Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Slow Motion Train Wreck

 The expression "slow motion train wreck" is a common metaphor for an inevitable tragedy unfolding in front of one's eyes. It's often used to describe a  life unravelling due to addiction. I think it can be equally descriptive of the decline of abandoned properties, often hotly championed, but with circumstances that do not augur well for successful adaptive reuse and salvation. We watch it happen.

One of the best examples I've seen lately is Kingston's Outer Station. I've been hearing about it for several years. One day last fall, on a search for resonance (ghosts of the early developing city) along Montreal Street, I came upon the unmistakeable proportions of a train station, and quickly nosed Blanche onto the sidewalk beside some substantial cement barriers - "no meddling here, they asserted"-  to have a closer look.

My immediate reaction was 'what is there to save'? And a nanosecond later, as my eye swept the property, the skeleton of a two-storey limestone with its four corner chimneys still proudly standing, caught my attention, and I knew.
Outer station (1855)

This station stood along a sharp curve on the Grand Trunk Railway, midpoint between Montreal and Toronto, and served as Kingston's main station from 1856 until the current station opened in 1974. The brick building was added 1895-98. Once there were wood and freight sheds, engine houses, and a refreshment saloon.

Eventually, the station ran out of steam. The track was moved north in 1976, and the offices were closed in 1987. The place was repurposed as a restaurant for a bit, but was a bit too far from the entertainment district to succeed. Another note on the theme of location, location is the fate of the Inner Station, which was connected by a spur line. Sitting on Ontario Street, housing a restaurant, it is the darling of the tourists.

The limestone building, which bears a resemblance to Belleville's heritage station according to one source (but with the added cachet of a second storey)  and its site were designated as a heritage railway station in 1994. Sadly (predictably?) a fire destroyed the roof of the stone building two years later.

The property stands neglected, one of the Canadian Heritage Foundation's 2008 top ten endangered sites. Its chances can't be improving with age. A "sub-prime location" limiting development (not my words,) delays in the courts, CNR's historic intransigence, and site contamination don't augur well. A newpaper account from early this year suggests there's still hope, although I don't have an update.

There are historic photos of the old Outer Station on the astounding blog Trackside Treasure. My curiosity about the roof form (I'd guessed Mansard) was instantly satisfied (although the author notes that roof was added 20 years after construction.) Here's a link. Blogger Eric Gagnon offers "the definitive source for Canadian railway enlightenment." I think he may be right. See you there!

Thanks to Wikipedia for some of the facts, and to Vintage Kingston's  wonderfully nostalgic Facebook page for the image of the intact Outer Station illustrating the similarity in design with Belleville's historic station.
Wonder what its future will be?

Interestingly (at least to me) I thought I had posted this account long ago. I even referred to it in a 'subsequent' post - which may have had some ambitious reader following the link to 'Sorry.' Just now, as I was going through my train station posts, I discovered this one - about to leave the station.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly hope something comes of it. If it was built in 1856 then it might be one of the original Grand Trunk stations ?? (I'm guessing on that). Oddly, the bldg. seems much larger in the ruins picture than in the historical photo.

    If you want a good example of a train stn restoration, the one in Annapolis Royal NS was magnificent: