The Great Hall in Union Station in 1949. From Canada Science and Technology Museum
It's welcome news that the Harper Tories are now making all the right noises about much-needed funding for the long awaited. and highly anticipated, Union Station redo.
It was in similarly harsh economic times, at the turn of the 20th century right after the Great Fire, that the old city moved mountains, almost literally - and certainly economically - to get the station built. A city reeling, psychologically and economically, looked forward and marshaled its forces against the naysayers who said it couldn't be done. The best architects of the day were recruited. The feat was nothing short of Herculian.
Soon, Union became the hub, the economic engine through which the city grew, making the city a destination and thought of in the same breath as other modern North American centres, like New York and Chicago.
Hopefully, now that the feds are on board, Union can be transformed once again. But I'm left wondering about the true motivation behind the Tories' sudden interest in the project.
Harper's gang hasn't cared to do Toronto any favours since they've been in office. In fact, his ministers have shown nothing but contempt for the city and the mayor's efforts to go it alone with what little cash there is in the till to spare for renewal projects. The Tories' attack mutt masquerading as finance minister, one Jim Flaherty, has gone as far as counseling business not to invest in Toronto. So, what gives?
No doubt plans to revamp the station, which are extensive and include additional platforms and adding a connection to the PATH underground, as well as heritage upgrades, will create jobs. But a large chunk of private money will still be needed. Is the Tories' sudden turn around about lining the pockets of its monied friends?
The last time we went down this track, while a conservative was sitting in the mayor's chair, the cabal of Tory bagmen running the city from the backrooms made a scandalous mess of the situation. Ballots on voting for two competing bids for the project were mysteriously destroyed. Somehow the city got twisted into signing over the property, the most expensive in the country, for 100 years over to private developers. The provincial intergrity commissioner was called in.
The city's computer leasing scandal got all the headlines back then. But the misdealings around Union was the real scandal that, were in not for a chance question from one councillor - the 100-year lease deal was eventually undone - would have cost the city for generations to come.
It will be interesting to see which companies start lining up behind the stations' proposed redo. And how hard the mayor, eager to see shovels in the ground, will push to make sure the city doesn't get railroaded into a raw deal for the sake of a few hundred jobs.