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Toronto's 1st Union Station - 1858

  In 1858, the Grand Trunk Railway built the first Union Station on reclaimed land southwest of York and Front Streets. A union station by definition is a facility that is shared by two or more railway companies. Both the Great Western Railway and the Northern Railway of Canada (renamed from the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway) shared this station with the Grand Trunk.

The best known view of the station is this 1859 watercolour by William Armstrong looking southwest. Just south of the tracks can be seen the shoreline of Toronto's waterfront. The family in the centre of the picture is enjoying a picnic on an overturned crate while awaiting their train.

Above them in the distance can be seen a Grand Trunk brakeman engaged in the dangerous but then standard practice of standing on top of the cars and waving signals to the engineer while the train was being assembled. The woman on the left illustrates the propensity for artists to include First Nations people in their scenes to provide a touch of the exotic for European audiences who bought these prints.

Period maps show three separate structures comprising the station and two of them can be seen in the illustration. The far building houses the dining room, telegraph office and ladies waiting room. The nearer building housed the baggage facilities and possibly the men's waiting room as separate facilities for the genders were maintained in railway stations well into the 20th century. The station also included a barbershop, a tradition that has continued in Union Station up to the present time.

While the city's first Union Station impressed Torontonians when it first opened, the facility was soon inadequate to handle Toronto's expanding population and increased railway traffic. Both the Northern and Great Western railways moved into their own downtown passenger terminals in the 1860s although their trains continued to halt at Union Station as a convenience for their passengers.

The Grand Trunk decided to build a much larger Union Station in the same location, which opened in 1873.

The site of Toronto's first Union Station is now buried under 17 feet of landfill that has supported the railway viaduct since the 1920s.

Written by Derek Boles, TRHA Historian, who retains copyright on the content. These pages are not to be reproduced without written permission.
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