Union Station has been the focus of a massive $640 million overhaul and revitalization project partly funded by investments from the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. Prior to the restoration, Union Station was exhibiting severe signs of neglect and wear including chipped and peeling paint, cracked and worn floors, leaky roofs and lacklustre passenger concourses. Add to that the dim, gloomy atmosphere of the station’s train shed where hardly any natural sunlight filtered through and you’ve got a real problem.
Union Station is located on Front Street between Bay and York. It opened on August 6, 1927 and none other than Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, conducted the opening ceremony. It is the finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture in the city and it is the busiest transport hub in Canada, serving over 250,000 passengers every single day. Union Station was officially designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1975 and a Heritage Railway Station in 1989.
The station was designed by Montreal architectural firm Ross & Macdonald and is the largest – and most opulent – railway station in the country. Many visitors and tourists regularly come to Union Station to gawk at the immensity of its main ticket hall and platforms, marveling at its sheer size and beauty. Not only is the station itself an absolute jewel in the city’s crown, its surroundings are also quite awe-inducing: the glistening shores of Lake Ontario, the Fairmount Royal York Hotel, the Air Canada Centre, Rogers Centre, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre as well as the CN Tower are all located within walking distance of Union Station.
As part of the revitalization of Toronto’s transportation hub, a new express train travelling from the platforms of Union Station directly to Mississauga’s Pearson International Airport began running in Spring 2015 and was christened the Union Pearson Express. “This is great! Instead of me having to book a taxi to get to the airport, I can just hop on a train and be there in half an hour,” explains Grace who frequently travels to the United States for business. A one-way Adult ticket costs $27.50 ($19 with a PRESTO card) and a return Adult ticket is reasonably priced at $53 CAD. Trains run every fifteen minutes.
The Union Station plaza clock has been a beacon to commuters for decades; forever dependable and always stalwart whilst braving the harsh Canadian elements as it sits outside in the middle of the pedestrian plaza guiding commuters to their waiting trains. The clock recently underwent a facelift of its own involving resurfacing and the painstakingly intricate restoration of its many design features especially present around the base of the structure. Layers of paint – each decades’ old – needed to be carefully stripped away to reveal the delicate design elements underneath. Finally, once the outside of the clock was repaired, all of the internal mechanisms were either replaced or updated with modern technological advances, thus increasing the life of the clock and perhaps making it even more reliable than it initially was.
The clock’s restoration heralds the beginning of the plaza’s redesign from standard commuter gathering spot to bustling social scene complete with live entertainment and city hotspots like bars, outdoor patios and lounges. Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell unveiled the new clock to the press and public this past June.
￼Now, let’s talk about the real meat of the revitalization project, shall we? Above all, GO Transit and the City of Toronto wanted the new Union Station to be a light and airy haven; one in which each customer’s commuting process became streamlined, hassle-free and immensely enjoyable. The overall structure of the building and its historical aspects were not to be compromised or changed in any way, so the renovation proved to be quite a tricky one at first.
Those who were tasked with the redesign came up with a solution that would both change the overall feel of the station and maintain the building’s historic integrity: the 5,000 square metre central portion of the train shed roof would be entirely replaced with glass panels that would let in natural sunlight and thus bathe the platforms in a warm, inviting glow. The innovative design of the new roof earned a 2012 Canadian Architect Award of Excellence.
The revitalization of the train shed roof was a major undertaking and proved to be the main focus of Union Station’s renovation project. Approximately 30,000 square metres of space were redesigned and fully renovated with construction having begun way back in January 2010; the renovation will not be entirely completed until Spring 2017. The project was performed in stages to minimize the negative impact it would inflict upon Union Station’s commuters. In addition to the new atrium-style roof, the renovation also includes brand new staircases, additional vertical access points and an overhaul of the train platforms and commuter concourses.
The restoration, expansion and revitalization of Toronto’s Union Station has received nothing but praise from the city’s locals and visitors and, truthfully, was a long time coming. It’s utterly heart breaking to see one of the city’s finest examples of historical design and architecture being swallowed up and mired in damage and neglect. If you have a moment to go and explore the new Union Station, it’s well worth a look, especially for the new atrium-style train shed roof alone! Make sure to stop by the plaza’s clock as well and say a silent thank-you to it for always keeping you on schedule and able to catch your next train on time. Through rain, hail, sleet and snow, it just keeps on tickin’!
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