Friday, November 29, 2019

CPR's forgotten "Union" Station

When I was researching the fate and legacy of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s station in Westboro, there was an associated bit of Ottawa railway history that I stumbled across for the umpteenth time. This week, I decided to take a deep dive and unearth a little more of Ottawa’s railway history. This week, let’s look at CPR’s original Ottawa train station, the Broad Street Station.

The station hosted passenger trains for the CP for four decades, not to mention freight activity in its six-track yard.

Try looking for any trace of this station now and you’ll get nowhere. That’s because Broad Street no longer officially exists. Some crumbling asphalt is still there near Albert Street if you look closely enough, but the road itself is largely covered over by decades of neglect, unchecked weeds and planning incompetence. The street itself saw all its remaining structures emptied and razed as the LeBreton Flats were emptied in the 1960s. For those interested, Broad Street, or what’s left of it, is on the western half of the LeBreton Flats, just west of Booth Street and the Pimisi O-Train station.

But the station itself was long gone by the time the Flats were cleared in the sixties. In fact, by the time the National Capital Commission decided to clear the entire area, the Canadian Pacific had already moved its passenger operations twice. The second Broad Street station closed in 1920, which meant some of Canadian Pacific’s passenger operations were shifted to Ottawa’s Union Station. I say some, because it’s not that simple, of course. I’ve spoken to more than one rail historian and they have different takes on how much passenger traffic was shifted to the downtown station after Broad Street closed.

That’s because there’s the matter of the Ottawa West station to consider. The original Ottawa West station was built at the same time as the Broad Street Station was closed in 1920. CP also operated the Bayview Avenue Ottawa West station as an additional passenger station up until the 1960s. So, the operations at the Broad Street Station were shifted in two directions. The CP did indeed use the Union Station downtown for some of its operations, but photos of the Dominion calling at Ottawa West station back up what one rail historian told me a few years ago. That was that the Ottawa West station was used for transcontinentals at one point, while the Union Station was used to support corridor passenger operations. Also, early schedules for Ottawa West in the 1920s showed that it hosted the Trans-Canada Limited as well.

 Broad Street Station in 1908, with Ottawa streetcar out front

Look at a timetable from the 1950s, as I did, and you will see designations in the schedule on some trains that read “Ottawa (Union),” especially on corridor trains. This makes me think that there was a shifting division of the passenger operations, although it’s not clear to me exactly what trains departed from Ottawa West and Union over the years and why. The reason I get confused is, despite pictures of the Dominion calling at Ottawa West, the schedule I consulted from 1956 listed only two trains as using the Ottawa West station, one from Ottawa to Brockville and the other from Ottawa to Chalk River.

It wasn’t always this confusing, of course. Although Ottawa’s Union Station was meant to be a passenger station for the Grand Trunk (later Canadian Northern and finally Canadian National), Canadian Pacific and New York Central, CP used its own station on Broad Street from the 1880s until 1920. And CP wasn’t alone. The New York Central also had its own terminal on Mann Avenue, near the edge of what is now the University of Ottawa campus.

What’s interesting about the Broad Street Station is that it is was once considered to be Ottawa’s Union Station, a designation that clearly predated the construction of the downtown station that was also known as the Union Station. The original CPR station opened in 1896, to replace the Canada Central depot that burned down in 1895. The CPR, of course, took over what became the Carleton Place Subdivision from the Canada Central years earlier. But a railway presence on Broad Street goes back to 1871, when a station opened its doors there to connect two major railways at one point. In 1879, construction wrapped up on the Prince of Wales Railway bridge to connect Quebec rails to this original union station.

The original CPR Broad Street Station (see above behind another streetcar) was destroyed by the great Ottawa-Hull fire of April 1900. The second CPR station on the site was opened in January 1901 (top two photos). If it looks familiar, it should. The moment I saw the images of the station, it reminded me of the CPR Windsor Station in Montreal. The architect who designed the Broad Street Station was from Montreal and was responsible for a number of other CPR stations. The station also bears some striking similarities to the Chateau Laurier.

The fact that it opened in 1901, eleven years before the opening of the downtown Union Station, might account for the CPR’s decision to stick with the station even after the magnificent downtown GTR station opened its doors. I would imagine it would be a tough pill to swallow to bail out of a station that wasn’t even 20 years old.

However, that is just what CPR did in 1920 when it moved its operations to Union Station downtown and to the Ottawa West station. A few articles I read pointed to the opening of the Interprovincial Bridge in 1901 (Alexandra Bridge) between downtown Ottawa and Hull as the turning point for railways. Over the years, more activity began to focus on that bridge, which once carried trains over the river. That might have been the reason for CP to transfer much of its trains to the downtown station.

It's hard to find accurate information about when the Broad Street Station was officially torn down, but it seems as though it was around until the 1930s before it was demolished. A real shame too, given what a beautiful structure it was.

All links will take you to information specific to this station. The Branchline Magazine link takes you to the most comprehensive selection of photos of the old Broad Street Station

Colin Churcher’s Railways in Canada

Old Time Trains


Branchline Magazine

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