Description of Historic Place
Union Station is an early 20th-century, Beaux-Arts-style, stone railway terminal. It is prominently located on the south side of Front Street in downtown Toronto, taking up the entire block between Bay and York Streets. The formal recognition consists of the buildings and structures which constitute the railway station: the main station building (the headhouse); the attached train sheds; the passenger concourses connecting the two; the exterior moat and driveway; the north-south teamways on the east side of York Street and the west side of Bay Street, and the railway platforms.
Union Station National Historic Site of Canada was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1975 because:
· It is the finest example in Canada of stations erected in the classical Beaux-Arts during an era of expanding national rail networks and vigorous urban growth.
The successful use of monumental design, classical detailing and formal setting makes Toronto’s Union Station one of the most outstanding examples of Beaux-Arts railway architecture in Canada. Built as a joint venture between the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway, the station was designed by a prominent architectural team that included Montreal architects Ross and Macdonald, CPR architect Hugh Jones, and well-known Toronto architect John Lyle. Beaux-Arts principles are evident in the monumentality of its massing; the legibility and axiality of its plan, clearly and rationally expressed on the building’s exterior; the processional experience created by the transition through grand interior spaces; the use of classical forms for both structural and decorative elements on the exterior and interior of the building; the use of durable, high-quality materials; and its formal, axial setting.
The station illustrates the early-20th-century era of vigorous, planned, urban growth, during which railways were expanding and the city of Toronto was becoming a modern metropolis. It is the largest of the great urban railway stations built in Canada during the early 20th century, and belongs to a precinct of monumental structures that illustrates Toronto’s experiment with the “City Beautiful” movement. The station retains many of the original functional features of an early-20th-century railway terminal.
Sources: “Union Station, Front Street, Toronto, Ontario,” Heritage Character Statement, August 28, 1989; Toronto Union Station Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2001; Plaque Text, 1979.
Key elements which contribute to the heritage character of Union Station are:
- the monumentality of its massing, organized around a central, double-height, interior ticket lobby (the ‘Great Hall’), and expressed on the exterior by a giant central colonnade and raised central attic, flanked by 14-bay lateral wings terminating in corner pavilions;
- the sunken moat and its parapet wall, which reinforce the monumental aspect by providing a visual separation between the façade and the foreground
the legibility of its plan, expressed on the exterior by the alignment of the central colonnade and raised central attic with the central ticket lobby;
- the axiality of its plan, in which the symmetrical layout of spaces and the resulting circulation patterns proceed axially, with: the primary traffic corridor progressing through the central colonnade, into the ticket lobby, and directly toward the train sheds and platforms in the rear by way of a subterranean concourse; and the secondary traffic patterns proceeding laterally from the ticket lobby into the waiting rooms or offices located in the wings;
- the exterior use of classical forms for structural and decorative elements, including: giant columns in classical orders and formal architraves along the front façade and main entry; and the central placement of the columned entry porch, flanked by more plainly detailed wings terminated by corner pavilions;
- the interior use of classical forms for structural and decorative elements, including: large, arched openings; windows permitting natural light to enter from above; the barrel-vaulted ceiling, patterned stone floor, and inscribed frieze of the ticket lobby; coffered ceilings; and classically styled fittings, fixtures and hardware;
- the use of enduring and high-quality materials, including: marble, bronze, limestone, Guastavino tiles and translucent glass;
- its formal, axially-designed setting, in which the central monumental structure dominates the entire city block between York and Bay Streets;
- its set-back from Front Street, accentuating its monumental quality;
- its complementary relationship to neighbouring architecture such as the Beaux-Arts-style Dominion Public Building and the Royal York Hotel;
- the east and west facades and adjacent teamways, with their smooth, stone surfaces and utilitarian finishes;
- the industrial character of the large, attached Bush train sheds, including: the arched trusses spanning columns between the tracks; the cascade of end façades; and the pattern of smoke ducts;
- the large, open volume and symmetry of the arrival concourse, and its austere neutral finishes;
- detailing in the arrival and departure concourses, including: shallow coffering of the plaster ceiling; and surviving original light fixtures, doors and painted directional signs
- surviving original detailing and historic features throughout the station, including: the glass-floored walkway; early glazed double elevator doors with circular indicators; mail chutes; radiators; brass door fittings; marble and terrazzo stairs;
- the original plan and surviving interior fabric of certain parts of the upper office floors;
- extant original finishes and fittings in the main floor office suite, washrooms and vestibule, including: wood panelling, plaster ceiling detail, radiator covers, light fixtures, marble and tile floors.