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Canadian National Express building, Toronto, June 25, 2022. Image by Brandon Corazza.


Watercolour of Union Station, Toronto, Circa 1859. Painting by William Armstrong. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.


Old Union Station, Toronto, Circa 1875. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.


Floor Plan of Toronto's Second Union Station, Station Street, 1894. Courtesy of Toronto Public library.


British immigrants on Old Union Station's Bridge of Sighs, Toronto, Circa 1911. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.


  • CN Express Building

    Before the Express Building


    The Express Building is located near the site of Toronto’s first two Union Stations. The current Union Station is actually the third iteration of the station. The Grand Trunk Railway built the first Union Station in 1858 approximately where track 3 is in today’s Union Station. Unlike the current station, the original Union Station faced Lake Ontario.

    Composed of three separate buildings, the original station contained a telegraph office, freight depot, men and women’s waiting rooms, ticket office, and a barber shop. By the late 1860s, it was clear that the building could not keep up with the rapid increase in the city’s rail traffic. A new, much larger station replaced it on the same site in 1873.


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  • CN Express Building

    A second Union Station


    When the second Union Station opened, it was the largest in Canada. Thomas Scott designed the building in an Italianate/ Second Empire style with a large clock tower in the centre. The station, though beautiful, was not without its problems.  Like its predecessor, the building had several separate sections and passengers needed to travel through rather long tunnels to access their train. In addition, prior to the construction of the train shed, passengers had to wait on the open-air platform in all weather conditions.

    One of the easiest exits out of Toronto’s second Union Station was via an iron pedestrian bridge. The bridge passed over the rail tracks and ended near the corner of Front and Simcoe Streets. It was common to see new arrivals standing on the bridge before heading to their new homes. The bridge, nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs after the famous bridge in Venice, provided new arrivals with their first real look at Toronto.

     


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  • CN Express Building

    Toronto's third Union Station


    Due to the confusing nature of the station, and the ever-increasing railway traffic, the Grand Trunk Railway, along with the city, searched for a new site to build an even bigger station to keep up with demand. The Great Toronto Fire in 1904 ultimately allowed them to purchase prime property between York and Bay Streets to build a third Union Station, which continues to serve Toronto today. The majority of the second Union Station was dismantled following the new station’s opening in 1927; the only notable piece to survive its demolition was its clock, which now serves as the clock for the Huntsville Town Hall, located in Muskoka.

    Workers also tore down the old Bridge of Sighs in the 1920s. The new Union Station offered a more streamlined design that removed the need for a pedestrian bridge. New arrivals now walked through a series of tunnels leading to the Arrivals Concourse. From there, they could exit to Front Street or into the Great Hall. 


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  • CN Express Building

    Additional resources


    Doug Taylor, “The history of the second Union Station in Toronto”, Blog TO, 2021.

    Kevin Plummer, “Bridge of Sighs”, Torontoist, 2011.

    Parks Canada, “Toronto Union Station, national historic site”, Commemorative Integrity Statement.

     


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