Description of Historic Place
The Canadian National Railways (CNR) Central Station at Montréal is a large, International-style railway station, built in 1943. It is located in the heart of downtown Montréal, Quebec. The station is surrounded by large urban development and is accessible only through the surrounding buildings. The designation applies to the Central Station building above grade, and at concourse level, to the station floor area bounded by the X axis (under Queen Elizabeth Hotel), the 1060 University and 1100 University buildings, de la Gauchetière Street and axis 30. The entrance at the corner of René-Lévesque Boulevard and Mansfield Street, the stairways, the north-west and south-west circulation axis, the north-east corridor, the platform level and sub-track level garage are included in the designation. The CN parking garage is excluded except for at the 27.4 metre level.
The Canadian National Railways Central Station in Montréal reflects the optimism of the CNR for rail transportation and its desire to project a modern, forward-looking image. The construction of CNR Central Station was the first step in an ambitious urban development scheme for an underground complex and its completion was viewed as a major domestic wartime achievement and a symbol of progress.
The modern design of this station marked a turning point in Canadian railway station architecture, as it broke with earlier monumental forms and embraced the International style. Designed by CNR chief architect John Schofield, the station uses modern materials and details and its planning is exemplary in its simplicity and functionality. The station’s brick exterior features stone bas-reliefs by Montréal artist, Fritz Brandtner, and stone medallions by Toronto artist, Charles F. Comfort. The elegant, carefully proportioned concourse, designed by Montréal architect J. Campbell Merrett, also features bas-reliefs designed by Comfort and executed by Sebastiano Aiello. The technological and functional aspects of the station represent up-to-date solutions of its day.
As intended, the CNR Central Station has become a vital interconnection point for travellers. The concourse acts as a passageway between various modes of transportation and the surrounding urban development. The main façade of the station was soon incorporated into a newer building and the grade level around increased, eliminating grade access. Although now partly obscured by this subsequent development, the evolution of the site and its surroundings reflects the importance of the station and its centrality.
Sources: Heritage Character Statement, Canadian National Railways Station, Montréal, Québec, May 1, 1996; Susan D. Bronson, Railway Station Report 259, Canadian National Railways Central Station, Montréal, Québec.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the Canadian National Railways Central Station at Montréal include:
- its simple symmetrical massing, consisting of: the long, low-lying, rectangular concourse; stepped office floors set back above the concourse; and two flanking clock towers;
- its International style, expressed in: its strong horizontal emphasis; stepped massing; flat roofs; and the organization of fenestration into vertical and horizontal groupings
- the local exterior materials whose colours would harmonize with later development, consisting of: grey-brown brick; and grey limestone trim;
- its brickwork, enriched by a combination of running, common and stack bond patterns with deeply raked jointing;
- its stonework, consisting of: narrow parapet coping; window surrounds; and low-relief carved panels depicting forms of transportation;
- the three, large, stone bas-reliefs on the upper portion of the north façade, celebrating the heroic nature of Canadian transportation and featuring Prometheus, Neptune and Mercury;
- the twenty, rectangular, stone medallions between the upper level windows of the station’s south, east and west elevations, illustrating respectively transportation by air, by sea, and by rail;
- its bronze-mullioned windows, divided into geometric patterns and glazed with frosted glass, which filter light into the interior concourse;
- surviving original wood sash windows with horizontal divisions, in the upper floor offices;
- the axial plan and the modern, spacious volume of the interior concourse, free of internal columns;
- the expression of structural form in the concourse, evident in: the series of fins along either side of the length of the concourse, corresponding to the structural bays spanning the tracks below and reflecting the shape of the steel arches they encase; and the patterned, acoustic tile ceiling of the concourse, sloping gently upwards towards the centre, following the line of the mammoth steel truss supporting the offices above;
- the generous fenestration in the concourse, providing abundant natural light during the day, consisting of: large frosted-glass panels spanning the upper parts of the walls at either end of the concourse; and generously proportioned frosted-glass windows between the fins;
- the large round light fixtures recessed into the ceiling tiles illuminating the concourse at night;
- interior finishes characteristic of the International style, including: terrazzo flooring; the series of tapered, travertine-clad fins on the side walls; and the brass stair railing;
- the low, sleek, terrazzo islands aligned with the centre of the rectangular room, allowing access to the rail lines below;
- the signs, gates and seating of these islands;
- the carved stonework at the ends of the concourse, depicting themes of the lives and work of Canadians, as well as a bilingual rendering of the Canadian national anthem;
- the combination of lobby, waiting room and concourse into a single rectangular volume accessible on all sides and from below;
- the provision of facilities, including: car parking; subterranean platforms; and a sub-track level;
- the separation of the building structure and the track structure;
- the use of vibration isolation and acoustic treatment, including: a vibration pad between the track structure and the building structure; the use of acoustic tile in the ceiling concourse.