Sunday, June 24, 2012

123 Main Street - Union Station

Union Station 2

Place: Union Station
Address: 123 Main Street (Map)
Cost: $1.5 m
Contractor: Lyall - Mitchell
Opened: August 7, 1911*
* Date of the first train service, though the station didn't officially open until June 24, 1912.


Union Station, Winnipeg

In the early 1900s railway operations in Winnipeg underwent a major expansion to keep up with the transportation demands of a booming West

In 1905 the CPR expanded their yards and opened the grand CPR Station at Higgins and Main. In 1909 construction began on the National Transcontinental and Grand Trunk Pacific's new shops at Transcona. Also in 1909 the Canadian Northern Railway, National Transcontinental and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway combined to build Union Station and adjacent rail yards.

Union Station was designed by architects
Warren and Wetmore of New York. Already prominent in their home town, they would go on to design such landmark buildings as the Vanderbilt Hotel, Con Edison Building and Grand Central Terminal (above).

March 26, 1908, Manitoba Free Press

On April 1, 1908 tenders opened for general contractors and local firm Lyall - Mitchell won the contract. The final design was completed in May. A last minute change was the addition of a fourth floor, (four more were to be added at a later date but that phase was never completed.) In July 1908 Lyall applied for a $1m building permit, the most expensive in Winnipeg to-date.

CN Easy Yards / Forks ca 1928
CN East Yards (now The Forks) ca. 1928

The project was more than just a passenger rail station. In all, 70 acres of land were involved including a train yards, work sheds, warehouses and new track approaches to the site. The total value of the project was around $4 million and set off wild land speculation on the south end of Main Street.


The station was to open to train traffic in December 1910 with the office building to be completed in June 1911. There were long delays, however, in getting the surrounding yards and rail approaches to the site completed.

On August 7, 1911 at 7:35 a.m. the first train departed the station's platform for Emerson. The first inbound train from Alberta arrived a few minutes later. Even then, one of the new railway bridges over the Assiniboine was not yet complete and old track had to be used.

CN Station

June 25, 1912, Winnipeg Free Press

By the time the station officially opened on June 24, 1912, it was a bit anti-climactic. The public had numerous chances to see the station by visiting the offices or restaurants already operating there.
In fact, the first big public event at the station was a Children's Hospital fund raising bazaar on November 24, 1910.

The management of the station was through a separate company with representatives from each of the railways. J. M. Bannerman was the first station master.

The most noticeable feature of the building is the 80' x 90' rotunda topped with a steel and glass skylight. It boasts a mosaic floor and marble wainscotting .

On the main floor north of the rotunda was the main waiting room of 9,000 sq ft. It also had two smaller rooms, one for women and one for men. To the south of the rotunda was a large restaurant.

Much of the basement housed the immigrants area. It had a 10,000 sq foot waiting room, a lunch counter, laundry facilities and baths.

Union Station, Winnipeg

Soon after it was put into service, the station was the scene of many heart-wrenching goodbyes as thousands of troops passed through on their way to and from World War I.

Union Station, Winnipeg

In the 1950s and 60s passenger train travel was on the wane. The increasing car culture and popularity of air travel squeezed it at both ends. In 1977 the federal government created VIA Rail which amalgamated the CP and CN passenger train services. Union Station became the Winnipeg home to Via Rail.

June 1993, Winnipeg Free Press

VIA had a small presence in Union Station. By the 1990's less than a quarter of the building's floor space.

In an attempt to take advantage of the late 1980s redevelopment of the former East Yards into
The Forks, VIA opened Union Station Market on June 18, 1993. The market took up the south wing of the main floor and included dozens of small local shops and services. The market closed in 1996.

In 1997 much of the vacant office space and the former market area became Red River College's Continuing Education

Source: Via Rail

The building has been well maintained in recent years.

In 1997 $1.2 million was spent to update the mechanical systems.
In 2010 - 11 a $3 million renovation of the building began, that included a new roof, building envelope and the train shed area. In May 2012 a further $6.5 million renovation was announced that will see a redeveloped east (Forks) entrance, rotunda and waiting area.

The building was declared a national historic site in October 1978. It is also home to the Winnipeg Rail Museum.

VIA Rail Canada has created a centennial web site for Winnipeg's Union Station that includes the above video !

My Union Station photo album
Union Station Heritage Winnipeg
Centennial of Winnipeg's Union Station VIA Rail
Union Station

Related Media:
100th year announcement at VIA Winnipeg VIA Rail (June 2012)
Union Station celebrates 100th year with upgrades Free Press (Sept. 2011)
Fletcher announces completion of Union Station upgrades Gov't of Canada (Sept. 2011)

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