For our Digital History class, we had to choose a building or landscape that had seen change over time. I chose to look at the train station in London, Ontario. It’s been a part of London since the 1850’s and has changed along with the railway companies that have used it.
Here is what I was up to:
Railway transit has been an integral part of Canada’s industry and growth. With such a large amount of space to transport people and goods across, the railways were essential to speed up this process. London is no different in this respect. London was a major rail centre in Southern Ontario and the expansion of the railway transport in the 1870’s corresponded with the industrial boom in London. The train station on York Street has had a dynamic past. It was the place where people first entered the city, and also was a central location for the railways that ran through London towards Toronto and Windsor. It provided a way for London to interact with the rest of Canada in a timely manner. The railway system helped to link Canada together, and the train station in London connected the city to that broad network.
The changes that the train station has undergone demonstrate not only architectural change, but also follow the dynamic history of London and how new technologies have had an impact on transportation. Unlike some of the historic buildings in London, the train station has been torn down twice and rebuilt to better suit the needs of its users and the businesses that depend on it. The station’s history reflects some of the larger changes that have happened in London and also shows how the public interacts with the railway system and how that relationship has not been static. For this project, I studied the time period from the 1850’s to the present in order to explain the reasons that led to the major changes in the station’s appearance. This was a longer timeframe than I had originally anticipated covering, but it allowed me to create a better narrative and go through the changes in the companies that used the station, such as the Grand Trunk Railway and Great Western Railway.
To show the evolution of the train station over time, I used the program Timeline JS to create a timeline featuring the significant dates in its history with respect to the building but also the companies that used it. The timeline layout is ideal for demonstrating how not only the station itself but also the space around it has changed over time. Timeline JS is relatively simplistic, but it allows viewers to focus on the story that is being told. It also displays the chronology well by having slides that you can move through and a running timeline along the bottom to help you orient yourself in time. I did have some issues with Timeline JS, however. To input information into the timeline, I essentially filled out a Google Drive spreadsheet. This worked well, but the program does not let users create separate paragraphs within an entry. This takes away from the overall display of the timeline because it bunches citations together with the text and makes it harder to read. If I were doing the project again, I would probably have used another program that gives you more flexibility for how to display the text.
To make the timeline more visually appealing, I used an assortment of digital tools and sources. By using a range of media, it brings photos, videos, and text together instead of someone having to search through a number of sources to find them if they were interested in the topic. I used aerial images from the Map & Data Centre at Western University overlaid on Google Earth to show how the block around the train station has changed. I also made use of the Fire Insurance Plans the Map & Data Centre has to show the different parts of the station as well as the yards and hotels around it more clearly. To put the photos I had altered onto Timeline JS, I uploaded them to Flickr and then imported the photo URLs to the Timeline JS spreadsheet. This was because Timeline JS requires all media used to be web-based for it to be displayed on a timeline. I also took a few of my own photos to represent the current look of the station. Additionally, I incorporated newspaper articles and a YouTube video that depicted the more recent changes to the station. Using a variety of digital formats helped to make the timeline more engaging for potential viewers.
For background research into the station and the companies that used it, I consulted a number of books and webpages. The sources are included in the timeline. By investigating the history of the Grand Trunk and Great Western Railways, I discovered how they competed against each other and then eventually amalgamated when faced with the challenge of maintaining low prices for their customers as well as trying to stay ahead of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. I found H.A. Lovett’s report from 1924 on the folding of Grand Trunk very insightful because it showed the different pressures that railway lines faced and how they had overextended themselves, which eventually led the company to collapse. It was also interesting to learn how much the government supported all of the railways while also allowing them the freedom to make decisions with respect to merging as long as it did not drive shipping prices up too much.
From my research into the topic, it seems that this project may be one of the first to compile information on the train station over the course of its long history. Many of the webpages mentioned its origins and present condition, but few detailed its transition over time as the railways it serves competed with each other and changes as they amalgamated with other companies or were bought out. The timeline links the historical changes to visual images instead of only discussing what happened. It enables viewers to see progress over time and hopefully the reasoning behind the changes that were made.
Whether viewers are railroad enthusiasts or local history buffs, the story of the York Street train station is quite interesting and truly reflects how dynamic the railway in London has been over time.
To see the final product, please click here. Thanks for taking the time to check it out!