The Railways of Ottawa

Findings of the Circle

1.7   Canada Atlantic - Maria Street

This photo on the Lost Ottawa Facebook Page shows Canada Atlantic passenger cars under the old Maria Street wooden bridge, which predates the 1900 Laurier Street bridge over the Canal. It is from the Ottawa City Archives. There is a baggage-mail car and two open platform passenger cars, probably the 62-foot long cars. Behind the train is the original Maria Street temporary station, which was originally erected in 1895 at the south edge of the turning basin, before the tracks were extended on pilings across the basin to the Militia Stores building. The Maria Street station had an operator bay window, which is visible, and three dormer windows on the west side, and was metal clad, perhaps because of fire risk from the locomotives. It was later relocated twice, ending up east of the tracks in the position shown in this view. It may have been similar in layout to the Canada Atlantic Elgin Street station, with waiting rooms both sides of the operator bay. The upstairs rooms were probably offices rather than agent accommodation, which would not have been needed at this location. There was a second bay projection from the far end of the station building. The end wall of the first freight shed is visible beyond the last passenger car. The tall smokestack is for the original yard office, before it was moved south of Laurier.
(Caption provided by David Jeanes)
The CAR was extended from Hurdman up the east side of the Rideau canal on 23 December 1895.  A temporary terminus was established at Maria Street, today's Laurier Avenue, where there was a bridge over the canal.  The Maria Street Bridge was a simple truss bridge over the canal with steep ramps either side and is shown in a well known aerial panorama engraving (post 1876, since it shows the Parliamentary Library).  There were canal basins north of the bridge on both sides.  The eastern one had to be filled before the CAR could have its station farther north than Maria Street in 1896.

The station is described in the Ottawa Journal of 17 December 1895:

Central Depot Sir?  On Thursday that will be the query of the cabbies.
The shrill whistle and the telling bell of the passenger locomotive will soon be heard in the centre of the city for on Thursday (actually the following Monday) passenger trains will be running into the new temporary depot at the canal basin.

With all the alacrity and dispatch that has characterized the building of the lines into the Central depot, goes on the work of competing the temporary station.  The depot is just receiving its finishing touches.  A few weeks ago a few pieces of timber lay strewn on the ground; today a commodious station, certainly not the poor "temporary" affair some people thought it would be, is erected.

Mr. J.R. Booth's hand is recognized in it all.  Everybody admits that without him the work would not go on so rapidly.  Indeed he has been on the spot every day from early morn until the men stopped work at 5 o'clock, in the evening.  Although 70 years of age he may be frequently observed handling the pick and shovel or placing the timbers like any workman.

As to the Depot

But about the temporary depot.  The dimensions of the building itself are 75 feet long and 25 feet wide, but on all sides of the building are "lean tos" 16 feet wide which makes it appear twice the size.  Extending south fom the station is a covered platform 400 feet long.  This platform extends to within 200 feet of Maria street bridge and from the end of it to the bridge a wide platform is laid.  From the terminus of the platform a stairway will be built leading down from a level with the bridge to the platform.  This will be the main entrance of people on foot to the depot.

The entrance to the station by carriage will be from Nicholas by Wilbrod street or by way of Mosgrove street and the canal dock frontage from Rideau.

The depot is covered with iron sheeting amd well finished in the interior.  The building is divided into ladies' and gent's waiting rooms, a restaurant and a ticket office.  A baggage roomis built to the north end of the station.

As to Trains

Passenger trains will enter and leave on either side of the covered platform, extending south from the station building.  The Canada Atlantic trains will leave and enter from the track on the west side of the platform and the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound trains from the east side tracks.

The station and its surroundings will be lighted by electricity.  Altogether the depot is a better building than the present C.A.R. structure even if it is temporary.  Mr. Booth stated yesterday evening that the depot would cost $4,000.  He did not expect it would be used a whole year for by that time the new Central depot would be ready and the present building torn down

With the opening of the Central Depot the following year the temporary station building was moved back to the east bank of the cutting north of the Maria Street bridge.  In October 1900 it was relocated to the south (east) end of the freight shed that was closer to the canal.  This was immediately south of the canal basin, and approximately where it would have been originally.  It stayed there in use as the freight office until September 1909 when it was demolished.

1.8    Canada Atlantic - Central Depot

For further insights on J.R. Booth's relations with other railways at this time see Section 14.

The Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway was begun by lumber baron J.R. Booth in 1892.  It opened from Ottawa to Arnprior on 13 September 1893.  The OA & PS used the CAR line along the east bank of the Rideau Canal to the new Central Depot at Sapper's Bridge, (Rideau Street), where Booth took over the stone Militia Stores building, to accommodate the station.  Three tracks served two passenger shelters on parallel platforms. The western platform was connected by a covered staircase to the sidewalk on Sappers Bridge. The Ottawa Evening Journal of April 15,1896, page 7 announced that after 1 June the Militia Stores building at Sappers Bridge would be the temporary depot of the OA&PS and CA Railways.  The building would contain a waiting room, ticket office, restaurant, and at the south end a baggage room.  It would have three tracks reaching to a point under Sappers Bridge, with a sheltering canopy on the west side of the stores building. The tracks would approach the depot on a trestle which was being built over the canal basin, which would be filled in.

In the Evening Journal of 16 April 1896, page 6, there is a story relating that the Ottawa Electric Street Railway wanted to reach the Militia Stores building via a single track spur on Little Sussex Street to connect with the proposed Central Depot.  It would curve on Besserer Street to reach the Canal basin.  It was needed for carrying out the mail service promptly. On 6 June (page 1) it was stated that the Ottawa Electric had been told by the CAR that they would not have to extend the spur across the canal embankment.  (This would have been required to reach the Maria Street bridge temporary station).  Instead the tracks would go to the Militia Stores Building, (as originally planned in April).  This may not have happened, as a 1895 picture shows the track with trolley wire extending well south of the Militia Stores.

The 6 June story says that the Militia stores building would be partially converted into a railway depot by the end of the month.  This was a delay of a month from the earlier predicted date.  The west side of the building would be the depot.  The other half would remain as the Miltia Stores until a new location could be found.  Large gangs of men were levelling the ground around the building and another building had been bought and demolished. However, on 27 June a Page 1 story about the temporary station said that only the western portion of the building was to be used.  Several carloads of lumber had been unloaded near the Miltia Stores building and carpenters were at work.  Clearly the project had been delayed well beyond the planned 1 June date.  The reason for the designation "temporary station" was given on 15 April, that J.R. Booth's intention was to go on during the summer with the new Central Depot, but that it probably would not be ready until the following year.

The CAR used the depot from 28 September 1896 and the OA & PS from 21 December 1896.  The CAR absorbed the OA & PS three years later in 1899.  There is a Journal story about disputes between the OA&PS and the residents of Ottawa East (around Main Street), over land taken from a school property for the OA&PS track.  The extra time to complete this track would seem to be the reason that the OA&PS reached the Central Depot three months later than the CAR.

The Canadian Pacific Railway built its own short line from Montreal to Ottawa opening on 17 July 1898. It was 111.4 miles from Windsor Station via Vankleek Hill to the Canada Atlantic Depot, compared to 117.7 miles of the Canada Atlantic route. The M&O and CPR did not have train advertisements in that paper around the start date of their short line service to Montreal.  However, there was a news item on Thursday July 14 that trains would be running as of Monday July 18, (rather than the official start date of 17 July).  The story didn't specify which station was being used, but the M&O had apparently reluctantly agreed to pay Booth for the running rights to the Central Depot.  They had been reported by the Journal as working hard to paint the Rideau River bridge and finish the trestle to Deep Cut in the days leading up to the start of service.  At the onset ballasting of the line was still in progress and speeds were reduced accordingly.

The Ottawa and New York Railway opened a line to Ottawa on 29 July 1898.  Initial agreement could not be obtained to use the Central Depot and service commenced using the CPR Sussex Street station, trains running from a junction with the CPR M&O line, near the present Ottawa station at alta Vista, to Hurdman where they took the connection to the Sussex Street line.  O&NY trains subsequently used Central Depot, and later Union Station, crossing the Rideau River on the Canadian Pacific bridge. After 1 January 1941, because of the high cost of using Union Station, the NYC used its own station on Mann Avenue at the foot of Nicholas Street.  See section 4 for more information on the Ottawa and New york Railway.

The Ottawa Electric Railway tracks crossed the railway from Sparks Street to Rideau Street on Sappers Bridge.  In 1893 there seems to have been a connection to the Canada Atlantic yard at the Central Depot, as the track immediately to the east of the three station tracks was equipped with a trolley wire.  It led towards Rideau Street, possibly via Little Sussex Street.  The Ottawa Electric Railway delivered mail through the city centre from the CPR Broad Street Station and may have done the same from the CAR Central Depot.

A note on OA&PS and Canada Atlantic Railway Station Builders - by David Jeanes

The Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway had 14 or 15 standard pattern stations of which Barry's Bay survives.  There were also several larger stations which shared plan and design style with Coteau and Valleyfield on the Canada Atlantic.  These stations were all built in the 1892-1896 period by G. Tomlinson, "station builder for the company" (Journal, 21 Dec 1896).

This information is from newspaper searches and from census and city directories.  I identified "Tomlinson, contractor" as Archibald Tomlinson and "G. Tomlinson" as his younger brother George, later a contractor (1905) and architect (1910).  They were probably the children of John, a shoemaker, and Mary Tomlinson of the village of Beckwith.  I believe that references to "C. Tomlinson" as builder of Golden Lake and Madawaska stations were newspaper errors. 
Archibald was in the Ottawa directories since 1883 when George was only 14 years old.  He was a carpenter, boatbuilder (1884-87), and builder (1891-1929).  Another brother John was a carpenter in Ottawa in 1882-3 and 1890.  Archibald and George probably collaborated with George in charge of the station work.   They did not build the Canada Atlantic's 18 or so "Barrington" stations of 1881-84, nor Elgin St. station, which were by Maclaren and Parkham.  

In summary, the Tomlinson's large station construction program was:

1892: Coteau, Valleyfield (probably later)
1893: Kinburn, Galetta, Carp, Arnprior, Renfrew, Eganville
1894: Glasgow (?), Golden Lake, Killaloe, Barry's Bay, Edgington
1895: Wilno, Whitney, Maria St. (?), Rockland branch: Cheyney's, Clarence Creek
1896: Central Depot (?), Madawaska (plus hotel), Canoe Lake, Kearney, Rose Point

The several main station designs had strong similarities (excluding Rockland branch):

1-storey 2 operator towers (Coteau)
1-storey 1 operator tower (Arnprior, Renfrew)
2-storey, 2 operator towers (Valleyfield, Rose Point)
Temporary stations (Maria St., Central Depot)
1.5 storey, Barry's Bay style (14-15 pattern stations)
1.5 storey, larger version (Madawaska)

1.9    Grand Trunk Railway - Union Station
The Grand Trunk purchased the CAR on 15 August 1904 and took control on 1 October 1905.  Through its Ottawa Terminals Railway subsidiary, the GTR rebuilt the passenger and freight trackage at the Central Depot in 1908-1909,  and began construction of a new station on the site of the Canada Atlantic Central Depot at Rideau Street and the Canal.  It was intended as a Union Station, to unify the various railway termini on the model adopted for the recently-built Washington DC Union Station.  At this time, few other monumental stations existed in North America.  Grand Central and Pennsylvania Stations in New York, Toronto Union Station, and Quebec Palais Station were not yet built.

A classical revival structure was designed by the architect Bradford Lee Gilbert.  However, before the station was built, the General Manager of the Grand Trunk, Charles Melville Hays, replaced Gilbert with the architects Ross and MacFarlane.  It had plain, unfluted columns on the main building but elaborate arched windows on a Roman model in the waiting room section.  A small dome with a cylindrical beacon on top surmounted the main structure. The building was set back from Sapper's bridge so light could reach ground floor windows on the north side.  However, later widening of the sidewalk to the edge of the building blocked these windows.

On 26 October 1907 Ottawa Mayor Darcy Scott turned the sod for the Union Station on Besserer Street.. There is a description of the ceremony in the Ottawa Journal of 28 October,

The location of the ceremony was on a cleared lot on Besserer where the brick houses number 22 and 24 (see plan) had been demolished. The scene was photographed from the balcony of the Federal Hotel at 593-595 Sussex. 609, 611 and 617 Sussex had also been demolished

Behind the ceremony is the back of Easton's Warehouse and to the left the frame cottages at 8 and 10 Currier Street. The tall iron clad building numbered 38 on the plan is visible in the background with two roof vents. 

As it happened, nothing was actually built on this site. The Baggage annex of the eventual Union Station was actually built in 1909 on the alignment of Sussex Street.

The Ottawa Electric Railway spur track is visible on Sussex Street, to the right of the boardwalk. The Grand Trunk cars in the background are parked just outside Central Depot. In the far distance behind them is Dey's Skating Rink and Arena, on Laurier Avenue west of the Canal.

The station as built provided for several tenants.  The ground floor, on Rideau Street, was shared by railway offices and a bank.  The third and fourth floors were the offices of the Board of Railway Commissioners, later the Board of Transport Commissioners, the federal government rail regulator, including the library overlooking Rideau Street and the main courtroom under a dome on the top floor.   The largest room in the station was the full-height waiting room, with arched coffered ceiling, eight large semicircular windows, and eight Corinthian columns, reminiscent of the great Roman baths.  Around it were washrooms, lunchroom, ticket offices, and other facilities.

Behind the waiting room was a three-story office building, mainly for railway operations, and the full-width Concourse, for passenger circulation with doors leading to all the platforms.  The concourse also had a newsstand and the side entrance to the taxi rank and car pickup area. Along the east side of the shed were the baggage room, railway express offices with truck loading bays, postal room, and steam plant.

The original CAR platforms and shelters remained in use until the station and steam plant were completed.  They were then replaced with a new train shed, 600 feet long, of the Bush type.  The train shed had a complex roof covering of concrete slabs, glass skylights, smoke ducts over the tracks, and air vents between the tracks.  The concourse also had large skylights in the roof.  The skylights were present until at least 1928 but were later removed or covered.  In the 1940's the dome on top of the station was removed and replaced by an undistinguished penthouse of additional offices, on three sides of, but not covering, the square where the dome had been.

When the station opened on 1 June 1912, the Canadian Pacific Railway declined to use it for all but its Montreal direct line trains and remained at Broad Street.  The Canadian Northern also did not use the station but remained at Hurdman.

As most other railways did not use the station, it was named "Grand Trunk Central Station".  The name appeared in large Roman letters above the Rideau Street entrance and along the top of the wall on the Rideau Canal side.  The 7-track train shed was reached via a simple ladder track from the main line. The westernmost track continued northwards to a junction with the CPR through main line.  The other six shed tracks were terminal tracks.  There was also a freight yard to the east, (see finding No. 3) ending at Besserer Street, but it had no connection with the passenger tracks.

A drawing of the train shed cross-section appeared in Canadian Railway and Marine World in November 1911.  It showed the canalside track outside the original concrete wall of the train shed.  It was labelled "CPR Transcontinental Through Track" and implies that the station really was built by the Grand Trunk with the intention or understanding that the CPR transcontinental trains would bypass it.

When in January 1920, Canadian Pacific Railway decided to close Broad Street Station and move to Union Station, the train shed wall was taken down and moved to the canal edge. The relocated wall of the shed did not rest on the canal wall but was supported on pilings set into the canal itself.  The original architects evidently had no intention to lay out track 1 with sufficient clearance for it to be inside the shed otherwise, they would have allowed sufficient clearance to add the wall. There was room for only a narrow platform and passengers could only reach it by crossing the adjacent track from the side door of the station concourse. At the south end of the shed a connection was made to the adjacent track to allow access to the added track from the passenger coach yard.  Around this time the station throat was altered to a compound ladder to lengthen several of the tracks.

Originally the throat, between the train shed and Laurier Bridge was entirely in the open, but after 1950 it was partly covered by the Mackenzie-King Bridge, connecting Albert and Slater Streets west of the canal to Stewart and Wilbrod Streets on the east side.  The bridge crossed the south edge of the train shed at an angle and extended the sheltered length of the westernmost platforms.

The ticket offices, CN and CP, were on either side of the walkway connecting the waiting room with the concourse. Telegrams may have been accepted there or perhaps at an adjacent wicket. The lunch room and barber shop were on the ground floor just north of and connecting with the waiting room, east and west of the grand staircase respectively. The  operator's office (signals CD, presumably for Central Depot) was on the ground  floor between the waiting room and the concourse.  One could enter it from  the concourse when scavenging for employees' timetables at the change of time,  but  there was a door leading directly outside as well, near where CP engine crews would board northbound trains.  The baggage room adjoined the south side of the concourse near the Besserer Street ground-level  entrance, convenient to the taxi stand.

On 31 July 1966, the station closed and the railway tracks were removed, (though removal of the CPR tracks to Hull was not authorized until 14 December). Under the Parkin Plan for redevelopment of the Confederation Square area, the station was to be demolished.  However, it was reprieved to become the Centennial Centre, containing exhibitions open to the public throughout Canada's centennial year of 1967.

The station buildings were then remodelled to become the government Conference Centre, a role it has had for over 30 years.  The concourse was divided into smaller rooms, but the waiting room became the main conference hall, and the original top-floor courtroom also became a meeting room. South of the concourse where the platforms had ended, a new ceremonial entrance pavilion was built with a roadway loop. A modern exterior glass-enclosed fire escape staircase was added to the blank east wall of the main building.

1.9.1    The Chateau Laurier
The Chateau Laurier was built as the Grand Trunk's station hotel, and opened the same day as the station.  There was no ceremony for either opening, as the Grand Trunk's chairman, Charles Melville Hays, had died in the sinking of the Titanic while travelling to Canada for the opening.  The hotel basement was connected by a pedestrian tunnel to the station's waiting room, emerging between the two flights of the grand staircase from the Rideau Street entrance, and a steam tunnel which connected the hotel to the shared steam plant.

On 2 Dec 1909 the GTR was authorized to construct a branch line from its track south of Sapper's/Plaza Bridge thence northerly under the bridge, crossing CPR and the Hull Electric Railway, and into the site of the Hotel Chateau Laurier.  This siding was used to bring in materials for the construction of the hotel and can be seen in a photo in the City of Ottawa Archives (CA-1767).  Flagmen were appointed by the Hull Electric (and paid for by the CAR) to be stationed at the crossing of the branch and to be on duty day and night.  No switching was allowed over this crossing except on signal of the flagman.  The Board required CAR, CPR and HER to agree upon the times that shunting across crossing might be done with least inconvenience to HER.  The CAR could shift the location of the spur at any time for the purpose of carrying out the construction of the hotel.

On 28 Jun 1911 a plan was approved showing a terrace or covering over the tracks of the CPR and Hull Electric, immediately adjacent to the Hotel Chateau Laurier and the make up of the reinforced concrete floor was approved the following September.  Approval to reconstruct the terrace was granted in late 1958 and it was completed by mid 1960.

Updated January 2017

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