Description of Historic Place
The former Canada Southern Railway (CSR) station in St. Thomas, Ontario is a long narrow 2-storey Italianate building. Built in 1871-1873 as the CSR’s joint headquarters and station, it is situated in the city’s commercial core at 810 Talbot St.
The St. Thomas railway station was designated a Heritage Railway Station because it represents the development of a regionally significant rail line associated with the theme of 19th century railway competition, and because it is architecturally rare.
Designed by architect Edgar Berryman, this impressive Italianate station was built by American CSR promoters (1871-1873) to serve as both the company’s headquarters and its St. Thomas station. The CSR was operated by several American rail companies before it was purchased jointly by the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways in 1983.
This impressive St. Thomas station was intended to serve as a visual symbol of the CSR. It is unique in the history of Canadian railway station design partly because of the scale of its 2-storey 44 bay facade, but mostly because its Italianate style and dual headquarters / station function are rarely found in Canadian railway buildings. This station’s distinctive appearance assisted the CSR in successfully establishing a regional presence in the competitive, largely foreign-funded, atmosphere of 19th century Ontario railway operations.
St. Thomas, in turn, thrived as headquarters of the CSR. Although the community was established long before the railroad arrived, the CSR has significantly determined its subsequent composition. The presence of the railway stimulated commercial and industrial development, influencing the city’s physical growth to move eastward towards the station site where the present downtown commercial core of St. Thomas is located.
The heritage value of the former St. Thomas railway station resides in its unique design and scale and in the quality of its interior finishes.
Heritage Character Statement, Canadian Southern Railway Station, St. Thomas, Ontario, 10 December 1989. Heritage Assessment Report RSR-008, 1989.
Character-defining elements of the Canadian Southern Railway Station, St. Thomas, Ontario include:
- its long rectangular footprint, narrow 2 storey massing, and gable roof,
- its substantial but balanced and regular Italianate proportions,
- its precise horizontal subdivision into 44 regularly articulated bays, each defined by a shallow grid of piers,
- the visual interest incorporated into its design from all four perspectives,
- the simplicity with which its detail alludes to classical forms: regularly spaced pilasters and fenestration, gable ends detailed as pediments, tall narrow round-headed windows, segmental arches, and paired cornice brackets,
- the integrity of its original brick material and wood detailing in composition and finish,
- the craftsmanship and skill evident in its millwork (its cornice, doors and sashes),
- the station’s solid wall construction technology,
- the integrity of all original and early fabric inside the station, in particular surviving partitioning, finishes, joinery, decorative features, doors and windows and the qualitative distinctions which reflect the public, headquarters office or utility space in which they were originally located,
- the continued presence of early railway-specific furnishings such as benches with respect for their materials, finishes, craftsmanship and disposition in specific station locations,
- continued legibility of the station’s original functional and spatial configuration, particularly its ground floor with Gentlemen's and Ladies' waiting rooms to the west, services and kitchens at the centre, and baggage facilities on the east, and its central second storey corridor with flanking offices,
- continued legibility and use of features that expedite light and air circulation in second storey office quarters including the retention of moveable windows and lights on south-facing office doors and both north and south-facing corridor windows,
- continued use of the building’s longstanding interior circulation paths, interior/exterior access locations, and vaulted exterior passages.