WIL­SON: WE NEED MORE TRAINS

Re­stored Art Deco gem has steadily wel­comed more traf­fic … and ad­mi­ra­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - PAUL WIL­SON Paul Wil­son’s col­umn ap­pears Tues­days in the GO sec­tion. PaulWil­son.Hamil­ton@gmail.com Twit­ter: @PaulWil­sonInHam

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.”

PHO­TOS BY PAUL WIL­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

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.

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