Great Western Railway Station – Later the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market

1867 - The Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner
1867 – The Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner (Toronto Public Library R-4511)

Originally the Great Western Railway Station, later the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot and lastly, the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market was once located at Yonge St and The Esplanade (on the northeast corner) in the St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto.

Before The Station

The site was previously home to a soap and candle factory operated by Peter Freeland. Located on the banks of Toronto bay at the Yonge St Wharf, the factory was built on cribs sunk in the water.

Great Western Railway

Founded in 1834 as the London & Gore Railroad Co, nine years later the company was renamed to Great Western Railway. In the 1850s, rail tracks were first laid in Toronto. They ran the same route as today along the south side of Front St however back then, the tracks were along the water’s edge.

That same decade, the Toronto Harbour Commission (today’s PortsToronto) began the land-filling project to create the Waterfront Esplanade.

The Magnificent Station

In 1864, Great Western Railway purchased the land bordered by Yonge St, Scott Ln, Scott St and the soon-to-be-completed Esplanade from the Freeland estate. The railway company hired renowned Toronto architect William George Storm to design their new station. During construction, workers uncovered the crib foundations of the old soap factory.

In 1866, the Great Western Railway Station opened with a ceremony. Invited guests including those from the Toronto Board of Trade and other influential business people were treated to a train excursion to Niagara Falls. One newspaper said the station was “a credit to any city” and “most conveniently situated.”

The Romanesque style structure was made of wood and consisted of three portions – a passenger station, a large train shed and a freight area.

1890/1910 - Looking southeast from Yonge St and Scott Ln towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot, originally the Great Western Railway Station
1890/1910 – Looking southeast from Yonge St and Scott Ln towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot, originally the Great Western Railway Station (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 119, Item 75)

Filling the space on the north side of the property up to Scott Ln was the passenger station. Accessed from Yonge St, it featured a waiting room, a ticket office, dining and refreshment areas, a telegraph office, and a baggage room. Architectural elements included small arches over the waiting room windows and a deep overhanging roof supported by scroll-sawn brackets.

On the south side of the property was the freight area with offices accessed via The Esplanade.

Between the passenger station and the freight area was an impressive arched train pathway. Dominating the station, the train shed was set on an angle so that trains could enter/exit the mainline and into/out of the depot. Its facade was lunette-shaped and featured multiple windows while its barrel-vaulted roof was covered with tinned metal and measured 16.5 m or 54 ft at the centre. The structure became a landmark. Toronto’s first covered platform, passengers and freight were protected from any disagreeable weather.

1922 - Crossing the rail tracks at Yonge St and The Esplanade, looking northeast towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot - originally the Great Western Railway Station
1922 – Crossing the rail tracks at Yonge St and The Esplanade, looking northeast towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot – originally the Great Western Railway Station (Toronto Public Library R-4526)

Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot

In 1882, Great Western Railway was acquired by Grand Trunk Railway. That same year, the station heard its last “aboard!” to passengers as they were directed to go to old Union Station. The Great Western Railway Station became the Grand Trunk Railway bonded freight depot. In 1923, the Canadian National Railway Company (CNR) was created, and it took over Grand Trunk Railway.

Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market

In 1927, CN leased the old station to the Toronto Wholesale Fruit and Produce Merchants’ Association then sublet space to its members. The structure became known as the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market.

1930 - The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade
1930 – The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 21248)

It was too small to accommodate all its members so some operated out of nearby warehouses. The old station no longer had the ability to receive rail delivery. Dealers would take the orders at St Lawrence Market then trucks would pick up the fresh goods from the warehouses. This caused a lot of traffic congestion in the already busy area and there was just not enough space for the fast-paced trade. By the early 1950s, there were plans to move to a new site west of the Humber River in Etobicoke, today’s Ontario Food Terminal.

Fire Destroys the Landmark Structure

Fire officials had been concerned for several years about the “decrepit” and “rambling” wooden structure and in 1952, a fire swept through the old station. After the fire, the chard ruins of the once magnificent station were hauled away. At the east end of the structure, a worker found two flat cars on an old rail track that had been long hidden by the floorboards of the fruit warehouse. While the rail cars were rusted, they were unscathed by the blaze.

2020 - Looking northwest towards the L Tower at Yonge St and The Esplanade - the former site of the Great Western Railway Station
2020 – Looking northwest towards the L Tower at Yonge St and The Esplanade – the former site of the Great Western Railway Station

The Site Today

The empty property became a City parking lot until construction began in the late 1950s on the O’Keefe Centre, or what we know today as Meridian Hall. The site of the old station is home to the southern portion of Meridian Hall and the 58-storey condo called the L Tower.

Did You Know?

  • Esplanade means a long open area, usually by water and where people walk for leisure.
  • Scott St and Scott Ln are named after Chief Justice Thomas Scott (1746 to 1824) who’s house stood where the street is situated.
  • Yonge St is named after Sir George Yonge (1731 to 1812), the British Secretary of War in 1791. It was one of Toronto’s (then the Town of York) first streets. Lieutenant Governor Simcoe named the street in honour of his friend who signed a document designating Governor Simcoe’s regiment, the Queen’s Rangers, to protect Upper Canada. Sir Yonge never visited Canada.
  • In the 1800s, the Freeland family owned land from Scott St to Yonge St extending south into what was known then as the Yonge St Wharf. Today there is a street named Freeland St on the south side of the rail tracks, extending from Lake Shore Blvd E to Queens Quay E (one block east of Yonge St).

Great Western Railway Station Photos

1867 - The Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner
1867 – The Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner (Toronto Public Library R-4511)
1930 - The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade
1930 – The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 21248)
2020 - Looking northeast towards the L Tower at Yonge St and The Esplanade - the former site of the Great Western Railway Station
2020 – Looking northeast towards the L Tower at Yonge St and The Esplanade – the former site of the Great Western Railway Station
1867 - Looking southeast towards the Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade
1867 – Looking southeast towards the Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade (Archives of Ontario I0021822)
1873 - The passenger area of the Great Western Railway Station, looking northeast from Yonge St, just north of The Esplanade
1873 – The passenger area of the Great Western Railway Station, looking northeast from Yonge St, just north of The Esplanade (Toronto Public Library R-4514)
1890s - Crossing the rail tracks at The Esplanade and Yonge St - looking northeast towards the Customs Warehouse, the Board of Trade Building and the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot
1890s – Crossing the rail tracks at The Esplanade and Yonge St – looking northeast towards the Customs Warehouse, the Board of Trade Building and the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1661, Series 1037, Item 7)
1899 - Goads Map showing the location of the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot (former Great Western Railway Station) once located on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade
1899 – Goads Map showing the location of the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot (former Great Western Railway Station) once located on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade (Toronto Public Library)
1904 - Looking east on Scott Ln when it intersected with Yonge St towards the Canadian Rubber Co and the Grand Trunk Railway Yonge St Freight Shed
1904 – Looking east on Scott Ln when it intersected with Yonge St towards the Canadian Rubber Co and the Grand Trunk Railway Yonge St Freight Shed (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 4, Item 32)
1890/1910 - Looking southeast from Yonge St and Scott Ln (when they intersected) towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot, originally the Great Western Railway Station
1890/1910 – Looking southeast from Yonge St and Scott Ln (when they intersected) towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot, originally the Great Western Railway Station (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 119, Item 75)
1910s - Looking north towards the Yonge St Wharves, the Board of Trade Building and the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot
1910s – Looking north towards the Yonge St Wharves, the Board of Trade Building and the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot (City of Toronto Archives, Series 958, File 111, Item 2)
1910s - Looking north from the Yonge St Wharf
1910s – Looking north from the Yonge St Wharf (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 236)
1913 - Looking east on The Esplanade, just west of Yonge St - pictured are the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot, the Toronto Electric Light Company and the Yonge St Wharf, with St Lawrence Market in the distance
1913 – Looking east on The Esplanade, just west of Yonge St – pictured are the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot, the Toronto Electric Light Company and the Yonge St Wharf, with St Lawrence Market in the distance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1384)
1922 - Crossing the rail tracks at Yonge St and The Esplanade, looking northeast towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot - originally the Great Western Railway Station
1922 – Crossing the rail tracks at Yonge St and The Esplanade, looking northeast towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot – originally the Great Western Railway Station (Toronto Public Library R-4526)
1927 - Looking southeast towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot at Yonge St and The Esplanade
1927 – Looking southeast towards the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot at Yonge St and The Esplanade (Toronto Public Library R-4524)
1928 - Looking northeast towards the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, at The Esplanade and Yonge St during sewer construction
1928 – Looking northeast towards the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, at The Esplanade and Yonge St during sewer construction (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 79, Item 373)
1928 - Looking northeast towards TTC headquarters in the former Board of Trade Building, Dominion Tires and Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market near Yonge and Front St
1928 – Looking northeast towards TTC headquarters in the former Board of Trade Building, Dominion Tires and Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market near Yonge and Front St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 15167)
1929 - The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade
1929 – The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, on the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 22546)
1929 - Looking northwest towards Yonge St and the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market
1929 – Looking northwest towards Yonge St and the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 79, Item 476)
1930 - Looking northeast from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station
1930 – Looking northeast from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 532)
1931 - Looking northwest from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market - the corner of the Dominion Public Building, today's Hockey Hall of Fame and the tall Canadian Bank of Commerce Building are in the background
1931 – Looking northwest from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market – the corner of the Dominion Public Building, today’s Hockey Hall of Fame and the tall Canadian Bank of Commerce Building are in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 23594-1)
2020 - Looking northwest from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the L Tower, the former site of the Great Western Railway Station - the corner of the Dominion Public Building, today's Hockey Hall of Fame are in the background
2020 – Looking northwest from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the L Tower, the former site of the Great Western Railway Station – the corner of the Dominion Public Building, today’s Hockey Hall of Fame are in the background
1951 - The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner
1951 – The Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market, originally the Great Western Railway Station, at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner (Toronto Public Library R-4494)
1952 - Looking northeast from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the burnt ruins of the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market
1952 – Looking northeast from Yonge St and The Esplanade towards the burnt ruins of the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market (Toronto Public Library R-4497)
1952 - Looking west from Scott St towards the charred ruins of the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market with the Dominion Public Building in the background - in the lower right of the photo, there appears to be rail car wheels
1952 – Looking west from Scott St towards the charred ruins of the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market with the Dominion Public Building in the background – in the lower right of the photo, there appears to be rail car wheels (Toronto Public Library R-4495)
1959 - Looking southeast at the O'Keefe Centre construction, today's Meridian Hall at Front St E and Yonge St - a portion of the site was once home to the Great Western Railway Station, later the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot and then the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market
1959 – Looking southeast at the O’Keefe Centre construction, today’s Meridian Hall at Front St E and Yonge St – a portion of the site was once home to the Great Western Railway Station, later the Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot and then the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, ID 50)
Sketch of Peter Freeland Soap & Candle Factory at the Yonge St Wharf - today the area is the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade
Sketch of Peter Freeland Soap & Candle Factory at the Yonge St Wharf – today the area is the northeast corner of Yonge St and The Esplanade (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson – 1894)
1861/62 - Brown's Toronto General Directory showing the area we know today as Yonge St and The Esplanade was once part of the Yonge St Wharf, just north of the Bay
1861/62 – Brown’s Toronto General Directory showing the area we know today as Yonge St and The Esplanade was once part of the Yonge St Wharf, just north of the Bay (Toronto Public Library)
SOURCE