At first glance, the old Don Station at Roundhouse part appears custom-built for the miniature railway, a popular attraction to visitors at the park and the Railway Museum. But when you get closer, you realise that it is indeed a full-sized station with a special place in the history of the Canadian Pacific in Toronto.
When the Ontario & Quebec Railway line from Perth to Toronto finished construction in 1884, access to the city proved limited. Trains arriving from points east or heading east out of the city had to travel a roundabout route. Travelling across the northern border of the station, they approached through Parkdale, track access formerly part of the Credit Valley Railway and then into Union Station. This routing would increase the time needed and proved dangerous as several at-grade crossings increased the chance of delay or collision. Canadian Pacific began a survey of a possible route from Leaside along the Don River Valley and petitioned Toronto to allow the construction. When the petition met with approval from the council, construction began in 1892, taking four years to complete.
The branch line, despite its length, only had a single additional station added, the Don Station, where the tracks intersected with Queen Street on the south side of the street and the western bank of the Don River. The location by the Don is what gave the station its name. Canadian Pacific saw this as an opportunity to serve the expanding neighbourhoods on the east side of the river. The station followed a simple Victorian design, almost a throwback to the early stations on the Credit Valley Railway line. A single storey with an extra half-storey added on the tower. Inside the building were the telegraph operator’s station, an agent office and a pair of ticket windows. Passengers either waited on the platform or in a small waiting room. Additionally, a tiny baggage room completed the station’s layout. While small, the station proved popular; passengers could travel almost across the entire country from here. The main trouble remained at a grade crossing, and the city knew that after a 1904 collision between a Grand Trunk train and a Toronto streetcar near the Grand Trunk Riverside station. The city began building high-level bridges over rail lines to prevent future accidents. Canadian Pacific moved the Don Station in 1911 to allow Queen Street to travel over the branch line to accommodate this. Despite the new Union Station opening in 1927, passenger service at the Don Station remained consistent since it was often a closer and less crowded option for many. In 1933, Canadian Pacific entered into a traffic-sharing agreement with Canadian National. Both CP and CN trains called on the Don Stations, and tickets for both could be purchased at the ticket windows. The mid-century brought metal siding installation over the original board and batten to prevent decay. Starting in 1953, as Canadian Pacific took on some service supporting commuter rail traffic, the Don Station became a popular spot for Dayliners, arriving and departing between Toronto and Havelock. The service proved short-lived, and in 1967 Canadian Pacific cut the line and closed the station.
Local rail historian Charles Sauria recognised the importance of saving the Don Station rather than allowing the Canadian Pacific to demolish the structure. Saurial’s voice was soon joined by East York Mayor True Davidson and the local historical society. With a great deal of community pressure, Canadian Pacific agreed to donate the station, providing that the cost of moving it would be covered. Over two days, in 1969, the station moved from Queen Street, North, along the Don River to the Todmorden Mills Historical site in two separate sections. Restoration and renovation work began immediately. The station reopened in May 1971, featuring an exhibit of local photographs and the station’s history. The station’s doors did not stay open for long, and the city began using the old station for storage rather than display. The destruction of a nearby boxcar by arson saw the city begin to look for a new home for the old station, which had fallen again into disrepair. Attention was turned to Roundhouse Park, with the idea to use a section of the old Roundhouse as a railway museum made the Don Station an excellent addition to the collection. The long-ignored station was cleaned out and split again into six sections, loaded onto trucks, and moved from Todmorden Mills to Roundhouse Park on 10 December 2008. Over two years, the station underwent severe restoration. The metal siding was stripped, and the original wood was repaired or replaced. Volunteers repainted the station and installed a new roof and a set of 1930s Semaphor signals. It reopened along with the rest of the museum in May 2010. Today the station is the sole surviving 19th Century train station in the city and acts as a gift shop, exhibit space, and ticket office for the miniature train.