Friday 26 May 2017

The arrival of Guelph Central Station, 1911

In the morning cool on 19 April 2017, Guelph dignitaries including M.P. Lloyd Longfield, M.P.P. Liz Sandals, Mayor Cam Guthrie, and members of City Council, cut a red ribbon at the entrance to Guelph's newly renovated Central Station. After about $2.1 million and a year of work, the station had been upgraded with several new conveniences. In addition, special efforts had been made to preserve its original features. These efforts were appropriate in view of the fact that the station had been designated as a heritage railway structure under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act in 1992.

Its calm and dignified appearance, though, belie the fact that, prior to its construction, most Guelphites did not want it. Among other reasons, the station was built on the last remaining piece the old Market Square, a space that John Galt had set aside as an open area in the centre of town for public use. For some residents of the Royal City, construction of a train station on the site meant the final destruction of that heritage. However, the Grand Trunk Railway demanded its sacrifice as a condition for playing its part in the Royal City's aspirations for the new century.

The Grand Trunk Railway (G.T.R.) was built through Guelph in 1855–56 (Keleher 1995). The route followed York Road to Allan's bridge and then passed west directly through the middle of the Market Square. The passenger station serving the G.T.R. was built on the north side of the tracks, on Canada Company lot 1029. It can be seen in the postcard below, printed for the Waters Bros around 1908 (courtesy of the John W. Keleher collection).

The old Bell Piano factory with its clock tower can be seen in behind, with the old City Hall and its clock tower in the distance to the left.

This railway and station brought the town convenience, prosperity, and status as the County seat. However, as Guelph grew in size, this station became ever less adequate. As early as 1887, deputations of Guelph bigwigs importuned the G.T.R. to get a new station built more in keeping with the growing magnitude and dignity of the Royal City. For a long while, the Railway replied by occasionally patching up the old station.

Around the turn of the 20th century, things changed. In January 1902, yet another deputation from the Guelph Board of Trade (predecessor of the Chamber of Commerce) went to see the grandees of the G.T.R. Their goal was to obtain faster and more frequent service between Guelph and Toronto. As part of this plea, they again nagged the G.T.R. to get on with replacing the antiquated passenger station in the middle of town. If not satisfied, they would threaten to send all their freight via the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.), the G.T.R.'s main competitor.

This notion may have set the cat among the pigeons at last. By that time, business among Canadian railways was picking up. In particular, plans to extend the Guelph Junction Railway to include a route to Goderich were openly discussed. Construction began shortly afterwards in 1904. In conjunction with these plans, the C.P.R. proposed to build a new and up-to-date train station on the line to replace the Priory.

If the C.P.R. was thinking of expanding its presence in Guelph, could the G.T.R. afford not to? This question may have been on the minds of G.T.R. senior officials who visited Guelph in August 1903 to take in the situation for themselves. General Manager F.H. McGuigan and other officials met with the Mayor and members of the City Council's Railway Committee and proposed that the G.T.R. would, at last, build a new passenger station in Guelph. However, rather than build the new station on the same site as the old one, he offered to build the new one on adjacent property, namely Jubilee Park, which the G.T.R. would purchase for $5,000.

The offer was not broadly welcomed. The idea of using Jubilee Park may have been suggested first by the Board of Trade itself. However, the figure they had in mind was $7,500, which they considered a good deal for this prime real estate (Mercury, 25 June 1904). So, the offer seemed underwhelming, and the fact that it was made only verbally made it appear that the G.T.R. did not take the City seriously. Also, it was well known that the G.T.R. could take the matter to the new Dominion Railways Commission (or Board of Railway Commissioners). The Commission was a federal body with a mandate to resolve disputes over railway operation and development. Since the Commission had powers of expropriation, Guelphites suspected that the G.T.R. would get the Park anyway through the Commissioners after some perfunctory negotiations with the City.

The City rebuffed the verbal offer. Sure enough, on 20 June 1904, the City of Guelph received notice from the Railway Commission that the G.T.R. had applied for authority to expropriate Jubilee Park for the site of a new station (Mercury, 21 June 1904). A heated debate ensued over how the City should reply.

As noted earlier, Jubilee Park was about the last remaining clear spot left over from Guelph's early Market Square. Originally, this Square was roughly a large triangle going from Allan's bridge at the Speed in the east, along what is now Carden Street to Wilson Street, south to Farquhar Street, and back to Allan's bridge. John Galt had plotted a place in the Square for the original St. Andrew's church, on the site of the present court building (or old City Hall), but the rest was left open. The space had been chopped up and filled in piecemeal over the years. In 1904, only two open spaces were left. One was the "fairgrounds" south of the tracks but this site was being considered for an armoury, which was eventually built there. The other was Jubilee Park, which was the site of a vegetable market that was cleared out in 1887 and named in honour of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, the fiftieth year of her reign. (Thus, the park was sometimes known as "Queen Victoria's Jubilee Park", or "Queen's Jubilee Park", or just "Victoria Park".)

Jubilee Park can be seen in the postcard below, printed for A.B. Petrie around 1910. Its triangular shape can be seen, bordered by Carden and Wyndham streets and the G.T.R. tracks in the foreground.

So, parks were becoming an endangered species in downtown Guelph and more than a few Guelphites resented it. For some, there was also a nostalgic attachment with the early Market Square, of which Jubilee Park, if it survived, would be the last vestige. Besides, many Guelphites thought that the new station could just be built on the site of the old one. The City Engineer argued that the old site could be made sufficient if the property were extended out into the street a little ways.

This dichotomy of proposals was illustrated by a map, probably drawn up by the City Engineer, showing how the old G.T.R. train station site could be enlarged (Mercury, 2 July 1904). I have superimposed this map on a Google map of the present area. See below.

The site of the old G.T.R. station is picked out as a rough rectangle in the upper right, roughly where the current bus station stands. Solid lines around its west side suggest where a larger station might be built. Dashed lines outside of that suggest how the property could be extended 15 feet into the roadway to accommodate the larger building. The site of Jubilee Park is picked out as a triangle in the lower left area, with the current Central Station marked out as a rectangle in dotted lines. Note also the "Fair Grounds" where the Armoury now stands. Note also that there were level crossings over the G.T.R. tracks at Wyndham Street and Neeve Street.

Each side mustered its arguments and arrayed them before the Commission in hearings conducted the following year. A Citizens' Committee led by Messrs. J.E. McElderry, James Hewer, A.B. Petrie, D.E. Rudd, E.R. Bollart, M.W. Peterson, and Alderman Penfold launched several objections (Mercury, 17 February 1905). For example, it had hired a consulting engineer, Mr. W.T. Jennings, who had surveyed the area and determined that the old site would suffice for a new station with some feasible modifications. Thus, there was no need for expropriation of the Park.

In addition, they argued that Jubilee Park, originally intended for market purposes, should be reserved for such uses in future. The Winter Fair building on the other side of the old City Hall (where the splash pad now stands) was growing crowded, so more market space could well be needed in future. This need could be met only through use of the Park. The vision of Guelph held by this group was essentially still that of a central hub in the regional agricultural scene, a vision that would be undermined by elimination of the city's last open, downtown market space.

Furthermore, a shift in the location of the G.T.R. station would change the business landscape of Guelph. The old site sat opposite Priory Square, where several business and hotels depended upon it. The City Hotel, on the current site of the Cooperators (see map above), relied on foot traffic generated by the train station. If the G.T.R. station were placed on Jubilee Park, the new location would favour businesses sited along Wyndham Street. Since resulting losses to businesses near the old site would not be compensated, the change was unfair.

The Mercury opposed the new station, and popular opinion was also against it, in the main. Mr. Donald Guthrie, K.C. and City Solicitor, referred to petitions of opposition signed by about 1200 citizens (Mercury, 20 April 1905). He also voiced the popular suspicion that the G.T.R. had an ulterior motive: They wished to expropriate Jubilee Park for a passenger station in order to use the old site for freight. A freight station would mean many sidings, sheds, and plenty of noise as engines shifted cars from one place to the next, day and night. At the time, the G.T.R. handled freight at the Junction Station across Edinburgh Road, well away from downtown. Guelphites, even proponents of the expropriation, were not keen on having a freight yard in the middle of the city.

When asked, the G.T.R. had notably failed to disown the idea. Apparently feeling the heat, they soon made a lateral move: The G.T.R. offered to buy the McTague property, the block bounded by Mont, Exhibition, London, and Woolwich streets beside Exhibition Park, for $5,000 (Mercury, 6 September 1905). They would then exchange this property for the fairgrounds, so that the city could put its planned Armoury on the McTague property while the G.T.R. could put its freight yards downtown.

The city declined the offer. (Guelphites may well ponder what the Exhibition Park neighbourhood would be like if it had accepted.)

Nevertheless, there were cogent reasons for having a new station on the Jubilee Park site. The G.T.R.'s engineer (and, eventually, the Railway Commission's own engineer) argued that the old site was not adequate and could not be feasibly adapted to serve for a new station. Over the years, steam engines had become more efficient and powerful and, as a result, trains had gotten longer and heavier. The engineers were convinced that a platform of suitable length and breadth was feasible only at the Park.

These longer trains also increasingly interfered with traffic. Trains stopped at the old station typically stretched across the level crossings at Neeve and Wyndham streets. There, they prevented Guelphites from passing from the Ward to downtown or the reverse, often for 40 minutes at a time. Of course, people could circumnavigate these trains by going around and under Allan's bridge or around by Gordon street. Still, in the days when people got around mostly by foot or horse power, such detours were most unwelcome.

The other main reason to adopt the Jubilee Park site was safety. The existing level crossings were a constant source of danger to life and limb. On 28 June 1904, Guelphites received a grisly reminder of this fact (Mercury, 29 June 1904). Mr. Arthur Trenerry, a young English plasterer working for the Mahoney Bros. on a job in the Ward, returned to his boarding house downtown over Allan's footbridge, around 6:15 in the evening. Apparently distracted or confused by the passage of the G.T.R. train No. 2 overhead, he failed to notice or hear the C.P.R. train approaching Macdonnell street from the south. He was struck by the engine and carried across the street on its cowcatcher while the engineer applied the brakes. Unfortunately, Trenerry's legs were drawn under the screaming engine's wheels, severing the left leg completely above the ankle and crushing the right leg irreparably in the same location. While receiving medical attention, Trenerry said he wished he had been killed outright and begged for anything to relieve the pain. He was given opiates and died about four hours later in Guelph General Hospital.

The jury of the Coroner's inquest found the engineer blameless as he had taken all the usual precautions such as moving slowly and blowing the engine's whistle repeatedly. However, the jury took issue with the design of the crossing and, indeed, with all level crossings in the area (Mercury, 30 June 1904):

The jury regard the crossing, where deceased met his death, as being a dangerous one, and would recommend that the C.P. Railway authorities be notified to at once to take steps to prevent similar accidents occurring by erecting gates, which we deem to be absolutely necessary now, and will be doubly so in view of the extension of the road to Goderich.
The jury, it is understood, were strongly in favor of having a gate placed along the whole length of the foot-path and roadway of the bridge, and also in favor of the G.T.R. having gates on all its crossings in the city, although this was irrelevant to the matter under consideration.
J.W. Lyon, a proponent of the expropriation of Jubilee Park, argued that it would be much easier for the G.T.R. to construct underpasses (then called "subways") to separate street traffic from train traffic altogether with a station at Jubilee Park (Mercury, 14 November 1904). Such separation would help to remove a danger that Guelphites well knew and feared. In the view of many business people like Lyon, in an ever busier Guelph, such safety features were ever more needed.

At the end of 1905, the Railway Commission ruled in favour of the G.T.R. and authorized expropriation of Jubilee Park, subject to a number of conditions (Mercury, 28 December 1905). Although many Guelphites did not approve of the decision, it was widely expected and there was relief that, at least, the Royal City would soon have a shiny new train station.

Yet, arrival of the new station was not so near. The Commission instructed both parties to negotiate a division of costs for the Park, the underpasses, and other expenses. Unsurprisingly, given their history, neither side was willing to concede much. As a result, negotiations dragged on. Finally, as explained in my discussion of the Wyndham street underpass, the city sued the G.T.R. in 1908 for maintaining a public nuisance, that being its old station and level crossings downtown. To make a long story short, a settlement of the whole dispute was not made until the end of 1910!

Once the location of the new station was—finally—settled, there remained the matter of its plan and appearance. During this whole process, Guelphites had taken note of the new station that the G.T.R. had built in Brantford in 1905 (Mercury, 10 May 1905). The Brantford station had a long profile joining an eclectic, towering passenger section with a simpler baggage structure down the platform. See the postcard below.

The card was printed by the Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co. Ltd around 1910.

Plans for a proposed station design were exhibited in the Royal City in June 1910. The Mercury thought the building "handsome" but noted that many Guelphites were unmoved (Mercury, 16 June 1910):

The G.T.R. plans have come in for considerable unfavorable comment, and a conversation similar to that below was overheard as two citizens conversed in front of the window of the G.T.R. ticket offices.
“So they’re the plans for the new station on Jubilee Park. Why, I thought the Grand Trunk promised a station like the one at Brantford.”
“So they did, but they explain that such a station requires too much heat in winter. In fact, the Brantford station is never heated right, for all the warmth goes up the high dome before the waiting room is heated at all. They are building no more like Brantford’s.”
“Well, that may be the reason; but my idea is that they mean ‘from motives of economy we’ll build the other one.’ It reminds one of an old-time log cabin, long and low.”
G.T.R. officials promised vaguely to "improve the plans if they could do so" (Mercury, 9 December 1910).

Guelph's fancy new log cabin opened officially on 22 November 1911. There was no ceremony—perhaps the combatants were too exhausted. However, several of the G.T.R.'s high rollers were on hand as the Number 20 train rolled to stop at the new station at 1 p.m.

A postcard of the new building shows some resemblance in layout to the Brantford station but—it has to be said—Guelph's structure does seem more dignified and less desperate for attention than the other. The postcard was printed for the International Stationary Company of Picton around 1914.

The Guelph Mercury summarized the result (22 November 1911):

The new G.T.R. station is a splendid structure, both from an architectural standpoint and from that of comfort for the travelers, who are passing through the city. Electrically lighted and steam heated, it is in great contrast to the old station with its stove and its poor gas lights. Everything about the building is the latest word in comfort, and Guelphites may well be proud of it, though it has taken ten years’ fighting and bickering to get it, and Jubilee Park had to be sacrificed as a site.
It was, and remains, a fine building. It is also a monument of a painful struggle to redefine the Royal City at the outset of a new century.

The Mercury (22 November 1911) provides the following description of the new station:
Coming along Wyndham street, the new sidewalk, which will do away with the necessity of wading through the mud as has had to be done for some years past, leads the traveler to the rear of the building. Here the entrance to the waiting room, under the tower, also serves as a place for a passenger to embark in a cab in stormy weather without being subjected to the elements. Entering the waiting room from the rear, about the first thing observed is the ticket office, which is ample for the greatest rush times, on holidays, or during the Winter Fair. The entire woodwork of the general scheme throughout. The floor is laid with Mosaic tile and the wainscoting, about five feet high, is of white tile, which is easily cleaned and always neat looking. Above the wainscoting the wall is tinted light blue, until the blue blends into white of the ceiling.

To the right on entering is the ladies’ waiting room, and conveniences, this being done in weather-bleached oak, with salmon tinted walls all in mission style. It will be comfortably fitted with mission furniture.

To the left on entering is the men’s smoking room and conveniences this being the only room in which smoking will be allowed in the building. The old question of urinals, which has been the cause of so much trouble in past years has been done away with in the new toilet arrangements, the closets being combination ones, with ample accommodation.

The lighting of the main waiting room is a new feature in station building. The electric lights are placed in the ceiling with a reflector above them, and they are then completely shaded with yellow amber shades, which do away with all shadows in the room, the light being evenly diffused. Gas can also be installed if necessary, though no fixtures have been put in.

Owing to the factory in Berlin not having the furniture manufactured, old mission furniture has been placed in that station temporarily, but the new furniture will be [in] place by the Winter Fair.

The station is a credit to the builders to the G.T.R. and the city of Guelph. The Grand Trunk did the greater part of the work under the immediate supervision of Bridges and Buildings Master Mitchell, with Mr. J. Chandler as master mason, who was on the job from start to finish. The T. Eaton Co. had the tile work, Mahoney Bros. the plumbing, and the Taylor-Forbes Co. the heating, which was installed by Fred Smith. The painting was done by Geo. Montgomery and G. Web.
Another improvement that would meet with the favor of the ticket men is to place a grating over the ticket office, as is done to the teller’s cage in the banks, to protect them from till tappers.
Beneath the splendor of the new station, stone from the old station had been re-used in the foundations of the new one and, so far as I know, remains there to this day.

1 comment:

  1. I am not sure if you will get this comment as the article was written so long ago. My husband is interested in old train stations. He lived in Guelph for a number of years so really likes the photos in this artice. The old post card of the Guelph train station is the type of photo that he is looking for. Do you know where we could get a print of this? Thanks, Sandy