Union Station Toronto History

Toronto’s third and current Union Station was constructed between 1914–1920 by the TTR. Prince Edward, Prince of Wales officially opened it to the public on August 6, 1927, in a lavish ribbon cutting ceremony using a pair of gold scissors. In attendance were Prince George, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario William Donald Ross and his wife, Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Stanley Baldwin and Mrs. Baldwin, Premier of Ontario George Howard Ferguson, and many other members of the Government of Ontario and Government of Canada.

The current Toronto Union Station‘s history can be traced to 1858, when the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) opened Toronto’s first Union Station west of the present Union Station. The wooden structure was shared with the Northern Railway and the Great Western Railway. This structure was replaced by a second Union Station on the same site, opening in 1873. The Canadian Pacific Railway began using the facility in 1884 and it was completely rebuilt, opening in 1896.

The Great Toronto Fire of 1904 destroyed the block south of Front Street West, immediately east of the second Union Station (bounded by Bay and York streets), but did not damage the station. The GTR acquired this land east of the second Union Station for a new passenger terminal and in 1905 both the GTR and the CPR decided to proceed with the design and construction of a third union station.

The decision to undertake the third union station was made against a backdrop of significant change in the Canadian railway industry. At the same time, the Government of Canada was encouraging the GTR to build a second transcontinental railway (what would become the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the National Transcontinental Railway) and the Canadian Northern Railway was undertaking an aggressive expansion across the prairies and into southern Ontario.

On July 13, 1906, the Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR) was incorporated to “construct, provide, maintain and operate at the City of Toronto a union passenger station”. The TTR was jointly owned by the GTR and the CPR who each held 50% of the TTR shares. The TTR supervised construction of the new station which began in 1914 and proceeded to 1920, having faced significant delays in the shortage of construction material and workers as a result of the First World War, as well as the GTR’s deteriorating financial position due to its ill-fated transcontinental GTPR railway project.

Although the new station’s headhouse and east and west office wings (the station building visible from Front Street West) were completed in 1920, it did not open to the public for another seven years until the system of approach tracks were designed and implemented by the TTR and its owners. During this time in 1923, the bankrupt GTR was fully nationalized by the Government of Canada and merged into the Canadian National Railways (CNR), which would assume the GTR’s 50% ownership of the TTR and thus the third Union Station.

Although the station was incomplete, its building was complete and the station was opened on August 6, 1927 by the Prince of Wales. Four days later, the track network was shifted from the second Union Station. To get to trains, passengers would walk from the south doors to the tracks located several hundred feet to the south while the new viaduct, concourse and train shed was under construction. Demolition of the second Union Station began almost immediately and was completed in 1928. The third Union Station project was not fully completed until 1930 when the train shed was completed; its construction was supervised by the TTR from 1925–1930.

The TTR also constructed a central heating plant at the corner of York and Fleet streets (now Lake Shore Boulevard West) to replace the original Toronto Hydro plant on Scott Street which had been expropriated by the TTR to build the approach track viaduct to the new station. It was fuelled by coal delivered by a CNR siding and was the largest such facility in Canada when it opened in 1929; it produced 150,000 kg/330,000 pounds of steam per hour and 270 million kg/600 million pounds annually to heat the station, the passenger cars in the train shed, CNR and CPR yard facilities in the area now occupied by the Gardiner Expressway, Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre, the CPR’s Royal York Hotel, the Dominion Public Building, the federal post office building adjacent to the station and the CN/CP Telecommunications building on Front Street.

The first major change to Union Station took place in 1954 when the Toronto Transit Commission opened its Union subway station adjacent to Union Station but buried beneath Front Street West. This subway station acted as the southern terminus of its new subway line. The subway station included a direct tunnel connection to the lower level passenger concourse.

This passageway was closed and replaced by the direct connection between the railway station and the subway station in 1979 when the subway station mezzanine was renovated and enlarged. In 1990, the TTC’s Harbourfront LRT project added an underground streetcar loop now used by the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina streetcar lines. TTC passengers using the Union subway and streetcar station may transfer between both modes without entering the Union Station proper.

During the early 1970s, Canada’s two major passenger railways, the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National, were reducing their services to the bare minimum mandated under the Canadian Transport Commission, largely as a result of unsustainable losses resulting from increased competition in new subsidized four-lane highways and airports.

The third Union Station’s future was looking bleak by 1972 when both railways sought to increase return on their underutilized waterfront rail classification yards which was being viewed as valuable real estate. Both CN and CP began to abandon their extensive waterfront rail classification yards south of the passenger station to make way for urban redevelopment. The Gardiner Expressway project was constructed over part of the railway property and CN had proposed constructing a telecommunication tower (what would become the CN Tower later that decade).

CN and CPR proposed a “Metro Centre” development on the south side of Front Street on the site of Union Station and proposed to demolish the structure (which was costing an increasing amount of property taxes but not bringing in revenue). The proposed Metro Centre development was strikingly similar to what occurred with New York City’s Penn Station and would have consisted of an underground fourth Union Station (the terminal trackage would have been buried), a convention centre, a telecommunications tower, along with complementary office and retail developments. Local opposition to the proposal was successful in having the city council’s decision to support the Metro Centre development overturned and Union Station was saved.

Although it was converted from coal to natural gas, the Central Heating Plant was decommissioned in the 1980s, and demolished in 1990.

In 1978, CN and CP transferred responsibility for their passenger rail services to Via Rail, a new federal crown corporation; however, CN and CP retained their 50% ownership shares of the TTR.

The GO Transit commuter rail agency which was established on May 23, 1967, had been undergoing unprecedented expansion which was seeing Union Station see passenger levels that outstripped some of the busiest airports in the world. The consolidated TTR trackage included a flyover west of the station to permit freight trains to cross CN’s Oakville subdivision without blocking GO Transit’s commuter trains. The flyover was constructed in 1982-83 and also allowed GO trains destined for the CN Weston subdivision to cross over the tracks used by GO and Via trains using the CN Oakville subdivision.

The CN Tower had revamped the vision of Toronto’s waterfront rail yards and proposals were made to construct what would later become SkyDome (1989) and Air Canada Centre (1999), resulting in further changes to the Union Station trackage. The PATH pedestrian tunnel network was built to connect Union Station’s passengers with many of the downtown office towers and the SkyWalk was constructed over the terminal trackage west of the station to connect the PATH with the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and Rogers Centre.

In 2000, the City of Toronto purchased the station building from the TTR, while GO Transit purchased the railway corridor and the Union Station train shed. On July 24, 2003, the City of Toronto agreed to lease Union Station to Union Pearson AirLink Group, a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin, for a term of 100 years.

A subsequent announcement on May 24, 2006, addressed several issues for commuters including: constructing a direct connection from the GO Concourse to the PATH pedestrian tunnel system, a new eastbound platform for the Union TTC station, improved access to streetcars at Union TTC station, and improved capacity for inter-city railway passengers. These developments were part of a $100 million initiative announced by the city and its transit authorities, along with the Government of Ontario and Government of Canada. On August 5, 2009, the Toronto City Council approved an update of this plan which was projected to cost $640 million, with construction lasting from 2010 to 2014.[25] Much of the work was undertaken by or managed by Carillion.

The work also involved a complete overhaul of the GO concourses, deepening them to create two storeys of space. The lower storey will provide retail space and room for pedestrian traffic flow, and the upper storey will be dedicated to passenger traffic onto the platforms. This will expand not only the current GO concourse in the east of the building, but also open up the western end; GO Transit’s presence in the building will nearly quadruple. Additional aesthetic points include glass roofs over the moat space around the north sides of the building, and a tall atrium over the central portions of the platforms. A new southern entrance, adjacent to the Air Canada Centre, opened in 2010.

The 2009 Ontario and Canada government budgets included financing to assist GO, Via and the city in redeveloping and restoring the station. Track has been upgraded with better signals and snow cleaning devices to reduce winter delays to train movement.

In 2016, it was realized that the renovated train shed roof was too low to allow electrification. The train shed roof is considered a heritage feature and cannot be removed. Remedies considered were raising the roof, or lowering the track level.

By early 2018, the cost had ballooned from $640 million to an estimated $823.5 million. Work that was to have been completed in 2015 is projected to be finished in late 2018.