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Union Station, Toronto, Circa 1935. Image by Arthur Lane Studios.

Canadian Pacific Railway poster targeting British immigrants, Circa 1925. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

Arrival of immigrants at Union Station, Toronto, Circa 1910. Image by Pringle & Booth. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

Monument to Multiculturalism, Union Station, November 16, 2007. Image by Peter Mintz. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

  • Union Station

    Immigration by rail

    Before the popularity of plane travel, Union Station was the main entry point for many newcomers to Toronto.  Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Toronto’s population rapidly climbed due to increased immigration. Ships from Europe often arrived at ports in Halifax and Quebec City, where passengers would disembark and continue their travel to Toronto via train. In some cases, railways, including CPR, owned transatlantic ships and offered discounts on train fares for those who came to Canada using railway-owned ships. 

    As the need for labour increased in the 1920s, the Canadian Government created a deal with the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways to increase the number of people immigrating to Canada’s west. The government specifically allowed the railways to target immigration from countries in central Europe, which had previously been seen as less “desirable” for immigration. Although the scheme was short lived, an estimated 185,000 immigrants came to Canada as a result of this program.

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  • Union Station

    The rise of traveller's aid

    At the turn of the century, many immigrants arriving in Toronto had few supplies and little knowledge of the city. Unfortunately, this meant that Union Station was an excellent place for conmen to rip off new arrivals. To combat this and to provide additional supplies and aid to new arrivals, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union formed the Traveller’s Aid Society.

    As diverse populations of immigrants arrived in the early 20th century, cultural-based community groups formed to give new immigrants a sense of community. Many of these organizations, including the Italian Immigrant Aid Society, met immigrants directly at Union Station and provided them with housing and job support. During times of crisis, humanitarian groups also set up at Union Station. In 1957, during the Hungarian Revolution, the city created the Metropolitan Immigration Committee. The group, composed of members of 27 community groups, helped the 200-300 Hungarian refugees that arrived at Union Station daily.

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  • Union Station

    From immigration to tourism

    As air travel became the popular mode of international transportation in the mid-20th century, Union Station transitioned from a hub of immigration to a commuter hub and tourist destination. Today, over 65 million people travel through Union Station every year. Located in Union Station, Toronto’s Tourist Information Centre helps unfamiliar travellers plan their time in the city.

    The Toronto Traveller’s Association, which formed out of the Traveller’s Aid Society, also continues to work out of the station. In 1985, the city erected the Monument to Multiculturalism outside of Union Station and stands as a reminder of the building’s importance to Toronto’s immigrant history.

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  • Union Station

    Additional resources

    Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, “Railway Agreement of 1925”, 2022. 

    John P. “Remembering union Station’s 20th century opening”, Toronto Public Library, 2016.

    Lisa Chilton, “Receiving Canada’s immigrants”, The Canadian Historical Association, 2016.



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