Toronto's Union Station

The front entrance to Union Station, looking west along Front Street.

Article by Sean Marshall and James Bow;
except where noted, photographs for this article were taken from this web site.


Union Station is, by far, Toronto's most important transportation hub. Over 200,000 passengers use the station each day, compared with just 80,000 passengers using Pearson Airport. It is the final stop for most commuters using GO Transit's rail lines in from the outer reaches of the GTA and its use will grow as inter-city bus terminal at Bay and Dundas is gradually relocated next to the station.

Union is a major destination within VIA Rail's busy Windsor to Quebec City Corridor. It is the terminus for the transcontinental Canadian and it hosts VIA-Amtrak co-run trains from New York and Chicago. It is even the starting point for the Northlander to Cochrane via the Ontario Northland. It boasts connections with Toronto's subway network and has the potential to be the hub of an LRT network spreading across Toronto's waterfront. It is also the focal point of a wide corridor of land that has separated Toronto from its waterfront for decades.

Union Station is also an architectural marvel with a long and colourful history. Although this article can hardly do justice to such a landmark, we will attempt here to document at least some of that history and provide a glimpse of its future.

The Railways Come to Toronto

Union stations can be found in many cities across North America. The term describes a station where a number of railroads share space, as opposed to each railway having its own central station for that city. Toronto's current Union Station is actually the city's third such station, and only one of a multitude of railway stations which were built between Parliament and Bathurst Streets along Toronto's waterfront.

The first train to leave Toronto's waterfront was a little steam engine named Toronto pulling a passenger train on the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway on May 16, 1853. Its destination was Aurora. Three years after the railway (known as the Northern Railway after 1858; the line was eventually extended to Barrie and Meaford) built its line to Aurora, the Grand Trunk arrived and built lines to the east and the west, each served by separate stations. The eastern station, located on the east bank of the Don River, served trains from Montreal, while the western station, located at Queen's Wharf near Bathurst Street, served trains heading to such exotic western destinations as Guelph and Sarnia. The western line opened first in July 1856, followed by the eastern line to Oshawa in August 11 of the same year (service to Montreal would begin on October 27, 1856). The Grand Trunk Railway connected its eastern and western lines in 1857 and received access to the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron station that year.

Toronto's first official Union Station came about when the Great Western Railway (which had arrived late in 1855) cooperated with the Grand Trunk Railway and the Northern Railway to build a facility which opened to the public in May 1858. The building was located at the foot of Simcoe Street, south of Front Street, and the street directly in front of the building, running from Simcoe to York, was named Station Street. The street remains to this day, long after stations on the site were demolished.

The first Union Station would not last, however. In 1866, the GWR decided to build its own station and opened a two-track structure near Yonge Street. The NR followed suit, opening its own station behind City Hall (now the St. Lawrence Market) in 1868. In 1871, the GTR decided to demolish the first Union Station, and a temporary station served passengers until July 1, 1873, when Grand Trunk opened a new station at the site. It was a handsome structure, with three towers dominating the building and the centre tower (also the tallest) bearing a clock. It had an enclosed train shed with three tracks, which the GTR deemed adequate for a city of 65,000.

The GTR, the NR, the GWR and the Toronto and Nipissing Railway each had their own stations until the 1880s. Consolidation of the railway companies (GWR into the GTR; the Credit Valley and the Toronto, Grey and Bruce into Canadian Pacific) resulted in some reduction of this confusing array of stations. The Great Western's station near Yonge Street closed to trains in 1882 following Grand Trunk's takeover. Thus Grand Trunk's three-track facility became Toronto's second Union Station. A market opened up within the old Great Western station, and stayed there until 1952 when the building was consumed by fire.

The Need For a Modern Facility

It wasn't long, though, before the second Union Station was operating beyond its capacity, despite a major renovation in 1891 which increased the number of tracks from three to six. Even though the GTR acquired the Northern in 1888, Northern's station behind the St. Lawrence Market remained in use by ex-Northern trains until 1894, because there was just no room at Union Station. As the 19th century came to a close, a new rail terminal was proposed. Nothing happened until 1904, when a great fire swept across Toronto's downtown, destroying virtually all of the buildings in an area bounded by the railway lands, Wellington Street, Yonge Street and York Street. The only buildings saved in the area were the Dominion building and the Queen's Hotel. This event, while tragic, did facilitate the assembly of land for a new station.

In 1905, plans were made for a new Union Station and a viaduct to separate the trains from the heavy foot and commercial traffic between the harbour and Front Street. To accomplish this, the Toronto Terminals Railway was incorporated by the Canadian parliament on July 13, 1906. The CPR and the GTR (later the Canadian National Railways) each owned half of the new company. The TTR was given ownership of all the tracks between Bathurst Street in the west to the Don River in the east (30.36 track miles in total) and the construction of Union Station became the TTR's responsibility.

Front Entrance

Union Station, as seen from Front and York, looking southeast.

Despite this, it still took nine years for the various governments, railroads and property owners to agree on a proposal. A team of architects including the Montreal firm of G.A. Ross and R.H. MacDonald as well as Hugh Jones of the CPR and John M. Lyle of Toronto prepared the design of the station. On April 26, 1914, the plan for the Union Station was approved by the Board of Railway Commissioners and on September 26, 1914, just weeks after the start of the First World War, construction began. War shortages slowed construction, but in 1920 the building was ready to be opened. However, the viaduct was not complete. Disputes over whether the tracks should pass over or under Toronto's streets kept the new Union Station closed for years. Finally, on August 6, 1927, the station was officially opened by the visiting Prince of Wales (the station actually went into use five days later, on August 11). Once the new station opened, the old Union Station at the foot of Simcoe Street was closed and eventually demolished.

Even as the station opened, the viaduct was still under construction. Passengers still had to use the old platforms from the Old Union Station in order to board their trains. A temporary wooden bridge from the new station to the old station tracks was erected and used until the viaduct was completed in 1929. Even then, the transfer was not complete. On June 14, 1916, the CPR had opened North Toronto station by Yonge Street on its mainline through the city, and its trains continued to use that station until 1930 before switching to Union.

Two years after Union Station opened, its complementary landmark was welcoming guests. The Royal York Hotel, then the British Empire's largest hotel, was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to serve travellers. It continues to function as Toronto's great railway hotel. It replaced the more modest Queen's Hotel, which stood on the same site.

A Tour of Union Station

Toronto's Union Station is a mammoth Beaux Arts structure sitting on the south side of Front Street between Bay and York Streets. The building is 752 feet long from east to west and has an average height of 87 feet. Its centre block features 22 stone columns, each 40 feet in height and weighing more than 75 tonnes. The building is composed of portions of Indiana, Queenstone and Bedford limestone, the latter of which comprises the columns.

Union Station has a train shed on its southern side that extends over twelve tracks, and offices exist on the eastern and western wings of the structure. A depressed road separates Union Station from Front Street like a moat. It was used for cab deliveries. Patrons from Front Street enter Union Station on a wide and short bridge over this moat, in front of the station's main doors.

The moat surrounding Union Station, looking west towards York Street.

Entering Union Station, patrons come upon the centrepiece of Union Station: its Great Hall. At 250 feet long and 84 feet wide, the arched ceiling tops out at 88 feet above the floor and is set with vitrified Gustavino tile. This impressive space features impressive detailwork of carved stone, with large arched, composite windows on the eastern and western ends of the hall. Three quarters of the way up the wall, you will see the names of various Canadian cities carved in stone -- possible destinations of passengers embarking from Union Station in 1921 (See Interesting Union Station Trivia for more detail). The Great Hall's walls are made of Zumbro stone from Missouri. The stone reflects the light subtly and brightens the appearance of the space.

After buying their tickets in the Great Hall, passengers wishing to board their trains would head south through the the Great Hall and proceed down a ramp to the departures lounge. Wide columns here hold up the tracks and trains above. Stairs on either side of the concourse take the passengers up to the platforms.

Passengers from trains arriving at Union Station took different sets of stairs down from the platforms to corridors on either side of the Departures Concourse. These corridors led north, before turning sharply and meeting beneath the ramp connecting the Great Hall to the Departures Concourse. From here, they accessed the Arrivals Concourse, a much smaller area. Here, people could leave Union Station via ramps to Front Street, or via two stone stairwells leading back to the Great Hall.

An exception was Track 1. Located nearest to the Great Hall, it was accessed directly from the station.

Union Station also boasted extensive postal facilities. At the time, most of the mail was moved by train. Not only was there a public post office which took up much of the eastern end of the building, the Toronto Postal Delivery Building was located south of the station and featured a tunnel beneath the tracks used by staff to access it. Remnants of Union Station's mail services can be seen to this day. Notice that one of the names carved into the post office (located over what is now the present GO concourse) is Franklin, referring to Benjamin Franklin, who was deputy postmaster general for the the British colonies of North America from 1753 to 1774.

The composite glass windows, showing some of the corridors inside them. This one is on the western side of the Great Hall.

The offices located within Union Station are rarely seen by the general public. The Toronto Terminals Railway has its offices in the west wing of the building. The offices and corridors exist from the second to the fifth storeys and surround the Great Hall. The large arched, composite windows at the east and west ends of the Great Hall are actually a series of corridors connecting the southern and northern portion of these wings. These corridors not only have glass walls comprising the windows that the public sees, but glass floors and glass ceilings as well. If you are lucky, you can see the vague silhouettes of office workers passing through these glassed-in corridors. Similar glass-floored corridors exist at the two entrance arches leading from Front Street.

The roof of the Great Hall. Photo by Sanj Arora

The corridors encircle the Great Hall and have windows which open out on the outside of Union Station. The primary purpose of these corridors is to heat and cool the station. Designed in the era before mechanical air conditioners, this feature is still effective in moderating the temperature of the Great Hall. In the summer months, a circulation is started up within encircling corridors which cools the Great Hall. In winter, the corridors provide an insulation of air, keeping the Great Hall warm. The encircling corridors run through the second, third and fourth storeys of Union Station. A fifth, sixth and seventh level exists on the south side of the station. The seventh floor is a wide expanse, and has been used as a firing range to train railway police officers.

Beneath the Great Hall and the arrivals lounge, a network of service tunnels allows station personnel to move the baggage to and from arriving and departing trains, as well as keep the station itself operating. Freight elevators connect these service areas with the tracks, and motorized carts dating back as far back as 1910 are to this day still used to move baggage to and from the trains. The basement levels house facilities for heating, ventilation and sewage disposal. A power substation, capable of supplying the needs of a good-sized town, is also located in the basement, as are self-contained carpentry, plumbing, electrical, machine and paint shops designed to handle Union Station's unique needs.

Depression, War, Car, Airplane

It is ironic that the opening of Toronto's long-delayed Union Station occurred just a couple of years before the onset of the Great Depression, just as construction had started as First World War began. After spending so much time and effort constructing a unified rail terminal for Toronto, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific found themselves facing dwindling freight and passenger markets. Some CN and CP passenger services were pooled, with competing routes managed as one in order to save money. This arrangement on the Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa runs lasted until October 31, 1965. The Second World War provided a respite from the loss of passenger traffic to the car and bus and the station saw many servicemen parting from friends and loved ones on their way to overseas duties.

On March 30, 1954, the Yonge Subway opened just north of the station building, replacing streetcars that had served the station since its opening. The original passage from the main station to the subway station crossed under the moat. Passengers from the arrivals level would go down stairs first, then after passing below the road would return to more or less their original level by a long ramp, reaching the same passage as the stairs coming down from the south sidewalk of Front Street. From here it was a few steps down to the subway station's entry concourse.

Subsequent additions to the TTC network, including the University line from Union to St. George in 1963, maintained Union Station's status as a major focus of Toronto's subway network. However, intercity passenger train service continued to decline. Losses were mounting on Canadian Pacific and Canadian National routes, and the number of trains diminished.

GO Transit Begins

It was in the early 1960s that Union Station stopped being primarily a terminus for long-distance train travel, and started to progressively take on its new role as a hub for shorter-distance commuter rail traffic. Canadian National had started a handful of commuter runs, but they were not as successful as the company hoped. The provincial government of Ontario, however, saw the need for improved commuter service. The development that the government of Metropolitan Toronto was created in 1954 to contain started to spill beyond Metro's boundaries. In the 1960s, the Province of Ontario examined the issue in its Metropolitan Toronto and Region Transportation Study (MTARTS). This time, they were unwilling to expand Metro's boundaries to contain the runaway development, but they realized that without a coordinating regional authority to manage the growth, commuter traffic into Toronto would increase -- especially along the provincially owned highways. To forestall the need to expand the Queen Elizabeth Way and the 401, the province created GO (Government of Ontario) Transit in 1967, and established a commuter service running from Oakville to Pickering along CN's lakeshore rail line.

Unlike the CN commuter runs, the service was a runaway success, and soon the Lakeshore GO line was operating seven days a week, with trains coming as frequently as every ten minutes during rush hours.

Development Plans Threaten Union Station

Despite the emergence of commuter rail, Union Station's importance continued to wane through the 1960s and the 1970s. Freight services were gradually removed from the railway lands surrounding Union Station and relocated to the edge of the city. The amount of land freed up by this process, and the fact that Toronto found itself in the 1960s cut off from the Waterfront by a quarter mile of railway yard and expressway, resulted in a number of redevelopment plans. Some of these plans called for the removal of Union Station.

In one such plan, a new, intermodal Union Station was to be built south of the existing structure, much of it underground, to be used by both trains and buses. The area to the south of Front Street from Yonge to Spadina was to be totally redeveloped, with tall office towers being the order of the day. Canadian National and Canadian Pacific planned to remove all of their tracks, save for new tracks to serve the new rail station. They would reap a windfall by building new office towers of their own, plus a retail mall, a convention centre and a new communications and observation tower.

A number of Toronto's citizens understandably objected to the demolition of the beautiful Union Station structure, and in acknowledgement of this, some plans had called for the retention of the Great Hall, while others for the retention of entire structure to be used as a shopping concourse. Few, if any, plans called for Union Station to remain as a railway station.

Metro Centre, proposed by Canadian National and calling for the demolition of all buildings on the south side of Front Street, including Union Station, was approved by Toronto's City Council in 1972. The announcement angered Torontonians, shocked by the loss of such an impressive structure. In the same grassroots movement that successfully protested against the Spadina Expressway, a new reform-minded council was elected to power, including future Toronto mayors David Crombie and John Sewell. They appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, which overturned the former City Council's decision and saved Union Station from destruction. In this vein, Union Station was declared a national historic site in 1975.

Echoes of the Metro Centre plan exist in the CN Tower and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The SkyDome, built in 1989 in the railway lands, was an addition to the plan. Plans for the development of the railway lands were trashed and rewritten several times over, and much of the land still awaits construction.

GO Transit Expansion and the Arrival of VIA Rail

As the debate around the future of Union Station swirled about, GO Transit quietly expanded its use of Union Station. In 1967, part of the current arrivals level had been set aside for a GO Concourse to handle passengers arriving and departing from GO trains. Tracks 2 and 3 were reserved solely for GO Trains, while Track One was set aside for CN's Rapido and Turbo Trains to Ottawa and Montreal. Then GO Transit began to expand, quickly taking over Tracks 1, 4 and 5. Soon after its second line to Georgetown (renamed Kitchener after December 19, 2011) opened in 1974, routes to Milton, Stouffville, Richmond Hill and Bradford followed. Very quickly, it became apparent that this arrangement was insufficient for GO's needs.

Despite CN's experiments with high speed train travel, Canada's railways were finding passenger trains more and more of an onerous burden. In 1978, the Canadian government took over all passenger services from Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, uniting them under the banner of VIA Rail, a name CN had been marketing its passenger services under since 1976, and which had been a CN subsidiary since 1977. VIA initially used most of the station, with arrivals and departures handled through the main concourse, but soon found itself outpaced by GO Transit and its increasing network. Quickly GO Transit outgrew its use of tracks 1 to 5 and acquired track 12 from VIA operations. It later took over track 13, located outside at the southern edge of the train shed, which CN and VIA Rail had been using through the 1970s.

In 1979, the GO concourse was opened in the east wing of the station, in the part of Union Station formerly operated by the Canadian Post Office, conveniently closer to the subway station than the main station is. This change also helped get GO out of VIA's hair, allowing the parts of the main station (especially the Arrivals Concourse) to be returned to their original uses. The new concourse was on the same level as the arrivals part of the main station, and the depressed road. Accordingly, a direct path between the subway and the new concourse was now provided as a level crossing of this road (which is no longer in heavy use, save for storing rental cars for the Hertz and National car rental establishments inside the station), partially protected from weather with a roof. This access via the GO station also replaced the original tunnel between the main station and subway station, which still exists, but is not open to the public.

The GO concourse was built to handle a large number of passengers and has not been modified extensively since its opening. At the southern end of the GO concourse, a maze of stairs, escalators and elevators (added later) take passengers to tracks one through five of Union Station, and all trains except for those bound for Milton and Bradford. The GO Concourse acts as a food court as well as a waiting facility. Among its tenants are Country Style donuts, McDonald's, Laura Secord and Cinnabon. The rental income provides GO Transit with hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, as the huge amount of foot traffic through the facility makes those locations very valuable.

The front entrance to Union Station, looking east. Note the lettering on the cornice (see below). Photos by Sanj Arora

Changes Made to Union Station

As the railway lands slowly redeveloped, changes occurred to Union Station to reflect these new destinations. When the SkyDome was built near the CN Tower in the late 1980s, a long elevated walkway called the Skywalk was constructed from the west end of the Great Hall to near the domed stadium. The walkway crosses York Street by a bridge, from which a door leads directly to track 1, for the convenience of some GO Transit passengers. The walkway continues past this door and travels between Station Street and the railway tracks to Simcoe Street, where it turns sharply south and crosses the railway tracks before ending at the base of the CN Tower. Used to seeing far more walk-through traffic in the early days of the SkyDome, this walkway featured a number of fast food and sports collectible outlets, but these have all been unceremoniously closed. Similarly, in the early days of the SkyDome, special GO Trains were scheduled to depart Union Station a few minutes after the game for Milton, Georgetown and Richmond Hill, but these too have faded along with the Blue Jays' attendance figures.

West end waiting area

Waiting area at the west side of the station, looking southwest. The Skywalk was added in 1989 and links the station to the SkyDome, the Metro Convention Centre and the CN Tower.

Other connections were built between Union Station and other facilities, including the Metro Convention Centre, which can be accessed directly from the Skywalk or from the west end of the lower level's Arrivals Concourse, via the moat and a tunnel beneath York Street and an escalator up to Front Street.

In 1990, Union Station added another transport mode to its growing list of functions, as in that year, the new 604 Harbourfront streetcar line opened from Union Station to Spadina Avenue via Queens Quay. Up to that point, Union Station had had no streetcar service since 1963, when the Dupont streetcar was abandoned. In 1997, the streetcar line was renamed Spadina, and extended northward to Spadina station; and in 2000, Union Station began playing host to a second streetcar line, one running to the CNE grounds via Queen's Quay and Fleet Street.

In 1996, the character of Union Station was again jeopardised. At that time, the management of the Toronto Maple Leafs considered building a new sports facility on top of the train shed directly behind the Great Hall. The Great Hall was to be used as the main entrance. The Toronto Raptors were to share this facility, and construction of their sports facility at the old Postal Depot at the foot of Bay Street would be cancelled and that site turned into a intercity bus station. When the deal fell through, the Maple Leafs bought the Raptors and completed work on the Raptors' arena in the old Toronto Postal Delivery Building. The Air Canada Centre, as it is now called, is linked to the GO Concourse via the tunnel beneath the tracks that had been used by postal staff. In a way, Union Station has still become the gateway into the Maple Leafs' new home as many of the hockey and basketball fans take the subway or the GO Train to and from the game.

In June 2000, the City of Toronto reached an agreement with the railways and the Government of Canada to purchase Union Station for redevelopment. The City was adamant that the station would retain its architecture and its use as a transportation hub. As part of the deal, GO Transit took ownership of the Toronto Terminals Railway tracks in and around the station, as well as the CP Express Building located directly east of the station. The changes allow the City, the TTC and GO Transit to upgrade Union Station's facilities to handle even more passengers.

Finally, on June 11, 2001, federal Minister of Transport David Collenette announced plans to increase VIA service out of Union Station. By extending existing Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Windsor trains east and west of Union Station, new commuter-based trains started running in from as far afield as Kitchener, Hamilton (Aldershot) and Oshawa. As well as extending existing VIA trains east and west from Union Station, the services enhanced the GO Transit service on the Kitchener and Lakeshore lines. As well, we may see VIA trains returning to Barrie and Peterborough in the near future. Collenette also called for a rail link between Union Station and Pearson Airport to open by 2006, though this proved controversial and, ultimately, optimistic.

Toronto Terminals Railway continues to manage Union Station on a contract basis. As the arrangements of the new owners settle themselves out, however, the company will eventually fade from existence (although it has been noted that CN and CP sometimes take decades to wind up the existence of wholly-owned subsidiaries that have no obvious reason to continue to exist).

The Future

As of 2012, Union Station and its surrounding area have seen hundreds of millions of dollars of investment this past decade. In 2001, the CP Express building, tucked between Bay and Yonge Streets behind the Dominion Building on Front Street, was torn down to make way for a seven-bay bus terminal for GO Transit. This partially opened to the public on August 31, 2002, and was fully open by April 2003. Initially, it was to gather the various GO, PMCL and Trentway-Wagar buses which had been stopping on congested Front Street, but GO quickly became the sole tenant of the property. The new terminal has its own washrooms, waiting area and vending kiosk. The new facility is also an improvement over the Toronto Coach Terminal located at Bay and Edward Streets, reducing the time it takes for these buses to reach the Gardiner Expressway. Even so, plans exist for an even larger terminal building built near Union Station, replacing the current intercity bus terminal at Bay and Dundas, at which point all intercity buses such as Greyhound and Voyageur would run out of Union Station.

After much negotiation and more than a little controversy, plans finally settled for a proper renovation and revitalization of Union Station. This multi-million dollar project included tearing down much of the train shed, and replacing it with a light and airy glass roof. Public access walkways would also be realigned to handle the massive crowds expected to use the station within the next ten years. Work began in 2010 and is expected to be finished in 2015. At the same time, work also began on the long-proposed Airport Rail Link, a premium service which would whisk passengers away from track 3 of Union Station (the nearest track to Front Street) northwest through Toronto, to Pearson Airport, with intermediate stops at Bloor Street and Weston. This $300 million project came under the control of Metrolinx after attempts by SNC-Lavallan to build the project itself failed, and it too is expected to open to the public in 2015.

The TTC is also renovating its portion of Union Station. Despite earlier renovations which expanded the mezzanine level, the platform layout remains roughly the same since its opening in 1954 -- indeed, additional stairwells have further cut into valuable platform space. As the rest of Union Station's use increases, the TTC is finding this station progressively overtaxed (it is already the fourth-busiest station on the subway network) and wishes to build a second platform in order to relieve pressure. This platform would be built beneath the depressed road between Front Street and the station. The cost of this project was estimated at $58 million. The renovation was initially supposed to be completed by 2008, in case Toronto hosted the summer Olympics. Although Toronto's bid failed, money was still committed for the project. Work began slowly, with sewer pipe relocations in 2006. It wasn't until February 2011 that work began in earnest in the subway station itself and on the moat between Front Street and the railway station. , and work is continuing. It is hoped that the second platform will open mid 2013.

Finally, to handle the crowds of pedestrians leaving Union Station, the City of Toronto approved the construction of a new underground tunnel beneath York Street, connecting Union Station to the Toronto Dominion towers and other buildings en route as part of the city's PATH network. Union Station has becoming a focal point for redevelopment through Toronto's downtown core and old Port Lands. In recognition of this, plans by Waterfront Toronto call for streetcars run from Union Station, east on Queen's Quay and into the Port Lands by 2020. To accommodate this increase in the number of streetcars using the station, a major renovation of the streetcar loop is planned, possibly in conjunction with the second platform renovations for the subway station.

Even with all of this work to enhance the capacity of Union Station, Metrolinx anticipates that the facility may be close to reaching a choke point, beyond which service cannot be increased. The narrowing of the railway right-of-way at John Street limits the number of trains that can use the facility, and Metrolinx fears that, by 2031, commuter demand will far exceed capacity. As a result, Metrolinx commissioned a report in late 2011 to look at ways of solving this problem. Suggestions included building a tunnel beneath the railway tracks, effectively double-decking the tracks at Union Station and along much of the rail right-of-way in downtown Toronto. A more feasible solution might be to divert a number of GO Trains (such as the Kitchener and Barrie runs) to a satellite station on Front Street between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. To connect this station to Union, as well as other points in the downtown core, the station would have to be served by a new subway line, likely a version of the Downtown Relief Line, that Metrolinx already expects will be needed anyway within the next twenty-five years.

Toronto's current Union Station is the longest-lived incarnation of the three Union Stations that have graced Toronto since 1855. It is an important and well-loved landmark within the City of Toronto. The planners looking into Toronto's future have made sure that they incorporate Union Station into their plans, and the facility looks set to serve Torontonians well into the 21st century.

The clock above the information kiosk in the centre of the Great Hall. Photo by Sanj Arora.

Interesting Union Station Trivia

  • The old arrivals information place was on one's left just as one headed out of the Great Hall and down to the departures concourse. It was marked by a green ball lamp, while the porters' stand was marked by a red one.
  • Before the new information kiosk was erected, the center of the Great Hall was occupied by a square stand, each side of which displayed the scheduled arrival or departure times of all trains in illuminated lettering. (Each train had a black plastic strip with clear or white lettering on it, fitted into a black frame backlit by fluorescent lights.) From its styling, this information stand obviously was not an original feature of the station. Did it replace an earlier manned kiosk, or a display of the same information using older technology (just printed notices, say), or something else altogether? If you know, tell us!
  • Since the information stand and its predecessor things are/were in the center of a wide expanse of floor, support is required for them on the level below. Hence there is a cluster of four pillars set relatively close together. When the movie Silver Streak (1976) was being filmed, one scene required a newsstand in Kansas City, and the space between these pillars was where it was put. Years later, a real newsstand was put there.

About Those Carved Place Names...

North side, west wall: PRINCE·RUPERT
North wall, west to east along the wall (one line of carving): EDMONTON · SASKATOON · WINNIPEG · PORT-ARTHUR · NORTH-BAY · SARNIA · LONDON · TORONTO · OTTAWA · SHERBROOKE · LÉVIS · MONCTON ·
North side, east wall: · HALIFAX ·
South side, east wall: · ST. JOHN ·
South side, east to west along the wall (one line of carving): · FREDERICTON · QUEBEC · MONTREAL · HAMILTON · WINDSOR · SAULT ST. MARIE · SUDBURY · FORT-WILLIAM · REGINA · MOOSE JAW · CALGARY ·
South side, west wall: VANCOUVER


  • All places on the north list were then served by CNR.
  • All places on the south list were then served by CPR (of course, many of the places were on both railways).
  • This is appropriate, because the relevant CNR routes are mostly north of the corresponding CPR routes.
  • All places in each list are in their actual east-west geographical order, except North Bay / Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie / Sudbury.
  • Sault Ste. Marie is misspelled, unless that spelling was then considered correct in English.
  • Some of the two-word place name are hyphenated, which definitely was not normal style then (or now). Others are not.
  • Centered dots ( · ) are used between place names. Presumably for space reasons, their use at the ends of the lists and where the lists turn corners is inconsistent, and PRINCE · RUPERT is written with a centered dot instead of a hyphen.
  • As these place names are to represent some of the places people could reach from Union Station, it is ironic that one of those places is Toronto itself.
  • Of these places, Saint John, Fredericton, Lévis(*), Sherbrooke, Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Fort William (Thunder Bay), Regina and Moose Jaw are no longer served by VIA Rail, or any other passenger train service.
  • Four of the listed cities still have train service, but by carriers other than VIA Rail. These include Hamilton (GO Transit), North Bay (Ontario Northland), Sault Ste. Marie (Algoma Central -- now part of CN) and Calgary (the Rocky Mountaineer, CPR Tours).

Other Union Station Images

Skywalk Entrance

Entrance to the Skywalk, looking west towards York Street.

To Departures

The entrance to the departures level and station platforms, as seen from the Great Hall, looking south.

Departures Area

Departures area, looking at one of the stairs leading to one of the platforms.

Arrivals Corridor

The corridor leading from the station platforms to the Arrivals Concourse.

Great Hall

A view of the Great Hall, looking east.

Other Materials


Special thanks to Mark Brader and Tom Box for their kind assistance.

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