Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, February 22, 2013

Who knew? Who looked?

As I observed in an earlier post about the astonishing Union Station, most folks miss the best features of the place, in the stampede to catch a GO train. This place was built to impress. Works for me.

Opened in 1927 by visiting royalty, Edward, Prince of Wales, this structure was a long time a-building. It was  originally planned as the terminal for both the Grand Trunk and  Canadian Pacific railway companies (imagine all the planning deliberations going on in that pre-fax, pre-email, pre-con call era), but during the long wait, Grand Trunk went bankrupt (and Downton Abbey fans know what that meant) and CP carried on alone.
four-storey barrel-vaulted windows

Union Station is the largest and most opulent train station ever built in Canada...a true temple to travel in the days  of porters, trunks, fine dining aboard with proper dress for dinner, and docile children.

The intrados of the massive barrel-vaulted windows is reminiscent of the awe-inspiring coffered dome ceiling of the Pantheon, and has the same effect...on me, anyway. The folks lining up to take photos in front of the (incongruous) 'Return of the Walking Dead' display...not so much. Or the splendid group in the wedding party, taking photos (truly).

notice the rosettes in the window
barrel-vault ceiling coffers
 I would love to be alone in this place - no muffled echoing squawks from the public address system, no crowds streaming by, no fast food aromas.
vault ceiling of  Gustavino tiles

It was built in the Beaux Arts style, a style emerging from an architecture school in Paris called (not surprisingly) Ecole des Beaux Arts. The style is characterized by all the right classical elements (arches and barrel vaults, columns, capitals, dentil and egg and dart mouldings), but supersized. Not for the Beaux Arts designer the cool simplicity and restraint of Classical architecture, but a stylish mash-up of Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles, writ large; monumental columns, colonnades, balustrades, and decorative elements. For the sports-minded, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a brilliant example (should anyone be looking).

And should you read and see more, check out Shannon Kyle's architecture site, Ontario Architecture.


  1. There, I'm back. Just spent a half-hour on Shannon's website, trying to get a few more of those architectural terms fixed in my porous brain.

  2. Ha! One of the reasons I write the blog is to keep practising the language. Like they say, if you don't use a language....