Saturday, February 8, 2014

Toronto's Union Station name historic in its own right

TORONTO - Every so often a Sunday Sun reader will ask if I ever run out of ideas for a column.

The answer is a simple “no, never” and that’s because this city has such a fascinating past. And I don’t necessarily mean the “distant” past.

Take for instance what has taken place over the last few weeks. First there was the idea of modifying the name of our historic Union Station.

Then an idea that would change the rules for the use of our “historic” TTC transfers.

And finally, a quick trip into my childhood past thanks to a gift I received from my wife this past Christmas. Run out of ideas? Never. Read on.

No, this isn’t a photo of the construction presently underway at the site of the city’s historic railway station on Front St. but, rather it’s a photograph taken in the spring of 1917 to record the progress in building the city’s new Union Station.

Upset that work on building the new railway station on Front St. was taking too long and that costs were spiraling out of control, the CPR went ahead and built its own station on Yonge St. It opened in June, 1916 and went on to serve the railways for a mere 14 years before it was turned into a beer store.

A few years ago it was beautifully repurposed as a LCBO store. With Sir John A. Macdonald’s well-known fondness for a drink (or two or three) combined with his eagerness in ensuring Canada had a transcontinental railway built and operated by his friends behind the CPR (aka the “Pacific Scandal”), perhaps this station should be christened with his name.

Seriously, no need to name our present Union Station after the nation’s first prime minister. The name Union Station is historic in itself having been used to identify two previous Union Stations. The first opened near the southwest corner of Front and Bay in 1858 and the second 26 years later south of Front and opposite the foot of today’s University Ave.

Railway historian Derek Boles reminds me that today’s Union Station is truly “union” (defined as “the act of uniting two or more things”) with GO Transit, VIA RAIL, Amtrak and soon Union Pearson Express using its historic facilities.

Transfer Talk. The common, everyday TTC transfer has a lengthy and interesting history. Will the Commission change the long-standing terms of its use or introduce for the first time a system-wide stopover grace period of 90 or 120 minutes? Note on this transfer issued by the Toronto Railway Company, the TTC’s predecessor, back in 1893 that no grace period was provided.

When I was a kid, every Canadian child had a favourite hockey player.

The puck in this photo was a Christmas gift from my wife Yarmila. It’s signed by my “hero” Toronto Maple Leaf player Tod Sloan who scored the two goals prior to Bill Barilko’s famous overtime goal against Montreal that resulted in Leafs winning the 1951 Stanley Cup.

Tod now lives in Jackson’s Point. On the subject of hockey, it was on this very day exactly 87 years ago that Connie Smythe, J.P. Bickell and other prominent Toronto businessmen concluded an agreement to purchase the city’s St. Pats professional hockey team, founding members of the 10-year-old National Hockey League.

The main reason Smythe was able to convince the local business people in assisting him with the $200,000 deal was that if they didn’t, the franchise would probably end up in either Montreal or Philadelphia. If that happened, their home town would no longer be represented in the lucrative NHL. As soon as the deal was concluded, Smythe renamed the team the Toronto Maple Leafs and in doing so honoured the emblem that he wore on his uniform during the Great War.

Then on February 17, 1927, the team played its first game under its new title. The Leafs won defeating the New York Americans 4-1. Unfortunately, Smythe’s boys finished that first season out of the playoffs. Nevertheless, it was the start of a wonderful tradition — not finishing out of the playoffs mind you, but offering diehard fans years of often spectacular hockey.
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