|CNR Station during the Royal Visit, 1939, EA-160-835. Photo courtesy City of Edmonton Archives|
Theres a photograph in the City of Edmonton Archives of a grand and fabulous railway station festooned with streamers and decorations for a Royal Visit. The year was 1939 and Edmonton, the monarchy and Canadian National Railways were all in their heyday.
Its a remarkable image that captures not only the celebration of that visit, but also the prominence that the Canadian National Railway (CNR) terminal held in the community. Back then, the station stood north of 104th Avenue right at the corner of 100th Street and commanded a view all the way down that street to the Hotel Macdonald the railways other Edmonton landmark.
The CNRs chief architect, a gentleman named John Schofield, oriented the building so it would be exactly at the centre of the intersection and, unusual for the time, facing the track at a right angle to provide a smooth and convenient flow of passengers through the building. According to an Edmonton Bulletin article published March 16th, 1928, Schofield gave the building a simple but dignified front.
Two stories high, it was framed with steel and concrete and faced with brick, stone and tile. As its centrepiece, the main entrance was framed with heavy stone columns in the Grecian Doric style, connected by a stone plinth and entablature.
The main building measured 95 feet (29 metres) by 159 feet (48.4 metres) and, on the ground floor, contained spacious waiting rooms, a dining room, restaurant, smoking room and ladies waiting room. The main waiting room, 34 feet (10.4 metres) wide and 90 feet (27.4 metres) long, was open and grand, thanks to two-storey height and skylights.
The entire ground floor and balcony were finished in terrazzo marble, in two foot squares laid alternately with light and dark marble chips. The brick, laid atop a steel and concrete framework, was supplied by Acme Brick of Edmonton, while the Tyndall limestone came from Manitoba.
The millwork was quarter cut oak on the ground floor was fir on the second floor, supplied by Cushing Brothers of Edmonton. The general contractor for the project was Edmontons Permanent Construction.
A powerhouse situated 200 feet (61 metres) away produced steam to heat the building. The steam from the coal-fired boiler was transported through pipes nearly three metres high, 1.5 metres wide and buried in a tunnel three metres underground.
Natural gas was used to heat the water for use throughout the buildings washrooms and foodservice areas. The Edmonton Bulletin reported: Lavatories are provided at every suitable location, with hot and cold water and finished in every detail for comfort and appearance. The plumbing and steam fitting is modern throughout.
The grand opening, on St. Patricks Day, March 17th, 1928, was such a local event that it drew more than 10,000 curious citizens one in seven Edmontonians. Premier John Brownlee proclaimed it, A day which is the beginning of all things.
An article by veteran Edmonton journalist Brant Ducey dated March 1964 (and held at the City of Edmonton Archives) described the scene at 2:30 that sunny Saturday afternoon. All eyes were on the official party as Albertas Lieutenant Governor William Egbert accepted a gold key to the front door from C.N.R. Vice-President S.J. Hungerford. Former Mayor John A. MacDougall, who arrived in Edmonton in 1873 by ox cart, was moved to note that, Western Canada owes everything to the railways.
After some words of welcome to the crowd assembled in front of the station and those looking down from the roof, the party posed for photographs and entered the building for an inspection. So spacious was the building, Brant wrote, that 3,000 people tried to cram themselves into the rotunda that night for a dance sponsored by the Canadian National Social and Athletic Association.
The next morning, the first passenger to buy a ticket was S.G. Caldwell. He was a commercial traveller who had awakened early to purchase passage to Fort Saskatchewan aboard the eastbound Continental Limited, the first train into the new station.
The station was necessitated by rapidly increasing freight through Edmonton, including a sixfold increase in grain shipments in just five years. Forty trains a day where two decades ago there was one, wrote Robert Ayre in the April 1928 edition of the Canadian National Railways Magazine. A hundred miles of track where two decades ago there were less than five, 2,300 men working where two decades ago there was a construction gang.
The growth didnt stop there and its a good thing the original architect of the 1928 Canadian National station made provision for an additional story. In 1948, the third storey was added along with a bigger east wing.
For more than 37 years, the station was a place of tears and laughter, sad goodbyes and happy reunions. It was at the station where thousands of newcomers set foot in Edmonton for the first time. Troops left for war. Some returned to the marble hall; some sadly did not. In its lifetime, Edmonton grew from 70,000 people to more than 320,000.
The new station took the load off the Union Station, which had been constructed in 1905 by Canadian Northern Railway on the west side of 101st Street. That station, with its imposing tower and handsome architectural design, lasted until 1952, when it was demolished.
A dozen years later, the 1928 station played host to its final All aboard! On the evening of February 12th, 1964, Train 178 left for Saskatoon and the ticket wickets were closed for the last time.
The structure was demolished later that year to make way for the 26-storey CN Tower, with a railway station in the basement. It was completed in 1966. That railway terminal the third on Edmontons CNR line closed in 1998, bringing to an end a 93-year run by passenger trains into downtown Edmonton.
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