“There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real”
So begin the lyrics to Gordon Lightfoot’s classic song, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy. The song goes on to describe the construction of the railway system that opened up Ontario to travel for both commerce and tourism, changing the province forever. Railway travel was the economic backbone of Northeastern Ontario for many years, attracting workers and settlers to its towns and cities and shaping the North as we know it today.
Times have changed, and while the car is now our go-to method of travel, the legacy of the heyday of rail travel is still with us in well-preserved railway stations across Northeastern Ontario. These stations were constructed to serve as the cornerstone of commercial activity in the North. Now they’re unique pieces of architecture that serve as a testament to the glory days of rail travel. Hop aboard and join us for an intriguing journey through a few of the magnificent railway stations in Northeastern Ontario.
Northern Ontario Railroad Museum
This place is a train lover’s dream. The Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Centre in Capreol near Sudbury captures perfectly the nostalgia of days gone by. Railroad enthusiasts can spend many happy hours touring the museum house, which was formerly the home of Capreol’s CN superintendent. The museum’s exhibits showcase the importance of the railway system to Northern Ontario and to local industry. Behind the museum house, Prescott Park is home to an amazing collection of classic locomotives, mining cars, handcars, and speeders, including a retired CN steam locomotive. It also has a “School Car” – trains that were an important part of bringing education to isolated areas. The park features beautifully landscaped gardens, making a summer visit a perfect outdoor experience.
Our next stop is the historical Temagami Station. History buffs will be enchanted by the architectural features of this stone beauty, first built in 1907. The station burned down two years later, was rebuilt and then lovingly restored to its original charm in 1996. The station has a long and storied past and is now managed by Temagami Station Restoration Trust. In 2015 it’s undergoing $72,000 worth of renovations to help turn the historic station into a year-round multi-use building.
Cobalt, Ontario — Northland Station
Although the Northlander trains no longer stop at the Cobalt Ontario Northland Station, anyone who appreciates fine architecture should make a trip here. Designed by Toronto architect John M. Lyle, the Cobalt Station is designed in the classic Edwardian style. Constructed of red brick, the station features a slate roof and stone detailing with classic rounded windows. Entering the lofty interior, you’ll harken back to an era of elegant train travel reminiscent of the old world.
Discovery North Bay Museum
Our journey continues, taking us to the vibrant and historic downtown core of North Bay. The Discovery North Bay Museum is now located in the Canadian Pacific Railway train station. This large, beautiful two-storey limestone structure was influenced by the Richardson Romanesque architectural style. The station, which was constructed in 1903, is a much larger station than North Bay would have required at the time. The waiting room was much more spacious than many others, with a separate waiting room for the ladies complete with fireplace, a ticket agent’s office, and a large baggage area. The museum houses a variety of fascinating permanent and visiting exhibits of the history of the area, as well as educational programs for kids. The museum’s gift shop will be of particular interest to model train enthusiasts – the shop claims the North’s largest selection of train sets, locomotives, rolling stock, buildings kits, track, scenery, and accessories, allowing you to recreate scenes of railroads past at home.