The station was built above the tracks next to
the site of the Canadian Northern’s old Tunnel
Terminal. Much of the area was a large open
cut that residents called “the hole.” Cars and
trucks could drive over bridges that were built
over the cut, with tracks situated several yards
well below. Separate access ramps were
built to access the station’s platforms and
track levels outside the station. Inside,
passengers reached the fifteen tracks via
escalators from the concourse, a distinctly
modern touch for those times. The station
was designed by architect John Campbell
Central Station officially opened on July 14,
1943, and was the first of a series of large-
scale urban development projects undertaken
by CNR and the Federal Government in this
area of Downtown Montreal.
In the late 1950s, the remainder of the Mount
Royal Tunnel project was developed by the
CNR on the corporation’s lands in downtown
The Canadian Northern Railway (est. 1899), which began its roots in Manitoba in the 1880s constructing and operating various
branch lines with the assistance of the Manitoba Provincial Government and headquartered in Winnipeg, began a nationwide
expansion in the early 1900s to create a trans-Canadian railway system to compete with the Canadian Pacific Railway network and
its monopoly on the country. As the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) reached Quebec, one of the challenges for the company
was determining a way to reach the heart of Montreal, which ground access was blocked by downtown buildings. Easier
accessible routes were already taken up by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). In 1910, they
started to conceive a plan for Montreal.
In 1911, the CNoR surprised everyone with the announcement that it planned to dig a five-kilometre tunnel under Mount Royal and
build a long viaduct in the southwest part of the city. To finance the costly tunnel, the CNoR planned to develop low-valued land that
|On May 18, CN announced plans to sell its Central Station Complex (CSC) in
Downtown Montreal. The CSC houses CN’s Headquarters building, the
passenger rail station of VIA Rail Canada (Central Station), l’Agence
métropolitaine de transport, AMTRAK and extensive retail, café and
Below is a history on Central Station:
|History of Montreal's Central Station
was vacant north of Mount Royal into a model community that they would call the “Town of Mount Royal.” Tracks would be laid in a trench extending to the upper
town, where they would meet up with the tracks from the tunnel. Where the two tracks meet is where the company planned to build a new railway station and an
enormous office and retail complex that would be located at de la Gauchetière Street and McGill College Avenue.
The Mount Royal Tunnel was completed in 1916, but because of financial difficulties and the First World War, progress slowed and the
company was only able to build a temporary railway station (the Tunnel Terminal) and shelved the plans for the viaduct. The CNoR
became indebted to numerous banks and governments. Unable to repay construction costs for their expansion, the Federal Government
of Canada gained majority control of the company’s shares. On September 6, 1918, the Federal Government nationalized the now
insolvent CNoR and implemented a new Department of Railways and Canals. The government also directed the newly appointed Board
of Governors for the CNoR to take control of the government-owned Canadian Government Railways (CGR). On December 20, 1918, the
Privy Council issued an order creating a new Crown Corporation, Canadian National Railways (CNR), which would operate the CNoR
and the CGR.
On July 12, 1920, the Grand Trunk Railway and its subsidiary companies, including the Grand
Trunk Pacific, was placed under the control of the CNR due to poor management and financial
problems that many speculated was triggered by the death of the GTR’s cost-conscious President
Charles Melville Hayes, who was one of the victims of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15,
1012. On January 20, 1923, the Grand Trunk Railway and all its subsidiaries were fully absorbed
into Canadian National Railways.
As the CNR was now a much larger transcontinental railway, they focused on improving
operations in the heart of Montreal. CNR decided to pursue and even expand on the project
launched by the Canadian Northern Railway in 1911.
By the end of the 1920’s, CNR looked to consolidate the four existing railway stations (Tunnel Terminal, Bonaventure Station, Moreau Street Station and the
McGill Street Terminal) and build one large modern station to service Montreal. Their plan was to take advantage of the Mount Royal Tunnel to bring trains from
the north and east through the tunnel to a big electrified central station. Trains from the south and west would gain access by constructing a new elevated
viaduct (initial planned by the CNoR). The new station plan allowed for the development of air-rights similar to both Grand Central and Penn Station in New
The viaduct leading to the downtown area was completed and a huge area was excavated for the new station, but the stock market crash of 1929 (the Great
Depression) put most real-estate projects on hold. Construction resumed on Central Station in 1931 and continued during World War II (1938 to 1943).
The first project was the signature 1,200-room Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Ground was broken in 1957 and the hotel was officially opened in 1958. The Queen
Elizabeth Hotel, commonly referred to as the “Queen E,” was a CNR owned and run hotel. It was one of the first air conditioned hotels in Canada. CNR sold
the Queen Elizabeth, along with its other large-scale hotels across Canada to CP Hotels in 1988. CNR also operated its own passenger rail service until the
Federal Government created VIA Rail Canada, a new Federal Crown Corporation in 1978.
The CNR was also in the process of building a new Headquarters building next to Central Station and the brand new Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
During construction in 1960, the Crown Corporation also designed a new logo that was officially unveiled in January of 1961. It’s the same
logo used by CN today. Later in 1961, CN moved into its new and current Headquarters building located on de la Gauchetière Street West.
An integral part of the Central Station Complex was an indoor passageway directly from the hotel to the Central Station concourse and CN Headquarters
building. This was the first piece in what would become ‘Montreal's underground pedestrian network.’
The completed construction of the CNR headquarters and hotel filled in part of “the
hole” at Central Station, as had been planned way back in 1911. However, there
remained two large gaps to be filled on either side – the north side of Dorchester
Boulevard (today René-Lévesque Boulevard), and on the opposite end, to the south of
de la Gauchetière Street. On the north side, Place Ville-Marie was built in 1962, while
on the south side; Place Bonaventure was constructed during 1966-1967.
The Central Station Complex in Montreal has been a hub of activity from the day it was
first built. It’s been one of this country’s important transportation and tourism centres in
the heart of Montreal. It’s also been an important place of employment for many
employees of CN and VIA Rail Canada who are members of CAW Local 4004, and
CAW National Council 4000.
Its been said that no better example of the Central Station Complex could be found in
North America of functionalist urban architecture inseparable from transportation
Hundreds of members of CAW National Council 4000/Local 4003, past and present, employed with CN and VIA Rail have worked within the Central Station
Complex (Central Station, CN’s Headquarters and the Queen Elizabeth Hotel) since the complex was constructed.
|Montreal's Central Station
|The Queen Elizabeth & CN HQ [Photo: CN]
|Central Station in 1945 (de la Gauchetière St. West - Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral and the Sun Life building in background)
|[l to r] The Queen Elizabeth & CN Headquarters building
(Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in the foreground)