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