Throwback Thursday: Demolition of the Terminal Building in 1959

Quarterly the Hamilton Street Railway publishes the “Bus News” which recaps what service changes are upcoming as well as any bits of relevant news. Did you know that they’ve been putting out these for a long time? A seriously long time.

I recently acquired a very old one of these titled Transit News, which is dedicated to the demolition of the old Terminal building on King and Catherine Streets in downtown Hamilton. The below is a text of that document, word for word.

HSR Transit News Feb 13th 1959



With this issue of Transit News are two interesting pictures which could be titled “The Old Order Changeth, Giving Place to New.”

One is of the Terminal building, familiar to most Hamiltonians as the Bus Terminal, showing it as it appeared in 1907 when it was opened for business and became known far and near as the most modern and elegant electric railway station on the continent.

The other photograph, taken recently, is of the same building in the process of being razed to make way for whatever is planned by the present owners. The work of demolition was started weeks ago but the Gibralter-like building stood its ground against the workmen with such resoluteness that the wrecking company got behind in its calculations.

Why, you may ask, are we devoting this issue to an uptown building which, having outlived its usefulness, is being torn down in keeping with modern custom?

The reply is that for many years before the present ownership, the Hamilton Street Railway Co. had a very close attachment to the Terminal building. Up until 1930 the H.S.R. had its offices, together with other companies of the Dominion Power and Transmission, in this edifice standing at the corner of King and Catharine Streets.

The illustrations show a second building to the rear and this, too, will disappear. It was erected as a theatre and first was known as Bennett’s, later the Temple, and for a quarter of a century it was an entertainment mecca of Hamiltonians.


It will be observed in the 1907 picture that J. A. Johnson, artist for the architect, Charles Mills, has depicted to the east a glass shed for the cars. It was never built.

“Cars”, of course, meant the large, comfortable electric coaches, each costing from seven to ten thousand dollars, which had their terminus in this yard and served the area between Hamilton and Oakville, and Beamsville, and Brantford, as well as Dundas between the nineties and the first quarter of this century. In the late twenties the cars on these interurban routes were replaced by buses, the D. P. and T. deciding that fast, electric radial service had been made obsolete by the inroads of the gasoline-powered vehicle.

Sir Adam Beck, founder of the Ontario Hydro, at one time envisioned a network of electric railways in Southern Ontario, linking up Toronto and Niagara Falls through Hamilton. Sir Adam was called a “dreamer” and so the radial cars went to the junk yard, the tracks were torn up and the Terminal was converted into a bus depot and office building for business and professional men.


Some weeks ago, Alderman Joseph Lanza, chairman of the Transportation and Traffic committee of this city, suggested that a “fast electric train service” be implemented between Grimsby and Oakville with Hamilton at the centre. He elaborated with the statement that this service could be extended later to run from Niagara Falls to Toronto.

Almost fifty years before, Sir Adam Beck had looked into the future with shrewd prescience to call the same turn.

Today’s traffic engineers, faced with densely congested express highways, have concluded that electric lines with exclusive rights-of-way would be more economical and efficient. But the electric railways are gone and in their place are networks of highways, costing millions of dollars, inadequate to meet the insatiable demand by automobiles and trucks for more space.

The pioneers had foresight. Hindsight proves it. Wherever they may be they must be smiling over today’s situation.

The Terminal building was of cement concrete style of construction. Although work on it had not been finished completely, its doors were thrown open to the public on November 18th, 1907 and the former waiting room in the Masonic building at James and Gore Streets was vacated.

Bennett’s theatre which we have mentioned, played to its first crowds on September 3rd, 1907. Vaudeville was the attraction then although some concession was made to the infant industry, moving pictures, with a feature at the end of the bill known as the Bennettograph.

A covered passageway on the west side of the Terminal building led from King Street to the theatre and this marquee provided protection from the rain to theatregoers. The theatre was constructed according to plans prepared by E. C. Horn, one of the eminent theatre architects of the continent. It had a seating capacity of sixteen hundred with accommodation for more than a thousand of these in the balcony and in the gallery. The decor was light green and red with red plush seats, and red plush curtains in the boxes which had brass railings and were embellished with floral designs and cupids.

Artistes dressed in tasteful quarters in contrast to the filthy, draughty hovels assigned to them in most theatres. There was even an isolated chamber, specially drained and ventilated, for acts featuring trained animals.

The first manager was George F. Driscoll, native os St. John, N.B., who had taken his theatrical training in the United States. The eight-piece orchestra was under the baton of Sam Minnis and the acts came from Keith-Proctor Syndicate. So much for the theatre. It was quite a place.



The other day, while watching the work crews bending to the task of tearing down the Terminal, we marveled at the excellence of the construction which had gone into it. The old Terminal was the forerunner of Hamilton’s modern buildings and Architect Mills planned it to resist time and change. The beams and columns were of concrete, reinforced with Kahn bar and fire proofed with vitreous tile. The floors were of reinforced concrete beams, alternately laid with tile on edge. Floor slabs were twenty-two feet and meant to withstand a heavy carrying capacity.

There has been a great deal of talk in recent months about the stone to be used in the new City Hall. The D. P. & T. directorate experienced no qualms about not using Queenstone stone. They went to Bedford, Indiana, to procure the material for the lower construction of the Terminal. Interior station walls were lined with Italian marble to the height of ten feed. Decorative cornices heavily enriched the waiting room, and windows and doors were trimmed with quarter-cut oak.

Charles Mills, the architect, built the Bank of Hamilton, now known as the Bank of Commerce at the corner of King and James Streets. He must have had a skyscraper in mind when he designed the Terminal building because it easily could have carried several additional floors.

The cost of the Terminal? … $250,000!

As we passed the corner of King and Catharine Streets the other day we paused to gaze with respect on the ruins of this splendid monument to a great era of transportation.

What would the founding fathers, the “Five Johns”, say if they were with us today and were asked for their views? We can only surmise but, knowing what kind of men they were, we would imagine that they would be talking in terms of inter-city helicopters and atomic power.

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