Remembering Union Station’s Twentieth Century Opening: August 6: Snapshots in History

August 6, 2016 | John P.

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On August 6 and beyond, take a moment to remember the twentieth century official opening of Toronto’s Union Station on August 6, 1927 by His Royal Highness, Edward, Prince of Wales (who was to become the ill-fated King Edward VIII in a few short years), with rail traffic beginning to arrive and depart on August 11, 1927. Also accompanying the Prince of Wales was his younger brother, Prince George (who became Duke of Kent in 1934). (View more images from the 1927 Royal Tour, courtesy of the Department of Canadian Heritage.)

Edward Prince of Wales and Prince George at Toronto City Hall August 6 1927
 

Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince George at Toronto City Hall, August 6, 1927

Credit: City of Toronto Archives – William James Family Fonds

 

In 1858, the first Union Station was opened by the Grand Trunk Railway in a location just west of the current Union Station train shed. Constructed of wood, Grand Trunk Railway shared the facility with Northern Railway and the Great Western Railway. To keep up with a growing economy and population, Grand Trunk Railway constructed a second Union Station (on the same site as the first one) that opened on July 1, 1873. An expansion program was undertaken in 1892, including construction of a three-track train shed on the south side of the 1873 station. A seven-story office building (made of red brick and Credit Valley stone) was also built on Front Street. A covered passageway or arcade was created to connect the older and newer sections of the station. Although Union Station remained in use throughout its upgrade, the official opening occurred on January 1, 1896.

 

Union Station 1873-1927, Toronto, Ont. September 1894

Union Station (1873-1927), Toronto, Ont. (September 1894).

 

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a variety of railway companies served different Canadian cities and often built their own railway stations. Toronto was no exception but the “great fire” in Toronto’s downtown area on April 19, 1904 (which destroyed 14 acres of the city’s downtown manufacturing and warehousing district) served as a catalyst for the railway companies to pool their resources and build one railway station in downtown Toronto, even though the railway station itself was not damaged. The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) leased land from the City of Toronto east of the second Union Station (bordered by Bay and York Streets) in 1905. Both the GTR and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) decided to design and build a third Union Station within the context of increased transcontinental railway traffic encouraged by the Government of Canada.

On July 13, 1906, the GTR and the CPR jointly established the Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR) as equal partners, incorporated under the auspices of the Government of Canada, to "construct, provide, maintain and operate at the City of Toronto a union passenger station". The TTR began construction of the third Union Station in 1914 but the onset of the First World War led to shortages in building materials and skilled workers. Consequently, the construction of the twentieth-century Union Station extended into 1920. However, the opening of the third Union Station did not happen for another seven years as the approach track system connecting to the station was designed and built by the TTR. An additional complication ensued with the Grand Truck Railway going bankrupt, only to be nationalized by the Government of Canada and absorbed into Canadian National Railways (CNR) on January 30, 1923 after an arbitration process (involving GTR shareholders and management officials who were opposed to nationalization) ruled on the issue.

When the Prince of Wales officially opened Union Station on August 6, 1927, the building was completed but the track network was shifted on August 10, 1927 from the second Union Station to the third one with rail traffic commencing the following day. 

Union Station was designated a National Historic Site in 1975.

 

Union Station opened 1927, Front St. W., s. side, betw. Bay & York Sts.

Union Station (opened 1927), Front St. West, south side, between Bay & York Streets.

 

Union Station opened 1927, Front St. W., s. side, betw. Bay & York Sts. INTERIOR

Union Station (opened 1927), Front St. West, south side, between Bay & York Streets.; INTERIOR.

Consider the following title for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

 

The Open Gate Toronto Union Station

Book, 1972

 

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