Historic Grand Trunk Railway Station, Port Hope Ontario

This beautiful Port Hope, Ontario railroad station retains its unique location at the elevated viaduct and railway bridge just east of the Ganaraska River. The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) built some thirty-four stations between 1853 and 1857 as part of their initial Montreal to Toronto line, only eight survive in Ontario. The 1856 Grand Trunk Station, Lot 405, Smith Estate Plan, Hayward Street (Choate Road) was restored in 1985 to its 1881 appearance and the same station, now the Canadian National Railway Station is still in active railway passenger use as are two others, Napanee and Georgtown. In its restored state this station illustrates the earliest appearance and evolution of the first generation GTR buildings.

The Italianate style station was under threat of closure or demolition with the arrival of VIA passenger service in 1978. The Town Council in partnership with the Architectural Society, the Ontario Heritage Foundation, CN/VIA, the Province, and the money CN had earmarked for the construction of the new VIA shelter were used to retain and restore the original station. All the outbuildings, freight and car repair facilities previously deemed redundant have been removed. The station today is un-staffed but has a heated waiting room, free parking and is wheelchair accessible. The building constructed of local limestone still features the original interior finishes, wainscoting and wood floors. Note the low pitched roof, wide overhanging eaves supported by elaborate wooden brackets and four picturesque chimneys. The late 19th century operator’s bay was saved and rebuilt.

Port Hope’s location on the Ganaraska River attracted its first settlers in 1792. Commercial growth occurred with the dredging of the river mouth around 1830, making the port an important centre for new immigrants passing through to the back concessions. Incorporating as a town in 1834 with a population of 1500 and the 1850s railway development driving the local economy, Port Hope was upon the brink of unprecedented growth.

At Port Hope, the GTR was forced to lay their rail line through the front of town, along the bluffs above the lakeshore rather than laying an easier, flat track inland. This meant the need for a viaduct across the low-lying industrial lands of the town where the Ganaraska River joins Lake Ontario. It took a few years of constructing spur lines to supply shipping service down to the harbour and local industries located there. When the GTR came to town in 1856 it was beyond any local control. Locals were more interested in an inland feeder line, so The Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton branch line was built to undercut rival Cobourg’s line to Peterborough which had to cross Rice Lake. Hopefully the Port Hope line would be seen as the shortest route to the north. As Port Hope and Cobourg were the only two ports on Lake Ontario to have feeder lines running north before 1860 and with Cobourg’s trestle collapse over Rice Lake, Cobourg was out of the race. The PHL&B was not even operating until a year after the GTR opened but this line was seen as a great source of revenue for the fledgling GTR.

With a large population growth the town was soon to be served with four railroads: The Grand Trunk; the Midland (former PHL&B); the Canadian Northern and the Canadian Pacific (station demolished 1976.) The towns growth in the 1850’s was amazing – the harbour expansion, the construction of the Town Hall & Market Square, the Grand Trunk Station and the formidable GTR Viaduct. The 1,856 foot (564m) long Prince Albert Bridge was the second largest engineering challenge to the railroad (the first was the Victoria Bridge in Montreal) and the last piece of the GTR’s Montreal to Toronto mainline. The Albert Viaduct was named after the husband and consort of Queen Victoria, he was well known for his enthusiastic endorsement of new technologies. The viaduct was extensively rebuilt between 1887 and 1893 and was now double tracked. Today, rail is no longer in the economy of Port Hope.

By 1923, The Grand Trunk declared bankruptcy and was amalgamated with the government’s Canadian National Railway (CNR). The GTR had previously leased the Grand Junction, Great Western and the Midland railways and all other small rail lines in Ontario, it later purchased them to use for their expansion. Now under new management, the company eventually won a reputation for service, innovation and reliability. Many new structures were built, and obsolete or redundant stations were demolished. In an unusual move Canadian National associated with its rival Canadian Pacific to develop an airline in 1931. In 1933, the CNR started to hire local trucking companies to transport less-than carload shipments to remain competitive.

When the railroads share of passenger service fell to less than 3%, CNR wisely reorganized its division and created its passenger carrier VIA in 1977. This move would deleteriously affect the architectural style of many future passenger stations in Canada. The survival of the Port Hope station can be linked to the history of national rail and regional transportation issues. The low level of passenger use that prompted the once planned demolition of the station, is the same cause that protected the building from replacement for so long. In Port Hope, it has been realized that the 1985 restoration of the station, and the improvement of rail services will only encourage its use by commuters to Toronto and other cities along the route.

Note: the former Midland Railway berm was one of the earliest examples of a Rail Trail. The Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association has used parts of it since the trail was established in 1969. The Ranger remains a proud member since 1977.

Happy 50th Anniversary Ganaraska hikers.

Regards, Ranger.

PS: On the odd chance you have ever wondered…

“Not all bridges are viaducts, but all viaducts are bridges. Bridges are structures which are built to cross physical obstacles like a valley, water or a road.”

“Viaducts are a type of a long bridge or a series of bridges of multiple spans, usually supported by a series of arches on a span between tall towers. Their purpose is to carry a road or railway over water, valley or another road.”

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