Description of Historic Place
The Canadian National Railway (CNR) Station in Hamilton is a substantial late Beaux-Arts building with a central pediment and pillared entrance. It was constructed in 1929-31. The front of the station is only two storeys high, and stands at the foot of James St. North on a grassy plaza facing the Hamilton business district. From the rear, where its accompanying track runs in a deep hidden cut, the station has four storeys.
The Canadian National Railway Station in Hamilton has been designated a heritage railway station in recognition of its historical, architectural, and environmental significance.
The Canadian National Railway (CNR) Station in Hamilton was built under the direction of CNR architect John Schofield in 1929-31, just as the depression began.
Its design represents the late tempering of Beaux-Arts principals both by modernism and by theories of a specifically Canadian art and architecture. The station's relationship to its surroundings has changed very little since it was built.
The heritage value of the property is defined by the adaptation of Beaux-Arts architectural principles to emphasize the gateway aspect of the building in the design of its south facade and siting, and to distinguish the hierarchy of spaces and materials in public, office, staff, and operational areas throughout the complex. The simplified, modernized use of classical architectural elements; the use of relevant Canadian motifs for ornament; the open spaces of the front plaza, the track yard, and the approach from John Street to the east, which, with the James Street North bridge on the west, allow views of all sides of the station, all sustain the station's heritage character.
Heritage Character Statement, Canadian National Railways Station, Hamilton, Ontario, August 1991 Heritage Assessment Report RSR-38, 1991.
Character-defining elements of the Hamilton Canadian National Railways Station include:
- the T-shaped footprint of the building and its massing in three distinct sections: a four-storey station, its separate concourse volume, and a one-storey express building,
- the low late Beaux-Arts proportions and horizontal balance of the facade,
- its sophisticated details which combine Beaux-Arts ideals with thematic sculpture (panels with an Art Deco influence) and modernist execution in the classical orders (such as the modern articulation of the central door Doric portico with its pedimented end pavilions),
- the use of Canadian ornamental motifs, particularly as iconography for stone panels depicting transportation scenes across Canada,
- the stark contrast between luxurious materials on public façades, (Queenston limestone on the impressive front and sides) and utilitarian brown brick trimmed with stone on the rear façade and the express building,
- the starkly modern, stripped down functionalism of the passenger concourse,
- the hierarchy of spaces and materials in public, office, staff, and operational areas throughout the complex interior, particularly as seen in surviving original materials and forms: the rich fixtures and wall, floor, and ceiling finishes of open public areas and pavilion offices; the more utilitarian sub-division and finishes of express and freight offices with their original partitions, luminaires, glazing, and fixtures; the industrial character of the employee spaces on the mezzanine level below the lobby, and the baggage, freight, and mechanical rooms,
- the hierarchy of materials within public spaces; i.e. marble dadoes, columns and pilasters, brass and bronze metal work, and ornate painted finishes in the grand lobby; durable, low-maintenance fine glazed brick dadoes below sand-finish walls in the concourse,
- the presence of visual axes to strongly define interior space; the through-axis from the front door, across the lobby and into the concourse and its visual extension along the concourse projection; the vertical axes expressed by the enclosed passenger stair and ramp wells descending from the concourse,
- optimization of natural light for functional and aesthetic benefit, and as a passenger directional device between the entrances and the trains,
- efficient interior circulation patterns,
- the integrity of remaining enclosed passenger stair and ramp wells.