This is a tour of Ottawa, so you wouldn’t think we would be talking much about the ancient Romans. It was, however, quite common a century ago to think about the purpose of a building, search backwards in time for a building with a similar purpose, then borrow its style. The Romans, it so happens, were big on public buildings built by private persons. That’s a pretty good good definition of a train station, and that’s why so many train stations are built in the Classical Roman style.
Nowhere is that style so evident than the waiting hall of Union Station, inspired by the gigantic Roman baths of Diocletian and Caracalla. Unfortunately, you can’t see the vaulted ceiling in this picture, but you get the idea, what with giant columns and marble walls everywhere (even if not everything in the room is actually marble). The waiting hall gives you a sense of grandeur.
On a more practical level, you can see two staircases on the left. Those were the stairs that brought you down from Rideau Street. If you continued across the room to the right you would pass down the ticket hall to the departure hall and out to the tracks beside the Rideau Canal.
Between the two staircases is one of the most famous features of Union Station. That’s the entrance to the tunnel under Rideau Street (still there) that goes to the Chateau Laurier. Pretty handy in an Ottawa Winter!
Looking at all those benches, lights and Tiffany lamps, you might be interested to know that examples of the benches and lamps are preserved in the transportation collections of the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
All in all, the waiting hall of old Union Station is one of Ottawa’s most amazing architectural spaces. Even more amazing is the fact that the city wanted to demolish the entire building in 1966!
Fortunately it was saved, but not just because it’s a nice room in a historic building. Over the years, numerous commenters on the Lost Ottawa Facebook page have told us how important the waiting hall and tunnel were to the lives of city kids who loved to hang out there. Once they got to the station they could watch the trains, play in the tunnel (rolling a quarter down the tunnel to see how far it would go was a favourite), or cross over to to what was then the publicly owned Chateau Laurier and its fabulous pool, where many kids from Ottawa and Hull learned to swim.
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