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Orillia’s former Grand Trunk Railway station faces an uncertain future

July 2020

The former Canadian National Railway (CNR) station in Orillia is facing an uncertain future after being sold to a developer. Originally built by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1917, it became part of the CNR inventory when the GTR went bankrupt six years later. It replaced the original station, which was destroyed by a fire in 1915.

Unlike a lot of stations of the day, which were wood-frame construction, the single-story Orillia station was a stone and brick building. It featured a late-Victorian-era polychromatic style, with a steep and picturesquely massed roof, architectural and cultural heritage elements that were common design and operational features of turn-of-the-century railway stations.

The Orillia station served as a transfer station for troops stationed at Camp Borden during The Great War. It served the same function for transporting troops during World War II training not just at Camp Borden, but also at No. 26 Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre, near the West Street Armoury.

Orillia was also a popular tourist destination, in addition to being on the edge of the cottage county in Muskoka, and prior to World War II, many travelers made the journey by rail.

The increased use of automobiles and improved highway routes led to a decline in passenger rail traffic in the post-World War II years, but the Orillia train station continued to see rail traffic until the mid-1990s, when CNR abandoned the line between Barrie and Longford, just north of Orillia. The tracks were removed in 1996, bringing to an end the railway era in Orillia.

Although no longer a train station, the Orillia station remained in use as a transportation hub by Ontario Northland Motor Coach Services, the passenger bus section of Ontario Northland Railway. The aging station, now owned by the Town of Orillia, had undergone a restoration in 1989, ensuring it would remain a vital part of the community.

The Orillia District Chamber of Commerce and Service Ontario were also occupants of the former train station over the next two and a half decades.

By 2016, Orillia Town Council decided to sell the station and by May 2019, the station was finally sold to a developer. The Chamber of Commerce and Service Ontario re-located to new offices in town, but Ontario Northland remained at the station until June 2020.

While the current zoning designation includes such things such as an art gallery, offices, bakeries, professional offices, medical offices, a restaurant and residential uses, it remains unknown what will become of the historic, century-old station.

Character-defining elements of the Orillia Canadian National Railway Station include (as detailed by Historic Places Canada):

– its irregular rectangular footprint, simple single storey massing under a low-pitched hipped roof with balanced projections with lower rooflines of similar pitch on all four facades,
– the station’s balanced overall proportions,
– the prominence and complexity of its roof definition from all four perspectives (lower level but similar rooflines of extending porte-cocheres on 3 sides, the telegrapher’s bay on the fourth),
– the smooth aesthetic integration of special railway features such as a projecting telegrapher’s bay, and porte cocheres to accommodate the movement of crowds,
– the balance inherent in the station’s vertical definition,
– the rhythmic longstanding size and placement of its apertures and brackets,
– the picturesque inspiration of its details: layered roof forms, porte-cocheres, exposed rafter ends, brackets, pillars, carved main entrance pillars,
– the varying textures and colours of its original materials: the rock-faced masonry base of walls and pillars, smooth red brick with fine red mortar joints on upper walls, wood detailing, shaped roof shingle, multi-paned windows, panelled doors,
– the craftsmanship evident in their composition,
– their fireproof nature,
– the station’s platform frame construction technology,
– all original fabric and furnishings inside the station, in particular stucco and burlap dado wall surfaces, the surviving portion the waiting room arcade, ticket office and operator’s furnishings,
– period railway objects that form part of the station’s décor,
– continued legibility of the station’s original functional and spatial configuration through the exterior placement of doors and windows,
– continued legibility of the station’s early spatial volumes, functional use of spaces, particularly original volume of the waiting room, the former ticket office and operator’s room,
– the continuity of longstanding circulation patterns.

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Sources: https://www.orilliamatters.com/local-news/historic-orillia-train-station-sold-to-developer-1371306, https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=6908, https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/9347427-city-gets-more-than-asking-price-for-former-orillia-train-station,

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/orillias-former-grand-trunk-railway-station-faces-an-uncertain-future/

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