by Bruce Cherney (part 6 of 6)
It wasn’t until April 2, 1907, that Mayor James Ashdown announced to a Winnipeg Tribune reporter that the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) and the Grand Truck Pacific (GTP) would build a “union” station on the east side of Main Street, where East Broadway had previously joined with the major thoroughfare.
“His worship stated that the railway companies preferred to put the station on the Water street (now William Stephenson Way) site, but that an agreement between the C.N.R. and the Hudson’s Bay company provided that the depot should go on the Broadway site. The C.N.R. wished to have this agreement changed but the Hudson’s Bay company declined to be party to the change.”
William Mackenzie, the president of the CNoR, even went to London to persuade Lord Strathcona (Donald Smith, the governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company and its chief stockholder, as well as a former Manitoban) to have the HBC allow the change. Smith told the CNoR president that if the proposed change was granted, it would cost the railway company in the neighbourhood of $4 million to secure the land from the HBC. As a result, the CNoR decided to fall in line with the HBC and accept building on the East Broadway site.
It should also be noted that an HBC subsidiary, the Red River and Assiniboine Bridge Company Ltd., built and operated the Broadway Bridge until 1909 when it sold the bridge to the city of St. Boniface for $59,000. The bridge originally linking East Broadway and Provencher Avenue was replaced by the Provencher Bridge in 1918 and was demolished in 1922.
Hugh Sutherland, who had conducted the initial negotiations with the city on behalf of the CNoR that led to the passage of the bylaw closing East Broadway, contended that the city, not the railway company, had defaulted on the original agreement.
In an interview with the Tribune, published on December 22, 1908, Sutherland said the city, under acting-mayor James Harvey, had refused to sign the document officially conveying East Broadway to the CNoR.
“The agreement between the city and the company,” said Sutherland, “which was ratified by bylaw ... provided that in exchange for the city conveying to the company what is known as Broadway East, the company was to build its shops within the city limits in Fort Rouge (the main shops of the CNoR and GTP, later the Canadian National Railway, lasted until 1959 in Fort Rouge). The company was also to purchase land for a new street from Broadway bridge to Notre Dame (East) and transfer it to the city. The company was to pave this street, but it was provided in the agreement that if the company saw fit they could call upon the city to pave the new street at the company’s expense. The company further agreed to give the city a lease for fifteen years of the site of the city’s asphalt plant for a merely nominal rental, and finally the company were called upon to pay the city cash $31,100 in thirty days. These three things were the company’s side of the agreement and in exchange the city was to deed the company Broadway East.”
Sutherland claimed that the agreement also only bound the CNoR to build a “modern” station for just one railway, but the city had wanted it to join with the GTP and build a “union” station. The CNoR took a long time to reach an agreement with the GTP, which accounted for the subsquent four-year delay in commencig to build a train depot.
He said instead of a merely “modern” station, the city will have one of the “handsomest union stations in Canada, and will not be cut up by the entrance of another railway.”
Sutherland also said that his company had completed the York Avenue subway for the benefit of the public.
The city’s refusal to sign the deed continued into 1909. In that year, Mayor William Sanford Evans finally signed his name to the document handing the title to East Broadway over to the CNoR. The battle to save East Broadway had officially ended.
The failure to immediately sign over the street and accompanying right-of-way seems rather strange in light of construction having already been started on the new depot in 1908.
Union Station was actually a joint effort between the CNoR, GTP, National Transportation Railway (NTR) and the Canadian government, although it was built specifically for the use of the CNoR and the GTP. Ottawa’s involvement can be explained by the federal governments efforts to have the railways above join forces to form a trans-Canada rail network to rival the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CNoR refused and instead built-up its presence in Western Canada and completed a line from Montreal to Vancouver.
It wouldn’t be until 1918 that the financial difficulties of the railway would force the federal government to nationalize the CNoR — by that time, the government heavily subsidized the company and was a major shareholder — and merge it with a federally-owned railroad under the name Canadian National Railway.
The depot along Main Street is a four-storey, stone, Beaux-Arts-style railway terminal that now houses an active passenger rail station as well as mixed-use commercial/office space. Union Station was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1974 because it was one of Western Canada’s largest railway stations.
It was built between 1908 and 1911 to the designs of the New York architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore. The firm also designed New York’s Grand Central Terminal, began in stages in 1903 and completed in 1913, which is also in the Beaux-Arts style.
An April 6, 1911, Manitoba Free Press article described Winnipeg’s Union Station as the “imposing Union Depot.”
The newspaper described the rotunda entered throuugh the main entrance at Main Street as the “most beautiful ... on the continent ... Ninety feet across, this spendid area is unobstructed by pillar or column ...
“The thousands, aye, the hundreds of thousands of strangers who in the years to come will enter the gates of Winnipeg by the new Union station, on Main street, will receive everything in the way of impressions that a beautiful, spacious, excellently appointed and thoroughly modern terminal can impinge upon the human mind.”
Further commenting on the facilities, the newspaper continued: “Provision has been made in the splendid immigration rooms for the peopling of the prairies, and in the extensive freight yards for the handling of ever-growing quantities of merchandize. The manifold conveniences for the traveller reflect the rising standard of comfort to which the citizens of Western Canada feel themselves entitled.”
The proposed hotel on the CNoR land was never built, but the privately-owned Empire Hotel — it began life as the Cauchon Block, a commercial building and then an apartment complex until converted into a hotel — immediately to the north of the depot along Main, existed when construction of the station got underway. The luxurious Fort Garry Hotel, one block west of the station along Broadway, was built in 1913 by the GTP.
In addition, the HBC owned a block of land, immediately to the south of the depot along Main, where its first department store, built in 1881, stood until demolished in 1932. The HBC store along Portage Avenue didn’t open until 1926.
The massive buildings along Main Street served the purpose of blocking the view of the rail yards and shops from the public. In those days, such transportation developments may have been considered a sign of economic progress, but some were coming to the realization that they were also a blight on the urban landscape of the city.
Still others frowned upon the heavy coal smoke pollution that would be generated in the heart of the city by steam locomotives. Sutherland tried to reassure the public that such would not be the case (Tribune, March 21, 1904). He said that the smoke coming from railway workshops could not be compared to the smoke coming from the blast furnaces polluting Pittsburgh, which was a comparison being made by the critics of the CNoR’s plans for Winnipeg.
To the rear of Union Station, a plan in the June 27, 1908, Free Press, shows a “team yard” with 38 tracks, numerous other tracks serving different purposes, freight sheds, transfer platforms, passenger platforms, stables, a new rail bridge across the Assiniboine — besides the one already existing — and a steel girder rail bridge across the Red to be built. After crossing the Red from St. Boniface, the rail bridge would continue above the rail yards, Notre Dame Avenue East (now Pioneer) and Water Avenue. The new street link to the Broadway Bridge from Water Avenue is also shown.
The Union Station was touted as the future face of Winnipeg, but the construction of the new depot meant that the continuation of one of the city’s major streets to the Red River had ended, and its previous existence eventually became a rarely-cited footnote when writing about the community’s early history.