Next time you fnd yourself outside of Union Station, stand near the eastern entrance and imagine what it must have been like about 150 years ago.
Close to where you are standing, the frst passenger steam powered train steamed out of Toronto on May 16, 1853. You can almost still hear the unmistakable sound of the locomotive's whistle and the screeching sound as it came to a halt. Perhaps you choke a bit from the coal dust in the air, and smell burning coal. Now people are streaming out of the passenger cars, greeting friends and relatives waiting for them on the little wooden platform. It was the beginning of an exciting era in Toronto's history that would end up making a sleepy little town into the largest city in the country.
Toronto's Dominant Position Established By Its Rail Connections
When the railway age hit North America in the mid 1800s, it marked a new era in our city's history. It made travel abroad and travel long distance possible! It was also the time everyone wanted a piece of the action. By the turn of the century, railways were the "dot com" businesses of the time. Hundreds of small rail lines crisscrossed regions across the country, including the south, west, east and northern parts of Ontario. If you had money to invest, you invested in a rail line.
Railways, therefore, had a huge effect on how communities grew. Every small town or village wanted the industry and commerce that went alongside having a railway line. Tere are various examples of small towns paying handsomely for a railway route, one small community outside of Toronto apparently raised over $4,000 in one night!
Because of the various rail lines that connected Toronto to all parts of the province, Toronto now could transport, and receive goods from north where there were vast forests for the lumber trade, as well as farms across the province, and markets for goods in Quebec and the USA. Without a
doubt, (and recorded in the Canadian Encyclopedia) Toronto's dominant position in south-central Ontario was clearly established by its rail connections. Toronto – A Railway Town At Heart continues o
Don Railway Stations – Formerly located where Queen Street crossed the Don River, now located at the Toronto Railway Museum
If you were travelling in the early 1900s from Vancouver, Ottawa or Montreal, you would arrive at Te Don station, and as the train pulled into the station you might have caught a glimpse of its circular turret and steep roof. Or perhaps you had travelled on the Canadian Northern Railway all the way from Parry Sound on Georgian Bay to the "big" city. Instead of being downtown, where train passengers typically arrived, you were in "the suburbs"!
Te Don Station, opened in 1896, was one of the frst suburban railway stops for the city. When it frst opened, the station was located on the west side of the Don, where Queen Street was carried over the water via a simple metal bridge.
Built as a branch line of the Canadian Pacifc Railway, the rail line travelled through the Don Valley to Leaside. Once it was opened, inter city commuters no longer had to travel to and from downtown to Union Station.
Te Don is the only other authentic station remaining in Toronto, but you have to visit the new Roundhouse Museum to see it. (Many may remember the old Don Mills station at Todmorden Mills, where it was moved in 1969 to preserve the structure).
Te building's distinctive turret was typical of hundreds of stations across Canada. Only a handful of these buildings survive.
Bridges, Stairways And Overpasses
Te railways in Toronto changed the way the city looked in many ways. For example, at frst, rail lines crossed over streets at "level crossings" (that is, at the same level as the road.) But there were too many accidents, particularly near stations where there were lots of people and vehicles such as streetcars. As a result, bridges, overpasses and tunnels were built for public safety.
Te Don station, for example, started with a level crossing but eventually a high level bridge was built that carried Queen Street across the Don River and over the railway tracks. A long staircase was built from the bridge to the station platform so that streetcar passengers could directly access the station from Queen Street.
Queen East/Riverdale Railway Stations (De Grassi just north of Queen, just a plaque today)
For the next railway station, you have to use your imagination. On De Grassi Street, just north of Queen, there's a small park that marks the former location of Riverdale's former railway station. Look up the steep side of the railway embankment where De Grassi straightens and heads north. You are now looking directly at where the station once stood.
Similar to the Don Mills Station, the building was a simple structure with a circular turret, a bay window and a platform where the trains pulled up; inside there was a ticket ofce and waiting room.
Te stations opened at Queen East in 1896 as part of the intention of the Grand Trunk Railway to serve Toronto's growing east end. Te station had a dramatic past, which affected how the city was built going forward
In 1904, a streetcar collided with a freight train at the level crossing on Queen Street East, killing three people and injuring 18. Te accident brought attention to the danger of level crossings.
Te accident at Riverdale affected the building of the new Union Station (our existing station) downtown, and drove the decision to eliminate level crossings around the city by building railway corridors, bridges, tunnels, overpasses, etc.
Queen East became Riverdale Station in 1907. It was closed in 1932 and demolished in 1974. For a time during the 1950s, some remember it as the location of a carpet business!
Parkdale Stations And Sunnyside Station
Six stations in diﬀerent locations, the frst at Queen and Gladstone. No stations exist today
In the early days of the Canadian National Exhibition (named the Toronto Industrial Exhibition at frst, then changed to the CNE), visitors and exhibitors arrived at the Parkdale Station. When passengers stepped oﬀ the steaming train, they were steps away from the beautiful Gladstone Hotel.
Tink of the excitement! You are visiting the "new" Toronto Industrial Exhibition! You travel by steam locomotive from farm country west of Toronto, and arrive at Parkdale Station at the edge of the city. It is just a small wooden station but you can't wait for your adventure to begin. Across from the station is a brand new hotel called "Te Gladstone". Built in 1889, the Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto. You'll stay here during your visit, and every day take the electric city railcar to the actual fair grounds.