Newfoundland Railway Terminus & Headquarters, Former

Heritage Railway Station of Canada

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Corner view of the Former Newfoundland Railway Terminus & Headquarters, showing the front façade, 1988. (© Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs Canada, Ian Doull, 1988.)
Front façade
(© Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs Canada, Ian Doull, 1988.)
Address : 495 Water Street, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Statute: Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. 52 (4th Supp.))
Designation Date: 1990-11-16
  • 1901 to 1902 (Construction)
  • 1901 to 1969 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Newfoundland Railway  (Organization)
  • Reid Newfoundland Company  (Organization)
  • W.H. Massey  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Former Newfoundland Railway Headquarters  (Other Name)
  • Terra Transport Terminus  (Other Name)
  • Newfoundland Railway Station  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: RS-015

Description of Historic Place

The Former Newfoundland Railway Terminus & Headquarters building is located at 495 Water Street on the west end of downtown St. John’s. It is a substantial stone building of mixed Chateau and Second Empire design.

Heritage Value

The Newfoundland Railway station and corporate headquarters in St. John’s has been designated a heritage railway station in recognition of its historical role within the province and in the development of west-end St. John's. This was the only purpose-built stone station constructed in Newfoundland, and one of the few of unique (non-standard) design.

The Former Newfoundland Railway Terminus & Headquarters was built in 1901-02 to designs prepared by W.H. Massey, Chief Structural Engineer of Reid Newfoundland Co., the initial owner of the Newfoundland Railway. For many years it served as the eastern terminus of the company’s transinsular train service. It became part of the Canadian National rail system in 1949, then was converted for use as a bus terminal after rail passenger service ended in 1969. It was declared a national historic site of Canada in 1988.

The Former Newfoundland Railway Terminus & Headquarters is both the principal symbol and one of the last remnants of the railway period of provincial history. Issues relating to railway management and financing dominated the Newfoundland political agenda for decades, and debt incurred in support of the railway contributed to the colony’s financial default which, in turn, invoked suspension of its responsible government. The construction and continued presence of this station has also had a significant effect on the development of St. John’s. When it was built in 1903, railway facilities were relocated from the east end to the west end of the city, and they subsequently stimulated development of a concentrated industrial zone in the west end near the St. John's dry-dock.

The heritage value of St. John's station lies in its attractive interpretation of the Second Empire and Chateau styles, in those aspects of its design associated with its dual function as a station and headquarters building, in its pivotal role in defining the railway character of the area, and in its symbolic status within the region.

Sources: Heritage Character Statement, Newfoundland Railway Station, St. John’s, 2 November 1990; Heritage Assessment Report RSR-015, 1990.

Character-Defining Elements

Character-defining elements of this heritage railway station, include: its rectangular footprint, and symmetrical massing as a three-and-a-half-storey central pavilion under a high mansard roof with flanking two-storey wings, each terminated by a two-and-a-half-storey mansard-roofed pavilion with a prominent façade gable; its substantial scale and generous proportions; its balanced definition and axial symmetry; the unifying prominence of its complex roof definition; the evidence of the principles of Second Empire style in its articulation including the symmetrical massing of the pavilion, the mansard roof form, and the shape and arrangement of the fenestration; the evidence of the principles of the Chateau style in its articulation including the steeply pitched and irregular roofline and the presence of both flat-roofed and steeply-pitched dormers; the variety and visual interest incorporated in the feature elements of its façade : projecting bays, an oriole window, triple-arched and round windows; the hierarchy of importance allocated to its façades (with side and track façades less detailed than the principal town façade); the presence of special railway features such as exterior canopies; the substantial nature and unifying simplicity of its stone exterior materials; the integrity of all surviving original fabric inside the station; continued legibility of its original interior functional and spatial configuration, and in particular evidence of the dual role it served as station and corporate headquarters; the continuity of its longstanding circulation patterns, in particular that by which the front of the station is linked with the platform at the rear through the waiting room; the overall integrity of the building’s form, plan, material, and detail.