Description of Historic Place
The Former Hamilton Railway Station is a complex of interconnected railway buildings built in 1929-31. The main feature is a monumental, two-storey, classically inspired, stone-fronted station building. In front of the station building is a large, open plaza. Behind the station building the ground drops away to the level of the former trackbed and the station becomes a four-storey structure. A glass-walled concourse extends from the rear of the station over the trackbed. A long, low express building, built of brick, extends from one side of the main station building, parallel to the former trackbed. The station is located close to Hamilton's downtown area, in a mostly residential area known as the North End. The formal recognition consists of the three interconnected buildings and the open space surrounding them within the city block.
Former Hamilton Railway Station (Canadian National) was designated a national historic site in 2000 because:
- it is a rare surviving example of a railway station complex of the interwar years, built according to the tenets of functional and aesthetic station design, and of City Beautiful planning from the period; and
- it was an important gateway for immigrants to Canada in the post-Second World War period.
Built in 1929-31 to designs by Canadian National Railways (CNR) chief architect John Schofield, the Former Hamilton Railway Station is a rare surviving example of a railway station complex. It followed a highly rational approach to passenger and baggage circulation, in which passenger and operational functions were neatly separated horizontally and vertically. The configuration of elevated concourse over depressed tracks, although common in the United States, was rare in Canada. Although it is no longer used as a train station, the original circulation patterns are still discernable in the arrangement of the station building, the projecting concourse, the depressed trackbed, and the express building.
The station's classically inspired façade, Beaux-Arts composition and large, open plaza which fronts it are elements typical of the City Beautiful movement. An urban reform movement that began in the late 19th century, the City Beautiful movement sought to counter the negative physical and moral effects of rapid industrialization through the beautification of urban spaces. In Hamilton, the city finally embarked on a rationalization and beautification plan in the 1920s. The plan included a more centrally located railway station and improvements to transportation and circulation problems, and to the urban landscape through the elimination of level crossings and the introduction of railway cuts and bridges. The Former Hamilton Railway Station was constructed by the CNR as part of this scheme.
After the Second World War, the station operated as an important gateway for immigrants to Canada. When the federal government loosened its immigration policies in the postwar period, Hamilton experienced a sudden influx of Italian and German immigrants. Many would have arrived in Canada by boat, taken a train to Hamilton, and entered the city for the first time through the Hamilton Railway Station. Immigrants from Greece, Yugoslavia and Portugal followed the same route in the 1960s.
Rehabilitated in 2000 by the Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA) as a training and recreation centre, the complex has remained intact on the exterior and in the major public spaces.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2000.
Key elements which relate to the heritage value of the Former Hamilton Railway Station (CN) include:
- the arrangement of elements that testify to the original passenger and freight circulation system, including the main station building, the concourse projecting from the rear of the main station building over the steep cut housing the former trackbed, the strong through-axis leading from the portico across the lobby and into the concourse, the former trackbed, the express building located at track level, and ramps connecting the concourse to the former trackbed;
- elements associated with the City Beautiful movement of the early 20th-century, including the Beaux-Arts composition of the main building, the classical Greek-inspired temple front of the main terminal building, and the open plaza in front of the terminal;
- the Beaux-Arts composition of the main building, consisting of end pavilions connected to a central classical portico by plain intermediate wings;
- the Neoclassical style of the main façade, including large stone Doric pillars and carved wreaths;
- stone detailing on the main building, including Doric columns and bas-relief scenes illustrating the role of transportation across Canada;
- its construction, consisting of a masonry shell over a steel frame;
- the use of Queenston limestone on the front and side elevations of the main station building;
- the use of more economical brown brick, lightly trimmed with limestone, on the back elevation, concourse and express building;
- surviving original interior finishes of the main lobby, including marble dadoes, marble columns, marble pilasters, terrazzo floors and plaster walls with a variegated stone effect;
- surviving original interior features of the main lobby, including a double-height, beamed ceiling, Ionic half-columns and pilasters supporting a cornice, coffered ceiling panels, clerestories, skylights, and hanging bronze lanterns;
- surviving original interior features and finishes of the concourse, including its long low dimensions, the series of large window units along both sides, the exposed steel trusses, and the glazed-brick dadoes;
- surviving original interior features and finishes of the working spaces of the station, including wood and glass partitions, cabinetry and doors;
- the steep cut running parallel to the station building and under the concourse, which accommodated the former track bed.