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Union Station Gets a Facelift

The exterior rendering of the revitalized Union Station. Image c/o Urban Toronto.

Over its long history, there have been a few notable passengers, including King George VI, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Winston Churchill. Today, Union Station is Canada’s busiest and most important transportation centre and a central part of any commuter’s life. It plays host to 180 GO trains, 35 VIA Rail trains and 400 GO buses daily. These figures are expected to rise, with a projected 80 million passengers a year will passing through the station in 2035.

A revitalization project is underway to update the station. There are many elements to the restoration: an increase of exists and entrances, a new PATH connection, more retailers, restoration of heritage elements, and overall improved traffic flow. 

“Union Station is being transformed into a first-rate transportation facility that is modern, efficient and focused on the customer experience,” said the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Transportation Minister. “Investing in public transit is a big part of our government’s Open Ontario plan to strengthen our economy, and create more jobs and growth by being open to change and opportunities.”

The total undertaking will cost approximately $640 million, with the major contributors to the project being the City of Toronto, the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. The whole project is expected to be complete in 2015.

The pièce de résistance will be a 70,000 square foot atrium of steel and glass, situated 50 feet over the train tracks. 220,000 square feet of glass will make up the top and the sides. The atrium will also serve to provide the new concourse and offices with more light. The designers of the atrium, Zeidler Partnership Architects’ senior partner Tarek El-Khatib, said he was inspired by the existing windows at Union Station.

As a contemporary feature, there will also be a green roof with an array of solar panels to generate electricity. The added electrical source will be needed because of thousands of LED lights that will be embedded in the canopy will require extra power. At night, the canopy will glow in different colours much like the CN tower does.

Another major part of the project will be the “dig down.” It will consist of a four metre dig under the current GO concourse (see image below). This will triple the size of the concourse and open up 160,000 square feet of retail space for tourists, condo dwellers, and commuters alike.

We mentioned above that some notable historic figures have travelled through Union Station, so we thought it might be fun to elaborate more on the history of the station for those who are curious.

Union Station has had a turbulent and complex past. For one, it has not always looked the way it does today or even been situated in the place it currently resides. The first Union Station used to sit a block away from its current location. On May 16, 1853, the first steam-powered passenger train left Toronto from Union Station. This first station was shared by Grand Trunk Railways Co., the Ontario-Simcoe-Huron Railway Co and the Great Western Railway Co. Although the name “Union” Station was meant to describe the partnership between different companies, the Station ironically had long dormant periods due to inter-company disputes and local politics. Interestingly, although Grand Trunk Railways helped build the Station, it closed down before it could ever use it.

The second Union Station opened in 1873 after a long period of dormancy. In 1884, the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. took over the renovations to create the third incarnation of the station. The Great Toronto fire in 1904 destroyed much of the neighbouring buildings. However damaging, this allowed for the station to be expanded. Architecture firms Ross & Macdonald, Hugh G. Jones of Montreal and John M. Lyle of Toronto designed the final version of the station.

However, the turbulence did not end there. By 1966, there were plans to shut down the Station due to inadequate and outdated service. Luckily, it was saved by a group of local advocates. Today, it is protected under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act, which declared the station to be a national historic site. Over the years, it has undoubtedly played a fundamental role in shaping and developing our city. The new revitalization will ensure Union Station’s contribution will not end anytime soon.  

Below, you will find some renderings of the new station, as well as a diagram showing the ‘dig down’ procedure mentioned above.

A look at the new Atrium. Image c/o Urban Toronto.

Another view of the new Atrium. Image c/o Urban Toronto.

A look at the new Great Hall. Image c/o Urban Toronto.

The ‘dig down’ process mentioned above. Image c/o Urban Toronto.

Government of Canada, Government of Ontario, City of Toronto. “Canada, Ontario and Toronto Launch Job Creating Revitalization of Union Station.” 4 June 2010. Link

Ian Harvey. “Union Station remake aims to be another jewel in Toronto’s crown.” The Toronto Star. 22 January 2012. Link

Adam Hawkins. “Digging deep for a bigger, better Union Station.” Urban Toronto. 14 June 2011. Link

Liam Lahey. “Tracking Union Station’s turbulent 151-year history.” Inside Toronto. 29 November 2009. Link

The Toronto Railway Historical Association Link

Posted February 7, 2012.

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