Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Another Town, Another Train

North Bay
"Guess I will spend my life in railway stations."
Nice line in a rather maudlin Abba song, which frankly, I don't even remember. But it's a way to start yet another post about railway stations.

When mon amour and I raided the history shelves at Berry & Peterson last summer, I finally succumbed to yet another Ron Brown book, The Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More (Broadview Press, 1991.)

Melville, Sask.
 Admittedly, I have regaled you over time with train station stops: Brighton's exceptional railway museum Memory JunctionTorontoKingston,
a junket along the Central Ontario Railway from Maynooth to PictonStirling, and Melville, Saskatchewan.

And I cannot promise this will be the last one. This is my journal after all. But I do appreciate you reading over my shoulder. At the risk of repeating myself, I thought Brown's notes on railway station styles were worth exploring.

The book has taken me on a rail-trip through my photo archives, remembering stations we have seen over time. 'Station Builders', the chapter on station architecture provides a neat organizing principle for thinking about their architecture. Brown explains how "a glance at a railway station's style will often reveal what region of Canada it was in, what railway line it was on, and even when it was built."

Seems the companies operated with the same motivation as the builders of banks, civic buildings - and even homes of the well to do -  image. Design made a statement about a railway company's financial solidity, inspiring confidence in the public.

Brown tours the entire country, and the generations, noting style differences. Suggest you have a look before your next cross-country tour. An astonishing number have been lost, so look fast.

later bay clutters the "tidy solid appearance"

My takeaway from the book was Brown's account of the Grand Trunk Railway. He states theirs were the country's "first truly distinctive stations." And the motivation? To assure the sceptical public that the railway wouldn't be one of those cheap and nasty American companies, but a proper "first-class English railway."

And how did the GTR go about this? They hired an architectural firm to build English-looking stations on their line between Toronto and Montreal. The "English look" used stone Romanesque arches (trading on the subliminal messages sent by the uncanny longevity and integrity of Roman viaducts and other structures.) We're fortunate to have several Grand Trunk stations in our neighbourhood. 

Napanee's still-operating stone station
Although most of the little stations were of stone, the Brighton GTR station (about which I have written numerous times, in its role as Memory Junction Museum) was built of locally made brick.

Napanee's limestone station displays the pattern: 5 arched windows (many, like these, filled in over time) and a door in the long side, 2 windows in the end wall. Roundel. Wide eaves with straight brackets.

Belleville's now-vacant stone heritage station with its six arches  (which, oddly, I have never recorded, but here's a peek) started out the same way, then grew a Mansard roofed second storey.

So many more of the same pattern popped up along the GTR lines. Picton, Port Hope, Prescott, Ernestown.  I don't know how many still stand. It will be a while before I get round to looking. In the meantime, this simply astonishing album of railway station photos should suffice.

About halfway down the the album is a Jim Parker photo of the Stirling station, dated 1977.
Today it's a well-restored example of another company's venture into a corporate style, the Van Horne stations of the CPR.
 William Van Horne was the CPR vice-president in 1884 who inspired a standard look for their company's stations. The Van Horne station was a two storey structure, providing quarters for the station master upstairs from work.

Frame buildings, narrow eaves, unadorned but for king post and finial in the gable end. I recall historian and tour guide Bill Hunt regaling the assembled Hastings Historical Society bus tour group over the height of this finial some years ago. Great fun. Great guy. Great loss.

Brown states that this style was most common between Winnipeg and the Rockies. In fact, its other name was the 'Indian Head' style. This 'Vintage Everyday' site photo of the Indian Head station in 1884 shows the family resemblance to the station in Stirling.

Image result for Indian Head train station Van Horne image
William Notman photograph 

I admit to getting hopelessly confused with the amalgamations, absorptions and demises of the country's railway lines. I'll leave that to my friend Larry. Me, I'll take stations for 2017, Alex.


  1. Very nice indeed. Thank you. May 2017 see you continue to chug along...with a full head of steam...staying on the right track...not being railroaded...the real McCoy...and any other railway cliche you can think of!

  2. Two of the most beautiful train stations I've seen are in Barry's Bay and Peterborough. The train doesn't go that way anymore, but the buildings are still in good condition and in use.
    I was up to North Bay this summer and got a photo of that train station as well. I lived in North Bay for most of the 1970s and frequently took the train to S.Ontario. For some reason I don't recognize this building, wondering if it is new?

  3. I'll have to look for the two you mention, Karen. The North Bay photo is of the 1903 CPR station on Oak Street. When we visited in 2012, they were just finishing a park redevelopment around it. Beautiful. I'll post something more. You would have travelled from the ONR station near Northgate Square, maybe?

  4. Or was it the CPR station at Fraser and Second Avenue? I actually worked in North Bay 1985-95, but lived out of town, so didn't spend as much time with the architecture as I would do today.

  5. Oh, probably the Fraser and Second Ave. station.
    The old Peterborough train station was used by the Chamber of Commerce when my daughter was doing co-op in high school. Not sure if the Chamber is still there, but the tracks are still in place and there is talk of bringing a commuter train back through there again. The old Barry's Bay train station has it's own small park. There are historical photos and displays within. There is a magnificent old hotel across the street called the Balmoral. Both buildings are just gems. I can highly recommend a Friday afternoon visit when the farmers market is in operation.

  6. Sounds like a spring visit - on a Friday - is in my future! Thanks for suggesting some beauty spots.

  7. Hi. Wondering if I can get an original copy of the photo of the Indian Head Train Station in 1884 as shown in this blog. I am writing the history of a family who arrived in Indian Head from Quebec in 1906 and I would like to include this photo, which credit to the originator of the photo. This would have been the station at which they arrived. Tom Rogers

  8. Tom, this photo is from the William Notman archives at the McCord Museum. You can find it with an online search - the photo is no longer copyright protected, according to what I read, so you should be able to use it, and credit Notman.Imagine arriving in that open prairie at the turn of the last century!