Fate of former Morrisburg train station undetermined

A 2021 photo of Canadian National’s former Morrisburg train station boarded up. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

MORRISBURG – A local landmark built during the St. Lawrence Seaway construction is at risk of being torn down.

The Canadian National Railways station off County Road 31 was recently boarded up by the company, and an ATCO-style portable building was placed on site for employees to use. This prompted concern by historians and local railfans that the station might be demolished.

The station, which was constructed in 1956-57 during the St. Lawrence Seaway project is one of only two surviving stations from that era. The station replaced an 1855-built stone station that was located near the present day Giant Tiger on Country Road 2 in the village. The other surviving building from this era is in Cornwall which is still in use by VIA Rail, Canada’s national passenger rail company.

Morrisburg and Cornwall are two of five stations constructed at the time by CNR. Iroquois, Long Sault, and Ingleside each had a station of the same design as Morrisburg’s in the project.

“At this time, there are no plans to demolish the building or to sell it,” said Canadian National spokesperson Daniel Salvatore.

CN discontinued regular passenger stops at the four Seaway stations in 1966. The Morrisburg station continued to be used for excursions by the railway for Expo 67 in Montréal.

There were also regular excursions run into the 1970’s bringing school children to Upper Canada Village that used the station. CN employees used the building afterwards as an office and storage space for maintenance materials until 2020.

Chris Granger, a railway historian and former co-chair of Heritage Cornwall, told The Leader that the Morrisburg station design is one of the first to give the look of modernization to railways in the 1950s.

“There are a few of these station styles in existence, but not in their original form,” Granger said.

An historically significant event that happened at the station on April 22, 1976 when a CN/VIA Turbotrain set a Canadian rail land speed record of 140.6 miles per hour. This record remains in place still to this date.

One risk of leaving the building as it is in its mothballed state is damage from vandals. This was the fate of a similarly designed station in Iroquois, which was demolished in the early 2000s after significant damage from vandalism.

“[Iroquois] was in absolute terrible shape,” Granger said. “Every window was broken out of the frames. The seats were gone. Any electrical equipment that may have been left behind was stripped.”

He said that the inside and outside of the building were covered in graffiti, and that trash, feces and large garbage like old mattresses littered the property.

“It was a horrible the mess that was there.”

Granger said the Morrisburg station has no historic designation that would prevent it being torn down by the railroad. As the railroad is a federally regulated company, it does not need approvals from a local municipality like South Dundas to demolish structures on its land either. He added that the municipality can initiate a request for Federal Heritage Designation for the building through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

The Town of Prescott designated its 1855 stone railway station in this manner. That station remains on its original location next to the CN tracks, is owned by the town, and is used by the Grenville County Historical Society. Granger suggested this or another preservation option could take place.

“I have been asked if the building could be moved someplace like the Lost Villages Museum,” he explained. “We have moved large stone buildings, brick and frame buildings, so yes [Morrisburg’s station] could be moved there. It may even be a good example to show a building after the Seaway opened.”

In Granger’s opinion, if CN would allow it, the building could be a research or archive building similar to Prescott.

“I believe an attempt should be made to try to preserve the station,” he said. “I also believe that in doing so, the building should be repurposed to ensure a viable life for it.”

Officials with CN were asked if the company had any plans for the building, no response was given.

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