WINNIPEG'S UNION STATION
By George Siamandas
Officially opened on June, 24 1912, the CN's Union Station remains the only functioning passenger railway station left in Winnipeg. This came about in 1977, when VIA Rail became a consolidation of CP and CN and their effort to accommodate the significant decline in the volume of rail passenger traffic. But one hundred years earlier as the story of railways began in Manitoba, the CPR had a monopoly in railway operation in Manitoba.
In 1880 the CPR and the Canadian government agreed that no other railway would be allowed to compete with the CPR in Manitoba. It was the price the investors demanded in order to create a national railway to the west. High freight rates prevailed leading to western discontent, and calls for competition. In the late 1880s competition began from other small railways and by 1903 there were 12 separate rail lines entering Winnipeg.
THE CANADIAN NORTHERN RAILWAY BUILT THE UNION STATION
One of these 12 lines was the Canadian Northern which became the CPR's main competition in Manitoba. In 1907 three railways were persuaded to build a common station. The station was a cooperative venture between three rail lines: The Canadian Northern, the National Transcontinental, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The Canadian Northern would own it and the two others would become tenants. It would be known as Union Station. Of the three, it had been the Manitoba-based Canadian Northern that had done the job of reducing freight rates and was providing leadership. And in the 1920s the CN took over the holdings of the other two.
Building the station showed an optimism about the future of the west in 1907. Union Station was designed by the New York firm of Warren and Wetmore. Of limestone construction, the 4 storey building was sited at the end of freshly planted, tree lined Broadway Avenue. The waiting room was finished in marble with immense arched skylights. The walls contained the coat of arms of the provinces rendered in gold leaf.
PEOPLE IN ST BONIFACE WERE UNHAPPY WITH THE BUILDING OF THE CN STATION
There had been a bridge that aligned with Broadway connecting to St. Boniface prior to building the CN Station. The station's construction required that the bridge be demolished and the French community felt slighted and shut out by this decision.
THE STATION HAS BEEN THE GATEWAY
When first built, the CN Station interior provided for both 1st Class and Immigrant levels of comfort. But they were totally separated from one another. Every feature all the way from waiting rooms, washrooms, eating facilities and even their exit out onto the street depended on their class. The 1st Class passenger need never meet the immigrant traveller arriving in Winnipeg. The immigrant facilities were in the basement. It is not sure how long this segregated system operated. Only 100 passengers go through it on a typical day now and the space in the station has been rehabilitated as class 1 government office space. The public spaces have been restored to their original appearances and the public can able to see the splendour of a grand railway station built in Winnipeg's hey day.
BEGINNINGS OF RAILWAY MUSEUM
at the VIA Station one can see the Mid West Rail's collection of old rail cars including the Countess of Dufferin. This old rolling stock will one day form the nucleus of a Railway Museum.