Originally published as a “Ghost City” column for The Grid on May 14, 2013.
The Globe, September 10, 1915.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was tired of arguing. Negotiations with government bodies over the development of a replacement for the existing Union Station were heading nowhere fast. Fatigued by squabbling, in 1912, the CPR moved several passenger routes from downtown to a line it controlled in the north end of the city. While a train station already existed on the west side of Yonge Street near Summerhill Avenue, it hardly matched CPR executives’ visions of grandeur.
Fresh off designing the railway’s office tower at King and Yonge, architects Frank Darling and John Pearson were assigned to create a new North Toronto station. The centrepiece of their plan was a 140-foot clock tower inspired by the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. The clock would be synchronized via telegraph signals from the CPR’s Windsor Station in Montreal. Also included was a grand waiting room with a three-storey high ceiling and marble facing.
The Globe, June 15, 1916.
When Mayor Tommy Church laid the cornerstone on September 9, 1915, he praised the CPR for being “the first railway company to give Toronto proper recognition.” He hoped the station would be the first of a series of railway gateways to the city, improving inter-city commuting. When passenger service began on June 4, 1916, destinations included Lindsay, Owen Sound, and Ottawa. The most popular route was Montreal, which attracted wealthy businessmen who lived nearby.
Old and new CPR North Toronto stations, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1748.
The station’s demise began when the new Union Station finally opened in 1927. Passengers found transfers easier downtown, while the streetcar ride between the two stations grew longer as vehicular traffic increased along Yonge Street. The final four passenger routes were scrapped in September 1930, though freight trains continued to use the facility. The station was pressed into service for the arrival of King George VI’s train during the May 1939 royal visit, and for unloading returning troops at the end of the World War II.
In the interim, the building’s long association with alcohol began. Brewers’ Retail opened a store on the north side of the station in 1931, while the LCBO settled into the south side in 1940. Not until late 1978 could liquor-store customers pick their own bottles instead of filling out forms fussed over by judgmental staff. “Often, a clerk would smugly inform you that the cheap sherry you wanted was O/S (out of stock),” Toronto Life recalled in 2003. “Another clerk might confide that the guy who just waited on you had been a teacher but had suffered ‘a nervous breakdown.’ You knew that every one of the staff had been voting Tory since before that Benedictine monk invented champagne.” Adding to the institutional feel was the lowering of the ceilings and covering up of many of the station’s grandiose touches.
Ticket area, circa 1916. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 930.
Talk of site redevelopment went on for years. Proposals alternated between providing improved retail space and returning to its railway origins as a GO station. Developers who talked of building homes and apartment towers on land adjacent to the building ran into neighbourhood opposition. No plan stuck until the liquor store closed in December 2001 for extensive renovation work undertaken by Woodcliffe. False ceilings were removed and wood paneling was torn off to reveal the marble underneath. New blocks of limestone were produced by the Manitoba quarry that provided the originals. The tower clock resumed service after half-a-century. What was already the busiest LCBO store in the province expanded by a factor of eight to provide 21,000 square feet of shopping space for booze connoisseurs. During the grand reopening ceremony in February 2003, Ontario Consumer and Business Service Minister Tim Hudak tipped his hat to the building’s transportation origins, promising shoppers “a journey of discovery of the world of beverage alcohol.”
While stocking up on your drinking needs, take a moment to observe the station’s railway heritage. Look up to the ornate ceiling covering the domestic and Italian wine selections. See the ticket booths nestled among the Chilean wines. While walking through the western portion of the Vintages section, imagine strolling along a walkway to your train platform. Ponder if the bottles on the shelves of the “Vins de Table” section are fine beverages or deserve to be dumped down the toilets like those which graced this portion of the station.
Sources: Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles (Charleston: Arcadia, 2009), Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986), the February 4, 2003 edition of the Canada News Wire, the September 10, 1915 edition of the Globe, the June 2003 edition of Toronto Life, and the June 3, 1916, November 26, 1978, and January 19, 2002 editions of the Toronto Star.
The Globe, September 10, 1915.
Besides Mayor Tommy Church, at least two other people spoke during the September 9, 1915 cornerstone ceremony for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s new North Toronto station. CPR general manager A.D. MacTier thanked everyone for their assistance in initializing the project: “I hope that through this gathering I may be able to get to know your city officials, businessmen and the public generally, believing as I do that only by much personal friendship and knowledge of each other’s aims and needs can that mutual understanding and respect be created, without which the proper amicable relations between a large public utility and the people of a great city can neither be created nor maintained.”
Also speaking was jurist William Mulock, who referred to the ongoing conflict in Europe. According to the Globe, Mulock “observed that the Empire was engaged in a gigantic struggle, but ultimate victory for Britain and her allies was certain. The action of the CPR showed that they had confidence in the future, which had in store greater things for Canada and for the whole British Empire.”
Toronto World, September 10, 1915.
A time capsule was placed inside the cornerstone. Its contents?
- A city map
- Plans showing location of station and tracks
- CPR annual report
- CPR shareholders report
- A complete set of Canadian coins and stamps
- City of Toronto annual report
- Copies of that day’s newspapers
- Plans and elevation of station
- Guest list of those attending the ceremony
The time capsule was opened on schedule in September 2015.
Summerhill LCBO, 1983. Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0114596f.
An amusing side story I stumbled upon while researching this story involved an LCBO sale on unpopular items. The Globe and Mail reported on September 14, 1977 that “most customers at three downtown outlets weren’t even giving a second glance to discontinued brands of wines and spirits—both domestic and imported—selling at up to 50 per cent off until they’re sold out.” A grinning LCBO cashier at Summerhill told the paper that “you wouldn’t buy it either if you saw what was on sale.”A television director shopping for red wine agreed, scoffing that he “wouldn’t touch that stuff.”
Among the items which didn’t entice customers: Red Cap sparkling wine from France, and South African Paarl Cinsaut. The Queen’s Quay outlet noted scotch was still sitting on the shelf 24 hours after its price was reduced.
One of the visions for the site over the years.