Trains to return to Ottawa’s Union Station?

Ottawa’s Union Station: it’s a majestic old building, a half-scale replica of New York City’s old Penn Station, and unfortunately underused. Since 1966, when the National Capital Commission removed rail from downtown, the building has been used as a government conference centre, rather than a hub for rail travelers. However, a recent article on CBC News reported that trains may yet return to Union Station, in the form of a station on the new light rail system—taking the place of the Rideau\Sussex station in the proposal.

Ottawa's Union Station. Image by spotmaticfanatic on Flickr.

Certainly as it stands right now, Union Station is a tragically under-appreciated piece of infrastructure. As a government conference centre, the average Ottawan has few opportunities to go inside the structure. As the main hall of a transit station, commuters would be able to use this suddenly re-opened public space on a daily basis.

But in my mind, that’s not all that could be done with the station. I don’t know the interior dimensions of the building, but I would imagine that a transit station would only take up a small portion of the available volume, and other transportation infrastructure (commuter rail, and intercity bus and rail) probably won’t be able to serve the location, meaning no space would need to be set aside for them. So with that in mind, what could be done? One of the things that Ottawa lacks is a real civic place, one to celebrate Ottawa itself. Over the years as a national capital, the federal government has eclipsed the city, and it’s only been in the last few decades that we’ve really begun to find our identity as a municipality instead of as a capital.

So why not this: in our hypothetical, future train station, you walk in the front doors to a lobby, with transit facilities to one side, and perhaps benches and chairs with the odd cafe or two along the edges of the area. Taking up the rest of the space inside could be a City of Ottawa museum, celebrating our history, from rough logging town to major Canadian metropolis. It could even include artifacts that tie in with the location, like the old streetcars OC Transpo is slowly attempting to restore. Granted, we do already have the Bytown Museum, but it could still comfortably fill a role as a museum predominantly about the canal, while the Union Station museum could be about the rest of the city.

This, of course, is just a suggestion—a museum is just one option, but the overriding point is that we may have an opportunity to create a fantastic new public space, and the standard option of renting out space for shops and restaurants would be a tragic waste. The simple return of transit, of course, would benefit the building enormously by itself, but I can’t help but feel we could do so much more. These kinds of opportunities only come along once and a while, and I think it’s important to jump on it when and if we can.

3 Responses to “Trains to return to Ottawa’s Union Station?”

  1. February 3, 2010 at 11:25 am

    The major reason that it won’t work well as a transit station (alone) is that the platform is so far down and most people aren’t going to the train station. So for most people, it’s far more convenient to exit the platform at Rideau Centre or the War Memorial, depending on their destination.

    – RG>

    • 2 David McClelland
      February 3, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      Exactly, it’d be the problem Toronto’s Union Station faces. A minority of commuters pass through the gorgeous Great Hall simply because the TTC and GO Transit are more conveniently reached from other entrances. I’d hate to see trains restored to our station only for the main concourse to undergo the same fate.

  2. 3 Kevin Bourne
    July 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Sorry for joining this conversation late. I agree with David that this is a unique opportunity to restore Union Station for public use. David wasn’t proposing a stand alone station, but a complete public space. If you had good restaurants and shops in the station it may be able to get some traffic. I’m originally from Toronto and I regularly used the Great Hall to access the station and to grab a burger from Harvey’s. More people may use other entrances/exits but there will always be people who will pass through the Great Hall just to admire its beauty and character. The problem with Toronto’s Union Station is that it doesn’t have any use outside of a transportation hub. If Ottawa’s Union Station was coupled with a museum it would create the traffic you need.

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This is a blog dedicated to exploring and discussing Ottawa, Canada.



Email: dmccl033(at)uottawa(dot)ca

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