Description of Historic Place
The VIA Rail Station at Ottawa is a glass and steel, International style railway station built between 1965 and 1966. It is located in an area of commercial and light-industrial buildings, adjacent to the city’s main expressway, three kilometres southeast of downtown Ottawa, Ontario. The formal recognition is confined to the railway station building itself.
The VIA Rail Station at Ottawa reflects the desire of railway companies to project a modern and futuristic image of rail service at a time when they were being superseded by other forms of transportation. Its role as a showpiece was intended to coincide with centennial celebrations in the capital, commemorating the central role of railways in the development of the nation. Built to serve as a depot for both the Canadian National Railways (CNR) and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) companies, it was the last of the monumental union stations to be built in Canada.
The construction of this station outside of the city’s core represents the realization of long-term planning objectives for the nation’s capital. Its location was in keeping with the post-war program to beautify the national capital by reducing rail traffic through its core.
The VIA Rail Station at Ottawa is one of the finest examples of the International style in Canadian architecture. It was designed by the renowned modernist architect John Cresswell Parkin, of John B. Parkin and Associates, in collaboration with the well-known Montréal firm Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold and Sise. Both firms were leaders in the International style in Canada. Thoroughly modern in its expression, the design also refers to the great steel and iron stations of the industrial age through its use of massive, long-span, steel girders and its integration of Beaux-Arts planning principles. The form, function and technology of the station reflect the role and image of railways in Canadian society.
The station retains its relationship to its site, including symmetrically arranged parking lots as extensions of the service wings and the gigantic, landscaped, circular entrance drive.
Sources: Heritage Character Statement, Union/VIA Rail Canada Station, Ottawa, Ontario, October 28, 1996; Heritage Research Associates Inc., Railway Station Report 293, Union/VIA Rail Station, Ottawa, Ontario.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the VIA Rail Station at Ottawa include:
- its sleek, Modernist design, evident in its minimalist, sculptural qualities and the honest expression of building materials;
- its symbolic reflection of traditional railway functions and character, evident in the treatment and use of materials;
- its simple, cruciform massing, created by the intersection of two rectangular volumes: the dominant glass and steel volume, characterized by lightness and transparency; and the subordinate concrete volume, characterized by its massive quality and sense of enclosure;
- the massive, concrete, pier-and-girder structure which supports the space-frame roof, and extends to form canopies at the front and back of the building;
- the central, monumental canopy over the main entrance and passenger drop-off area, which dominates the front façade;
- the long, low, concrete, service wings, which flank the central volume;
- the grid concept fundamental to the International style, expressed by: the regular rhythm of the space frame; the arrangement of massive concrete piers; the geometry and placement of the light fixtures; and the lines defined by concrete walls;
- the plane concept fundamental to the International style, expressed in: the space-frame roof; the small, repetitive concrete piers at the intersection of volumes; large panes of glass which visually extend the volume of the waiting room into the landscape; and concrete walls which conceal service activities from public view;
- the sculptured monumentality of the main waiting area, expressed in the use of: massive, free-standing concrete piers; large panes of glass; storey-high trussed girders; and the intricate, steel, space frame;
- the use of unadorned building materials as interior and exterior finishes, including: exposed, textured concrete; steel painted in “graphite black”; and glass set in simple, anodized-aluminium frames;
- the simple, utilitarian design of the ticket kiosk;
- the layout and design of the ceiling fixtures in the main waiting area;
- the International-style fixtures in the waiting area, consisting of simple chrome and black upholstered seating units;
- the Modernist approach to signage, evident in the horizontal bands of signage integrated with building finishes and cabinetry;
- the complex canopy of steel beams stretching between two elevated side wings and supported on concrete pillars, evoking a railway bridge and trestles;
- the eight, massive, roughly finished concrete pillars that support the steel canopy;
- the use of materials and features reminiscent of the dirt, grime and functionality of a historic train shed, including: steel girders; rough concrete; and pebbles set in stone;
- the two-storey interior space of the waiting area under the steel canopy;
- the open and uncluttered character of the waiting area;
- the expansive use of glass to incorporate lightness and air, and to bring a sense of the exterior environment to the interior;
- the transparent end walls of the main waiting room, creating a visual aisle that leads directly to the tracks;
- the circular design of the ticket booth and the distinctive spiral ramp at the centre of the waiting area;
- the linear arrangement of commercial facilities and secondary railway facilities along the side walls of the waiting area, reminiscent of a small-town streetscape;
- the steel platform canopies;
- the subterranean tunnels connecting the passenger building and the train platforms.