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Restored Freeman-Burlington Junction Station opens to the public

July 2017

In Burlington, Ontario, on Canada Day 2017, a crowd watched as Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring and other dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon to re-open the restored historic Freeman-Burlington Junction Train Station.  A historical plaque was also unveiled.

Starting in 2015, numerous volunteers began the process of restoring the century-old former Grand Trunk Railway station, clocking in more than 3, 000 hours of labour.  

Included in the restoration was construction of a wood “passenger platform” and laying a small section of railway track to represent the rail line that used to run past the station.

Built in 1906, the station was officially known as the “Burlington Junction” or “Burlington West” Station, but known locally as the “Freeman Station” after the Hamlet of Freeman in Nelson Township where it was located, the station is one of the last surviving Grand Trunk Railway stations in the area.

The Freeman Station was built by the Grand Trunk Railway, replacing the two-storey station built around 1850 by the Great Western Railroad, which owned the rail line at the time (the Grant Trunk Railroad bought the GWR and the line in 1892 and were themselves bought out by Canadian National Railways in 1923).  The GWR station burned down in 1904.

The Freeman Station was a busy transit point for the area.  Farmers loaded their produce onto cars for transport to markets; passenger trains departed for locations such as Toronto, Chicago and New York.

In wartime, soldiers left the station for training camps and overseas assignments and when the war was over, they and others returned to the station to begin the next chapter of their lives.

Passenger rail travel declined as the automobile became more prominent in the 1950s, but the station was still very busy.

The Golden Horseshoe area of southern Ontario was a well-known agricultural a real and rail transportation was vital to shipping produce to overseas markets in the United Kingdom and as far away as South Africa.  Two major employers in the Freeman area were Biggs Fruit and Produce Co. Packing House and Tip Top Canners owed a great deal of their success to the efficient transportation the station provided.

Government of Ontario (GO) transit system was created in 1967 and the Freeman Station became one of the station stops.  Via Rail also provided passenger service from the station when established in 1977.

The beginning of the end for the station began around 1980, when GO Transit relocated their operations to the new Burlington GO Station on Fairview Street, a few hundred yards to the east.  Although Via rail remained, the days were numbered for the old station.

The Freeman Station closed in December 1988 and Via Rail also moved their passenger service to the nearby GO station.

The station sat empty for many years until a committee of volunteers organized a “Save Our Station” plan that called for the station to be re-located and restored.  A private company eventually leased the station, but nothing was done with the station until 2005, when CN Railway released plans to expand the rail line, making the re-location of the station vital to preserving it.

Although the station was donated to the City of Burlington and safely re-located to a temporary location, the specter of demolition still hung over the station as the city struggled to find a permanent location.  It wasn’t until 2011 that the city approved giving the managing and restoration of the station to a group of volunteers, incorporated as the Friends of Freeman Station.

About the building itself, Heritage Burlington advises:

“The station building exhibits many stylistic features characteristic of GTR stations constructed in that decade: a high truncated-hipped roof [ed. note: also known as a cast bell hip roof] which flares out over very deep sheltering eaves; timber ‘rafter-tail’ brackets decorate the outer part of these eaves. Also characteristic are the decorative elements of the roof: the tall centre chimney with decorative brick detail; the dormer window on the tracks side, whose five-sided flared roof echoes the main roofline; and the small ‘eyebrow’ opening on the opposite side.

The five-panel doors with high transoms and the many large one-over-one double-hung windows are also characteristic of GTR designs. The walls of the Burlington West Station are a rare combination of granite base (black logan block with white mortar) and upper frame walls. The roof structure is supported by a hammer-beam truss system. The Ministry of Culture and Communication report states that many interior features are intact: wood dado, door and window trim, and the entire baggage room.”

The historic station has seen many people pass through its doors, but for the area farmers from days gone by, it was an essential part of their lives.  Names like McMillan, Davidson, Davis, Lindley, Thorpe, Lambshead, Filman, Fisher, Bridgeman, Babcock, Blessinger, Bell Gallagher and Peart, among many others.

With the restoration now complete, hopefully the station will be around for another hundred years for other families to enjoy.

Sources:  http://www.freemanstation.ca/history/history-architecture, Heritage Burlington

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/restored-freeman-burlington-junction-station-opens-to-the-public/

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