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, the company was renamed to Great Western Railway nine years later. 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.
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.
An impressive arched train pathway was between the passenger station and the freight area. 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 protected passengers and freight from disagreeable weather.
Grand Trunk Railway Freight Depot
In 1882, Great Western Railway was acquired by Grand Trunk Railway. That same year, the station heard it’s last “aboard!” to passengers as they were directed 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.
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 the floorboards of the fruit warehouse had long hidden. While the rail cars were rusted, they were unscathed by the blaze.
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?
- An esplanade is an extended 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) whose 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
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson (1894), pgs 326-328
- Lost Toronto by William Dendy (1978), pg 2
- Toronto Street Names: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins by Leonard Wise & Allan Gould (2011), pgs 246-247
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Nov 21, 1864, pg 2
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Nov 8, 1865, pg 1
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Mar 5, 1866, pg 2
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 8, 1882, pg 6
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 21, 1927, pg 13
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jul 7, 1951, pg 13
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jun 17, 1952, pg 15
- Toronto Railway Historical Association: Great Western Railway of Canada
- PortsToronto: History
- CN: History
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library & Archives of Ontario
- Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1899 by Chas E Goad from the Toronto Public Library