Union Station in Toronto
Union Station is the major inter-city rail station and a major commuter rail hub in Toronto, located on Front Street West and occupying the south side of the block bounded by Bay Street and York Street in the central business district. The station building is owned by the City of Toronto, while the trainshed and trackage is owned by the commuter rail operator GO Transit. Serving 200,000 passengers a day, it is the busiest passenger transportation facility in Canada. Union Station is also located at the centre of Canada's busiest inter-city rail service area, termed "The Corridor" by Via, that stretches from Quebec City in the east to Windsor in the west. As such, Union Station is Via's most-used facility; the station saw 2.34 million Via Rail boardings in 2004, more than half of all Via passengers carried systemwide that year.
The bilaterally symmetrical building comprises three connecting box masses facing Front Street West, with the main structure in the middle. Together, the three parts measure 752 ft long and occupy the entire south side of the block between Bay Street in the east and York Street in the west.
The exterior Front Street facade is laid out in an ashlar pattern, constructed with smooth beige Indiana and Queenston limestone. The colonnaded porch which faces Front Street features 22 equally spaced Roman Tuscan columns made from Bedford limestone, each 40 ft high and weighing 75 tons. Fourteen 3-storey bays, each with severely delineated fenestration, form the facade on either side of the central colonnade for a total of 28 bays. The structures at either end have an additional ten bays. There are three rectangular windows in each bay, lighting the interior hall with plenty of natural light. However, the external profile of the building is quite hard and flat, with its line of huge columns, heavy ornamentation and strong symmetry.
The receded main entrance is framed by two sets of four columns, with relief wreaths carved into the entablature above the columns. These columns are composed of three separate segments on top of an incongrous octagonal plinth, implying an Ionic order or Corinthian order; however, the capital is sculpted in a Doric order. Consequently, these columns appear to be unfinished. The original plan for the columns is not known.
A wraparound dentil cornice and a pushed back peaked hipped roof creates the illusion of a flat roof, just like a palazzo. On either side of the main entrance, a blind arch with an ornamental keystone contains a set of three steel-framed doors, along with a large arched window. Decorative friezes separate the arched window from the doors. When all these entryway elements are combined, they create a processional experience through the entryway into the grand interior space. The flat-roof illusion, together with the axial symmetry, classical detailing in both structural and decorative elements, heavy ornamentation, and formal setting is typical of the Beaux-Arts style.
The front entranceway opens onto the expansive Ticket Lobby, which has come to be informally known as the "Great Hall." This part of Union Station runs the entire length of the main section. It is 250 ft long and 88 ft high at its highest point. Just as with the outside facade, enduring materials such as bronze, limestone, marble, tiles, and transluscent glass create a sense of enduring quality.
The entire space is lit with diffused natural light from clerestory windows refracted throughout the lobby. Each end of the Great Hall also features four-storey tall arched windows, based on those of Roman baths.
The two-storey high vaulted ceiling, which is what makes it look from the front as though a second building were rising behind the collonade, is constructed of coffered Guastavino tiles. The walls are faced with Zumbro stone from Missouri, and the floors are constructed of Tennessee marble laid in a herringbone pattern. Below the cornice surrounding the "Great Hall" are carved the names of many Canadian destinations, from the east coast all the way to Vancouver, which were accessible via the Grand Trunk Railway or Canadian Pacific Railway at the time of the station's construction. Many of those destinations are still on Via Rail routes.
All of Via Rail's ticket, baggage, and information counters are located in this space, mostly lined against the front wall. This is also where Via Rail ticket agents handle all ticketing sales and baggage services for Amtrak and Ontario Northland passengers. Small restaurants and other stores line the opposite wall. The main clock and the main departures board are in the centre of the space. A stairwell is located at either end of the hall, which leads to the arrivals area one floor below and also connects to urban transit. Benches are available by the stairwells at either end for passengers and those meeting them, although most people prefer to wait in the departure area, which is located down a large ramp located in the centre of the back wall.
The departure area is a large, wide space underneath the tracks. Most of Union Station's seating areas are located here, as well as lounges for the use of Via 1 passengers. Seventeen gates lines the east and west walls of the departure area, each with an escalator heading up to the track level.
Stairways at either end of the "Great Hall" lead to the Arrivals Concourse which is used by Via Rail, Amtrak and Ontario Northland for inter-city train passengers. There is access from this level to the GO Concourse which is used by GO Transit commuter train passengers, as well as access to the TTC subway and streetcar station and the PATH pedestrian tunnel network which connects to the Royal York Hotel and many of the major buildings in the central business district. Union Station also features office space used by the TTR, GO Transit and CN and CP.
Union Station has appeared in various films and television series, often representing settings in other cities.
Toronto's third and current Union Station was constructed between 1914-1920 by the TTR. It was officially opened to the public on August 6, 1927, in a lavish ribbon cutting ceremony by Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (using a pair of gold scissors). In attendance were Prince George, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario William Donald Ross and his wife, Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Stanley Baldwin and Mrs. Baldwin, Premier of Ontario George Howard Ferguson, and numerous other members of the Ontario and Canadian governments.
The history of the current Union Station can be traced to 1858 when Toronto's first Union Station was opened by the Grand Trunk Railway just west of the present Union Station. This wooden structure was shared with the Northern Railway and the Great Western Railway. The GTR replaced the first Union Station with a second Union Station on the same site, opening in 1873. As both the Northern Railway and Great Western Railway had been acquired by the GTR, this was not a true Union station, however the Canadian Pacific Railway began using the facility in 1884 and it was completely rebuilt, opening in 1896.
The Great Toronto Fire of 1904 demolished the block south of Front Street West, immediately east of the second Union Station (bounded by Bay and York streets), but did not damage the station itself. The GTR acquired this land east of the second Union Station for a new passenger terminal and in 1905 both the GTR and the CPR decided to proceed with the design and construction of a third union station.
The decision to undertake the third union station was made against a backdrop of significant change in the Canadian railway industry. At the same time, the federal government was encouraging the GTR to proceed with constructing a second transcontinental railway (what would later become the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the National Transcontinental Railway) and the Canadian Northern Railway was undertaking an aggressive expansion across the Prairies and into southern Ontario.
Toronto Terminals Railway
On July 13, 1906, the Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR) was incorporated by the Government of Canada to "construct, provide, maintain and operate at the City of Toronto a union passenger station." The TTR was jointly owned by the GTR and the CPR who each held 50% of the TTR shares. The TTR supervised construction of the new station which began in 1914 and proceeded to 1920, having faced significant delays in the shortage of construction material and workers as a result of the First World War, as well as the deteriorating financial position of the GTR due to its ill-fated transcontinental GTPR railway project.
Although the headhouse and east and west office wings of the new station (the station building visible from Front Street West) were completed in 1920, it did not open to the public for another 7 years until the system of approach tracks were designed and implemented by the TTR and its owners. During this time in 1923, the bankrupt GTR was fully nationalized by the federal government and merged into the Canadian National Railways (CNR), which would assume the GTR's 50% ownership of the TTR and thus the third Union Station.
The station building's grand-opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on August 6, 1927, was completed four days later when the track network was shifted over from the second Union Station on August 10. Demolition of the second Union Station began almost immediately and was completed in 1928. The third Union Station project was not fully completed until 1930 when the train shed was completed; its construction was supervised by the TTR from 1925-1930. A subsequent announcement on May 24, 2006, addressed several issues for commuters including: constructing a direct connection from the GO Concourse to the PATH pedestrian tunnel system, a new eastbound platform for the Union TTC station, improved access to streetcars at Union TTC station, and improved capacity for inter-city railway passengers. These developments were part of a $100 million initiative announced by the city and its transit authorities, along with the provincial and federal governments. On August 5, 2009, the Toronto City Council approved an update of this plan which was projected to cost $640 million, with construction lasting from 2010 to 2014. However, negotiations with Metrolinx fell through.
In July 2010, Metrolinx announced that it would design, build, own, and operating an airport rail link from Union Station. Construction has begun and is expected to be completed in time for the 2015 Pan American Games.
Further details of the proposal indicate a complete overhaul of the concourse levels, deepening them to create two stories of space. The lower storey will provide retail space and room for pedestrian traffic flow, and the upper storey will be dedicated to passenger traffic onto the platforms. This will expand not only the current GO concourse in the east of the building, but also open up the western end; GO Transit's presence in the building will nearly quadruple. Additional aesthetic points include glass roofs over the moat space around the north sides of the building, and a tall atrium over the central portions of the platforms. A southern entrance adjacent to the Air Canada Centre will also be implemented.
The service is expected to eliminate 1.5 million car trips annually. The project remains controversial due to opposition from neighbourhoods along the route.
GO Transit offices
In 2008, it was announced that GO Transit and the City of Toronto had been in discussions for GO Transit to purchase and develop all the upper floors of Union Station. Those floors have 100,000 sqft. of office space that were once used by rail employees. Those floors and offices are mostly unused, and are only occupied by a small number of Via Rail, TTR and GO Transit employees.
GO Transit plans to renovate the space and eventually relocate its headquarters from 20 Bay Street. The purchase would allow GO Transit to control vast areas of Union Station, almost all the property except the Great Hall. GO Transit already leases space in the concourse level and the plan would also allow GO Transit and Via to lease more space in the Great Hall area.
- A list of other railway stations (terminals or depots) in Toronto
- Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway Terminal - south of Fort York
- Grand Trunk Freight House - Front and Simcoe
- Northern Railway Office - Spadina and Wellington
- Grand Trunk Passenger Terminal - Front and Yonge (now Sony Centre for the Performing Arts)
- Toronto and Nipissing Railway Passenger, Freight and Maintenance Terminal, Berkele Street - Front and Parliament
- Northern Railway Depot - south of St Lawrence Market
- Toronto Union Station Master Plan
- CBC: Train station leased for 100 years
- Transport Canada Rail Link News Release
- Toronto's Union-Pearson Air-Rail Link
- Toronto Terminals Railway Company
- Underground exploration
- Union Station at the City of Toronto
- Union Station at Transit Toronto
- Toronto Union Station (Canada RailGuide—TrainWeb)(English)
- Photos of Toronto Union Station and Skywalk