Tuesday, 20 January 2015

CNR's Montreal Passenger Terminals Tribulations

In the News of Railroads column in the Montreal Gazette of August 20, 1909 this article appeared.

Spoiler alert: Except for the strange passenger 'Pool Train' era between the Great Depression and the 1960s, the Canadian Pacific would never share Place Viger, or any other Montreal passenger facilities with the Grand Trunk, Canadian Northern or the Canadian National.

Below is an undated photo of the Canadian Northern Railway's Moreau Street station - perhaps circa 1925. The facilities and location 'came with' yet another railway the Canadian Northern builders had bought. This location was not in the downtown area or the business district, and the facilities are not really consistent with the image which a transcontinental railway would want to project as it entered Canada's largest city. 

from: The Mount Royal Tunnel, Anthony Clegg; 1963; Railfare.

Because the railway needed a respectable, convenient and efficient downtown station, the Canadian Northern builders devised their scheme to tunnel through Mount Royal from the north. 

With the sale of house lots from a new prestigious 'model city' known as the Town of Mount Royal, they hoped to fund most of the cost of the tunnel. Residents of TMR, after a short walk to the local Canadian Northern station, would ride modern electric trains to the downtown Canadian Northern terminal in about 10 minutes.

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The Great War, 1914-1918 caused a scarcity of capital and bankrupted the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Railways.

The Canadian Pacific had unselfishly offered to take over the government's orphan railways and run them efficiently as a business (and as a Canadian monopoly) - but governments held back on accepting this offer.

Here is what the Canadian National Railways were using for Montreal terminals in 1929 ..

Undated photo from: Canadian Rail; July 1980; Canadian Railroad Historical Association.
Moreau Street - perhaps this is its 'good side'.

Unused postcard, probably c1920.
Bonaventure Station, rebuilt with loving austerity by the Grand Trunk after its wartime fire.

from: The Mount Royal Tunnel, Anthony Clegg; 1963; Railfare.
The former Canadian Northern Railway Tunnel Terminal - a glamourous hole in the ground in the Montreal city centre. It is virtually 'unspoiled' from its original design - in this 1930 photo. The south portal of the Mount Royal Tunnel is under the camera's location.

Used postcard, mailed in 1911.
I believe that the Canadian National Railways (a federal crown corporation) used the old Grand Trunk Railway's headquarters in Montreal for its railway operations headquarters. Of the four, this is the only building which still exists.

Here are the street locations for the above four facilities as the streets are named today - I am using a convention that the St Lawrence River is to the 'south' of the downtown area:

  • Moreau Street (officially: 'Montreal', then 'St Catherine St East' station): north-west corner of Ste Catherine Street and Moreau Street
  • Bonaventure Station: south-west corner of Rue St Jacques and Rue Peel
  • Tunnel Terminal: south-west corner of today's Central Station building on Rue de la Gauchetiere
  • Grand Trunk Headquarters: north-west corner of Place d'Youville and Rue du Square Victoria

In Report on Railway Terminal Facilities at Montreal by Frederick Palmer, M.Inst.C.E., M.Am.Soc.C.E. of Rendel, Palmer & Tritton, Consulting Engineers of London, England, dated January 31 1929, the report begins:
The terminal passenger accommodation at Montreal on those railways which became absorbed in the amalgamation constituting the Canadian National Railways exists to-day probably as first constructed many years ago, and can now only be described as quite obsolete.
That's his very first sentence exactly as written. Then it gets better. 

Here is a map which Mr Palmer drew which lays out the status quo.

map from Report on Railway Terminal facilities at Montreal; January 1929; Palmer.
  • Canadian National Railways tracks are represented in green. 
  • Bonaventure is near the Tunnel Terminal. 
  • Moreau St is the green stub in the east end under the writing 'Ontario St'.
  • Canadian Northern had dispatched most of its power (locomotives) from Val Royal or 'Cartierville' - consider that the tunnel had electric locomotives or electric self-propelled cars and that steam replaced the electrics at the northern end of the catenary.
  • Grand Trunk sent power from Turcot.

So the Canadian National Railways transportation system in Montreal was the heir to all these separate passenger arrangements - in addition to all the various locomotives, cars, yards, interlockings and spurs needed to handle freight traffic. To make things more complicated, consider just a few the diverse facets of the railway business back then and all the manual or procedural skills needed to keep all the elements functioning ...

Consider seasonal demand spikes for passenger holiday travel, employee discipline for safety violations, snow clearing, seasonal demand spikes before the end of the Montreal shipping season, express and postal business, shop staffing and supervision, train dispatching, crew calling, ordering and managing materials such as replacement rails and switches, waybilling and invoicing customers, employee timetable preparation, public timetable preparation, ticket stock printing, block ice supply and storage for refrigeration and air conditioning ... employee morale.

D.B. Hanna had been carried over from the Canadian Northern as a knowledgeable 'caretaker' and the CNR's first President. As Hanna completed his long career, Henry Thornton - an experienced railroader literally capable of organizing a railway in a war zone - was the true leader which Canadian National really needed at this point in its history. 

This was the 1920s! RCA! Automobiles! Aviation! Canadian gold mine investments! Ordinary first-time investors getting rich with leveraged stock market funds, which contained other stock funds, which contained the highest performing stocks - bought on margin! .. 

.. With the Canadian government's enthusiastic support of the progressive American railroad professional Sir Henry Thornton, Chairman of the Board and President of the Canadian National Railways from 1922 to 1932, anything was possible! 

Spoiler alert: Anything was possible .. until the Great Crash later in 1929 and the election of R.B.Bennett and his Conservative government in 1930. Thornton's biography The Tragedy of Henry Thornton begins with a quote:

'Now hath the butcher's dog pulled down the lordliest buck in England.'

But that's still a few months off. So Palmer's report came out in January 1929, and the media strategy was put into play ..

The Montreal Gazette of February 27, 1929 reported: 

Here's part the Montreal Terminals legislation which received Royal Assent on June 14, 1929: 

Canadian National Montreal Terminals Act, 1929

The Governor in Council may provide for the construction and completion by the Canadian National Railway Company (hereinafter called “the Company”) of terminal stations and offices, local stations, station grounds, yards, tracks, terminal facilities, power houses, pipes, wires and conduits for any purpose, bridges, viaducts, tunnels, subways, branch and connecting lines and tracks, buildings and structures of every description and for any purpose, and improvements, works, plant, apparatus and appliances for the movement, handling or convenient accommodation of every kind of traffic, also street and highway diversions and widenings, new streets and highways, subway and overhead streets, and also approaches, lanes, alleyways, and other means of passage, with the right to acquire or to take under the provisions of section nine of this Act or otherwise lands and interests in lands for all such purposes, all on the Island of Montreal in the Province of Quebec, or on the mainland adjacent thereto, as shown generally on the plan or plans thereof to be from time to time approved by the Governor in Council under the provisions of section seven of this Act; the whole being hereinafter referred to as the “said works”, and a short description whereof for the information of Parliament but not intended to be exhaustive, being set out in the schedule hereto.

[ ... ]


(a) Central Passenger Terminal facilities, and office buildings, including baggage, mail and express facilities, on the site of the present Tunnel Station, and generally covering the area bounded by Cathcart Street, St. Antoine Street; Inspector and Mansfield Streets, and St. Genevieve Street;

(b) Viaduct and elevated railway between Inspector and Dalhousie Streets, and St. David’s Lane and Nazareth Street to near Wellington Street, and thence along Wellington Street to Point St. Charles Yard and Victoria Bridge, crossing over existing streets, and with connections to existing railway facilities and Harbour Commissioners’ trackage;

(c) Coach yard facilities at various points, with principal yard at Point St. Charles;

(d) Grade separation by means of elevated, or depressed, or underground tracks, or streets, as may be determined on the existing railway between Bonaventure and Turcot and connection to the viaduct referred to in paragraph (b);

(e) Grade separation by means of elevated, or depressed, or underground tracks, or streets, as may be determined between St. Henri and Point St. Charles;

(f) Railway from Longue Pointe yard to the Northwest and thence Southwest to connect with the existing railway at and near Eastern Junction;

(g) Railway from the Cornwall Subdivision in the vicinity of Pointe Claire to the L’Orignal Subdivision in the vicinity of Val Royal;

(h) Railway between the Cornwall Subdivision near Lachine and the Lachine, Jacques Cartier and Maisonneuve Railway, near Western Junction;

(i) Railway from a point on the line between St. Henri and Point St. Charles near Atwater Avenue, along the River St. Pierre and the Aqueduct Tail Race to the waterfront, and construction of yard facilities on the Waterfront with connection to existing lines and Harbour Commission trackage;

(j) Local station facilities, engine and other railway facilities, signalling, electrification, and electrical equipment on present and proposed railways;

(k) Connections and transfer facilities to the tracks of the Montreal Harbour Commission near Longue Pointe, and/or at a point further East, and connections and transfer facilities to the C.P.R. East and South of the Lachine Canal, and at other points, except at Forsythe (now Rouen Street.) The Company to pay part cost, to be determined, of facilities jointly owned or jointly used.
The estimated cost of the said works is $51,409,000.

Here is the full text of the law :

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Next is part of Page 7 from:

Annual Report of the Canadian National Railway System
for the year ended December 31, 1938

Very few of the Palmer report's recommendations about the Montreal passenger terminals problem had been put into action during the 'lost decade' of The Great Depression.

(I included the western line abandonments for fans of western Canadian railroading.)

The 'co-operation' referred to would result in what you might call Circus Trains - the silly, confusing Pool Train scheme in eastern Canada which endured until the mid-1960s. Rail companies don't compete with each other in our modern age - they compete with rubber tires on 'free' roads.

A very long article in the Gazette of December 22, 1938 expresses the hopes of many that at least Christmas and the New Year of 1939 could be celebrated with new jobs and possibly a general economic improvement at some point in the future.

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Before the CNR Montreal Terminals problem could finally be resolved, re-employment of Canadian workers came from another source.

The 'economic improvement', human misery and the often grim outlook for the 'Free World' brought about by World War Two began about 8 months later.

If you want to get something accomplished, go to war?

From the Gazette of April 3, 1943 - during some of the darkest days of the war.

The CNR public timetable of April 30, 1944 shows that 35 years after the Canadian Northern announced its new Montreal to Quebec City trains, operating out of Moreau Street ...

Moreau Street was still being used for some CNR passenger trains.