High (for a building of its type), wide (described on its website as “virtually a horizontal skyscraper”) and handsome (designed in the Italianate style by Canadian architect Edgar Berryman), the Canadian Southern Railway Station (CASO) in St. Thomas, Ont., was once one of the busiest train stations in North America. Built between 1871 and 1873 by American railway promoters, to serve as both the passenger station for St. Thomas and CASO’s corporate HQ, it stood at the midpoint on the New York to Chicago line. A hundred years later, having lost its original purpose, the station was a ghost of its glorious self.
Along came volunteers from the North American Railway Hall of Fame (NARHF), who purchased the station and set out to save its beautiful hide, embellished with pilasters, arched windows and passageways, wide eaves and a heavy cornice. They chose SJMA Architecture – working closely with NARHF and the Ontario Heritage Foundation – to effect a transformation. Work began on the site in 2008.
This was a complete renovation, both inside and out, massive in its reach. It involved stabilizing the foundation, rebuilding all the windows and repairing the roof; providing a barrier-free upgrade, including new washrooms and elevator access to the second floor; installing new plumbing, heating and ventilation systems; restoring significant rooms and passageways; and creating retail space, meeting rooms and offices. Interior finishes were retained or matched wherever possible, and any additional upgrades were designed to respect the building’s historical character.
The award-winning result is a knockout. As SJMA rightly trumpets, “This project has enhanced the urban fabric of the core of St. Thomas by bringing life back to the station by incorporating a diverse range of activities within it.” Shown above, before and after, is the second-floor hallway. Originally a corridor to access the various functions of the station, it is now the North American Railway Hall of Fame’s actual Hall of Fame; still used as a corridor to privately leased offices, it provides display space for historical and monumental railway events. Anderson Dining Hall, which was once the passenger dining room, is now booked every weekend for wedding receptions. cI