The former Grand Trunk station at Belleville is unique among the surviving Grand Trunk stations along the operator’s original ‘trunk’ line. Unique in the way that it has its second-empire mansard roof intact. The only other station that can claim that is Kingston Station, which sadly today lies in ruins. Another interesting feature of the station is that it never had a telegraph bay added in the 1880s, a feature shared with the St. Mary’s Junction Station.
During its original trans-colonial line, Grand Trunk Railway decided to put its first divisional point at Belleville, a small community between Toronto and Montreal. They acquired a large swath of land north of the community’s core to build a single Class B station and a large railway yard. Work on the station was started in 1855 by Thomas Brassey. Choosing Trenton limestone as his building material, a two-tone pattern with small darker bricks forming the walls, corner and window details being larger, lighter limestone blocks. Following Francis Thompson’s designs, Brassey used these as a template. A style unique to the Belleville station, also unique in that despite being only a Class B station, the interior waiting room was far larger than most class stations. A small ticket window was the only administrative space, with the majority being a well-appointed waiting room. Brass lighting fixtures, coal stoves, and handsome wooden benches. A hardwood floor, wainscoting and plaster walls and ceiling. A low peaked roof with a wide overhang with wooden supporting brackets. Next to the station stood the baggage shed, with other freight sheds nearby. A separate building houses the telegraph operator and other administrative offices. The station opened to passengers in 1856, with Grand Trunk continuing to build the various maintenance structures in the yard. The first roundhouse opened in 1864, only to be replaced by a larger one three years later. It quickly allowed the railway to become Belleville’s major employer and economic driver.
The financial panic of 1873 did not do well for Grand Trunk. Despite launching several major building projects in the preceding years. The railway weathered the storm for three years, then in 1876, began to realise that some cuts needed to happen. About 90% of the workforce targetted by these cuts, mainly cuts in hours and positions, were unionised, and they didn’t take the news too well, with the announcement being handed down on 23 December. While many wanted to walk off the job in strike action instantly, the proximity to Christmas was keenly felt. The Union made their demands to management, who turned them down, and engineers walked off the job on the 29th. Almost immediately, the trains ground to a halt, Belleville was a strategic spot, and every party knew this fact. The demonstrators grew in number, and Belleville’s mayor called out the police, who were in no position to try and keep the peace after having their force gutted earlier in the month. The local MP served as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the militia, and the alarm bells sounded. Captain Edward Harrison of the 49th Battalion mustered a company of men and went out to meet the picketers after borrowing ammunition for their rifles. The militia’s presence only angered the striking workers, mainly when they escorted trains, company men and strikebreakers. When the strikers turned violent, the militia retreated, with only minor injuries being reported. In January 1877, a more significant force arrived in Belleville, elements of the Queen’s Own Rifles out of Toronto. A better armed and trained active militia force replaced the 49th, who stood down with gratitude. The QOR proved a force to be reckoned with; when the striking workers attempted to sabotage trains, they were pushed by at the point of the bayonet. In one altercation, several strikers received an injury and were treated by the doctors in the militia; only a handful of soldiers were injured. The strike lasted only five days, and an agreement was reached in early January.
The financial troubles resolved themselves, and Grand Trunk updated the Belleville Station, adding a second storey with a bell-cast Mansard Roof in 1881. Belleville’s station avoided replacement in the early 20th Century, but the yard continued to expand, and by 1912 a new 42-bay roundhouse and a longer turntable were installed. The yards easily employed 1,000 workers at their peak, and when Canadian National took over operations in 1923, it did little to change anything. However, in the post-war period, as the steam age began to close and passenger service dwindled, the yard slowly shrank, and jobs vanished. By 1960 most of the buildings in the yard, including the roundhouse, were piles of rubble, and a more straightforward operations building took over the administrative duties. Rather than risk the loss of the station, a Federal Heritage designation was granted in 1973. Oddly the station and baggage shed remained, having never been used for anything other than passenger service. Even when VIA rail took over in 1978, little was done. The 1980s, however, brought a lot of renovations, and the interior was completely gutted and brought up to modern standards. Access to the second floor was also added, and the basement became home to a Railroad Model club. Belleville remained a busy stop on the VIA Rail mainline across Ontario, and the old station began to face critical issues. In 2010 plans for a new station were unveiled, and the old baggage shed was demolished in preparation. The new station designed by Girard Cote and Beube Dion saw a two-year construction effort by J.J. McGuire. A far larger station with ample waiting space, commercial booths, and heated platforms with the latest accessibility, the new station opened in 2012. The opening marked the closure of the original station, leaving only two of the original Grand Trunk Stations in operation. VIA Rail transferred ownership of the original station over to the city of Belleville. Today the station remains intact but closed, with the city seeking a way to preserve and reuse the historic station.