Description of Historic Place
The Via Railway Station is a magnificent Gothic Revival style red brick structure looming over Bridge Street in downtown Niagara Falls. Built in 1879, this large two-storey building with attached one-storey east and west wings features ornate decoration and a jerkinhead gable roof, consistent with other Victorian Age rail depots.
The property has been designated under By-law 99-108 by the City of Niagara Falls.
As one of a few surviving rail depots of this age, design and scale, in Niagara, the Via Railway Station is rich in historical value. The original station's (wood) construction was a result of the Great Western Railway (GWR) Company's decision to extend their Windsor-Hamilton line east to the Niagara River in 1852. Samuel Zimmerman, a prominent citizen in Niagara Falls who immigrated from Pennsylvanian in 1842, was awarded the contract to extend the Grand Western Line and later earned the title of “Founder of Niagara Falls” for his role in the city's economic development. The construction of the Elgin terminus created hundreds of construction and railroading jobs, resulting in an economic boom for Elgin, and by 1853 a new complex was completed. The depots many amenities included a 'Refreshment Saloon', acquired by the Bampfield family in 1860, and known as the Great Western (later Grand Trunk) Restaurant. James Bampfield and his family were integral to the economic development of Niagara Falls, James being the owner of the Morningstar and Bampfield Insurance Company. The completion of the Railway Suspension Bridge in 1855 would establish the town as an international centre, allowing traffic to cross easily over the Niagara Gorge.
In 1879 the wood station was completely destroyed by fire, with evidence pointing to arson. A magnificent new building was constructed of brick and still stands today. Deemed as the busiest and most prestigious terminal of the Great Western and Grand Trunk Railroads, the station became the heart of a developing Niagara Falls and was a hub for transportation and community events. Complete with a new Grand Western Restaurant, the impressive new station played host to many prominent citizens and travellers, the most notable being King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who arrived on the royal train in 1939 to a beautified station. The Via Railway Station stands as a reminder of the vital role of railway transportation in the economic development of Canadian cities, and has been both municipally and nationally designated for its heritage value.
The red brick station's design is striking in its size and style, consisting of a two-storey building with a roof ridge some 40 feet in height. One-storey east and west wings flank either end of the building, adding to the station's grandeur. Its jerkinhead gable roof is a hybrid of the standard gable and hipped roof styles and installed in the gable ends are decoratively carved bargeboards, giving a 'gingerbread' look. Gothic Revival architecture is displayed in the pointed arches of windows and doorways and the fanciful decoration is consistent with other Victorian Age rail depots. The original interior of the building was divided into four basic sections, the ground floor being dedicated to waiting areas, separated for men and women (a semi-circular ticket office was shared), exhibiting the most decorative interior architecture. The second floor housed GWR freight offices while the east wing was occupied by the Great Western Restaurant, and the west wing was divided into a series of offices. The building's interior has since undergone many alterations but still embodies various elements that maintain its original character.
The Via Railway Station is a municipal and national icon, dominating the downtown of Niagara Falls as one of its largest and most recognizable buildings. It serves as a symbol of the City's and wider region's early economic development. The station's presence helped shape the landscape of the downtown, with a boom of commercial activity and settlement following its construction. The station serves as part of a collection of railway depots across Canada facilitating in the movement of goods and people throughout the country, and is one of few surviving railroad depots of its age, scale and design in the Niagara Region.
Source: Via Railway Station Designation Report, Planning and Development, City of Niagara Falls, 1999.
Character defining elements that reflect the heritage value of the Via Railway Station include its:
- location as a terminus for the Great Western Railway (later Grand Trunk Railway) line and its importance in facilitating trade, transporting people and providing a social gathering place for travellers
- immense size and striking Gothic Revival features such as the shape and scale of the masonry openings
- two-storey central building with a tall attic, 40 foot roof ridge, and one-storey east and west wings measuring 100 feet in length
- red brick exterior in the Flemish bond pattern
- jerkinhead gable roof with roof trim of moulded angled architrave and undecorated fascia below
- pointed arches with alternating brick and limestone surround on windows and doorways
- ornate and fanciful decoration, characteristic of the medieval Gothic
- decoratively carved bargeboards in the central gables, providing an ornate 'gingerbread' look
- original doors, still existing in the station's wings, of heavy wood construction with a large upper and a small lower panel painted green with white trim
- prominent location in a downtown setting, close to the Niagara River for trade and transportation linkages
- proximity to other heritage sites in Niagara Falls' downtown