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History & Architecture

The Burlington Junction Station…

Pen & ink rendition of the Burlington Junction Station by the late John Geerts.

is the only building in the City whose historical and architectural significance has been recognized not only locally, but also provincially, by the Ontario Ministry of Culture, and nationally, by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. This is one of the last surviving Grand Trunk Railway stations, following the loss of the Aldershot GTR station. It’s “the Freeman Station,” after the hamlet in which it stood, but officially the railway signed it variously as the “Burlington Junction” or “Burlington West” Station.

Rail History in Burlington

From 1854 to 1988 the Burlington Junction Station was Burlington’s railway arrival and departure centre in the hamlet of Freeman, Ontario. Passenger trains connected residents of Wellington Square, later Burlington, directly with Toronto, Chicago and New York.

Burlington volunteers, 17 August 1914

In wartime, soldiers left from this Station on the first stage of their journey overseas. Marching bands and hundreds of their fellow citizens walked with them to the Station to bid them farewell. After the Second World War, many emigrants from Europe arrived at this Station to make a new life in Burlington.

The predominance of automotive routes reduced passenger train traffic from the 1950’s on. Commuter travel was also transformed by the launch of the Government of Ontario (GO) transit system in 1967.

Freight trains were even more important to the economic success of Freeman, Wellington Square, and Burlington, since they were essential to the successful marketing of the area’s farming produce. Families who farmed their fertile soil for generations included the names McMillan, Davidson, Davis, Lindley, Thorpe, Lambshead, Filman, Fisher, Bridgeman, Babcock, Blessinger Bell and Peart, among many others.

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Farmers load produce aboard the “fruit train”

The “Golden Horseshoe’s” reputation as “the Garden of Canada” rested on rapid rail transportation of farm produce to Toronto and Montreal markets, and to ports from which our world-famous fruits were shipped overseas to markets in Great Britain and as far away as South Africa. Biggs Fruit and Produce Co. Packing House, a major employer in Freeman, enabled each individual apple to arrive in fine condition on dinner tables half-way around the world. Tip Top Canners also flourished in Freeman for more than 50 years.

History of the Building

The Burlington Grand Trunk Railway Station was built in 1906 to replace the original two-storey Great Western Railroad station (built circa 1850), which burnt down in 1904. The GTR had bought out the GWR in 1892, and in turn was acquired by the Canadian National Railway in 1923. The CNR Burlington Station became redundant in 1988, when the passenger office was moved to a site shared with the GO Transit station on Fairview Street. A “Save Our Station” committee of volunteers supported relocation and restoration of the GTR Station. Their efforts were stopped abruptly when it was announced that the Station had been leased to a private company and did not have to be relocated after all.

station being movedIn 2005, however, it again appeared necessary to move the station.  The railway needed the Station’s original location for track expansion. They donated the building to the City of Burlington.  Having acquired it and moved it to a temporary location,  Council considered the Station’s future.  A period of uncertainty followed, whilst several new location sites were considered.  Ultimately, with no suitable location identified, the prospect of demolishing it loomed.  The new Council, elected in 2010, approved in February 2011 a motion to transfer the task of managing and restoring the Station to a group of community volunteers, now incorporated as the Friends of Freeman Station.

Architecture

Station-6-2016SAM_2683croppedBuilt in 1906 for the Grand Trunk Railway, as a combination passenger and baggage depot, the Burlington West Station (formerly Burlington Junction, known as ‘Freeman Station’) exhibits many stylistic features characteristic of GTR stations constructed in that decade: a high truncated-hipped roof [ed. note: also known as a cast bell hip roof] which flares out over very deep sheltering eaves; timber ‘rafter-tail’ brackets decorate the outer part of these eaves. Also characteristic are the decorative elements of the roof: the tall centre chimney with decorative brick detail; the dormer window on the tracks side, whose five-sided flared roof echoes the main roofline; and the small ‘eyebrow’ opening on the opposite side.

The five-panel doors with high transoms and the many large one-over-one double-hung windows are also characteristic of GTR designs. The walls of the Burlington West Station are a rare combination of granite base (black logan block with white mortar) and upper frame walls. The roof structure is supported by a hammer-beam truss system. The Ministry of Culture and Communication report states that many interior features are intact: wood dado, door and window trim, and the entire bagage room.

(Courtesy, Heritage Burlington)

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Video by Kevin Davies; photography by Bob Chambers, Bob Miller, Nikki Wesley, John Mellow, Joel Waterman, Denny Williams, Alan Harrington, Al Pettman and others (by permission)