WILSON: WE NEED MORE TRAINS
Restored Art Deco gem has steadily welcomed more traffic … and admiration
CP Rail knows how to ship freight. But on matters of history, it doesn’t have a clue.
Hamilton’s TH&B station was crumbling. In the late 1980s, CP shut it down and threw away the key.
“That’s not a heritage building,” said one CP boss.
The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario disagreed: “For CP to deny this building possesses historical and architectural interest is tantamount to maintaining the Earth is not round.”
The 1933 Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo station was then designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and in the 1990s, the facility on Hunter was reborn.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the official opening of the TH&B/ Hamilton GO Centre. The project cost a lot — in the neighbourhood of $65 million — and there still aren’t enough trains running out of there.
But that station is a treasure, my favourite public space. Signs on the doors say “No Loitering/ For Passengers Only.” Ignore them. Get out of the heat. Head on in.
Luxuriate on those high-backed, red-oak benches with contoured seats. Study that shiny terrazzo floor at your feet, perfect flecks of imported stone in red, yellow, black.
Be soothed by the soft light of that original soft-cast-aluminum ceiling fixture, two boxcars long. Put the smartphone away and pretend it’s the 1930s. Let your eyes wander over the vintage colours, chosen to be true to those Art Deco days.
At one time, you could board an air-conditioned sleeper here for New York, Boston, Pittsburgh. The last lonely passenger train left for Buffalo in the spring of 1981. Check out the glory days at the museum on the station’s mezzanine. There’s sometimes a strap extended across the stairs, but no one will mind if you just head on up.
On July 12, 1996 lots of TH&B retirees and politicians showed up for the grand opening of the Hamilton GO Centre. There were no firm promises that day, but everyone expected more trains were on the horizon.
Twenty years ago, three trains left Hamilton on weekday mornings, three came back at night. About 375 riders a day used the service then. In 2016, that track isn’t much busier — there’s just one extra rush-hour train each way. But the average daily passenger count is up to 1,000 now. There are twice that many bus passengers per day.
There are now two rush-hour trains out and two back at the new West Harbour station. But Hamilton’s all-day rail service remains a distant dream — maybe a decade away. The stated goal is a total of 35 to 45 trains each weekday to and from the Hamilton GO Centre, plus hourly service on weekends.
Here’s a little mystery. Just before the station opened in 1996, I wrote up some trivia on the restored building. One of the items:
“In the basement of the station, there is a small room with a new concrete bathtub. Into that tub will go several steel barrels of ballasts from old light fixtures. They contain PCBs, linked to cancer.
“The present policy on these chemicals is to keep them securely on site, until someone has a good idea on how to dispose of them. Those drums will soon be set in the tub and the door locked, maybe for a very long time.”
Last week I asked the Metrolinx/GO people about that. The response: “We are not aware of the drums referenced in the article but will conduct a site inspection before any future work is undertaken and address any materials that are found in the appropriate way.”
Don’t let that scare you off. Do pay a visit, maybe have a good made-on-the-premises egg sandwich at the station’s one restaurant — the Timeout Cafe. It’s run by Sam Choi and his wife Helen.
Their days are long, and they’re not getting rich here. Sam practises his guitar when things are slow, and says he’s content.
“I’m glad to be part of the history.”
The terrazzo floor still shines, above, and the station’s colours are true to the Art Deco days. They’ve handled the history nicely at the TH&B Hamilton GO Centre, and we can only hope that one day there will be more trains.
It’s 20 years since they opened the Hamilton GO Centre and unveiled this logo.