Northern express – At this time of year, Toronto’s Union Station becomes a transit hub for the holidays

Few buildings have as much history as a gathering, and travel point, for Canadians heading in all directions over the festive season. With a sky-high ceiling, polished stone pillars and giant hall melding into a modern train and bus hub, the downtown transit Grande Dame takes on a vibrant new atmosphere this time of year. For GO Transit and UP Express customers, as well as other travellers, it’s a destination, as much as part of the holiday journey. Here’s what’s happening inside, and just outside, Union Station.

Shouldering up next to the constant flow of downtown cabs, delivery trucks and vehicles poised for drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as the looming presence of Canada’s best known train station, the porter stands in Toronto’s December cold.

Decked in his best antiquated train porter outfit, and required formal manner, he’s your first guide to the holidays at Toronto’s Union Station.

The grand transit hub has been a meeting and travel portal for generations of Canadians. And during this time of year, it takes on a new atmosphere as a holiday destination.

The porter, in character as ‘Bruce Caboose’, but whose real name is Daniel Bowen, is perhaps the first festive face you’ll now see at Union Station. He greets visitors as they approach Union Station, right on Front Street, between Bay Street and York Street.

Photo of Bruce Caboose, the porter of the Union Station holiday skating rink with the rink in the background

Bruce Caboose, the porter of the Union Station holiday skating rink. The rink is open every day except Christmas Eve from 11am until at least 7pm. (Scott Money photo)

A bit like the conductor from the legendary ‘Polar Express’ book and movie – splendid in his black button-up coat and train conductor hat – he guides visitors toward free Union Station skate rentals and a temporary rink built outside.

Ice skates on shelves, ready to be rented

Skates are free to rent. If you don’t know how, there are free skating lessons daily from 12pm to 4pm. (Scott Money photo)

“All of the city’s hustle and bustle pauses for a moment on our little frozen pond nestled in between Canada’s oldest train station and the legendary Royal York Hotel,” says Bowen.

People skating on the ice rink outside of Union Station with the Royal York standing in the background

Festive music fills the air at the Union Holiday skating rink. There’s even a DJ every Friday & Saturday from 5pm to 9pm. (Scott Money photo)

When Go and UP Express travellers head inside to warm up, they immediately feel the timelessness of Union Station’s Great Hall while tides of travellers hurry to and from work and home.

There’s the sound of a grand piano playing in the distance and perhaps even the crinkling of wrapping paper as the Union Holiday gift wrapping elves – a TD Bank sponsored free service – work their magic.

Some things have changed in the last century – new concourses, multiple places to get a coffee, and even, this year, a large Christmas tree made entirely out of recycled cardboard. The sculpture, dubbed the ‘Tomorrow Tree’ was made by an artist from Montreal as a way to lift people’s spirits without taking down an actual living tree.

A photo of a christmas tree with red and gold balls in the foreground with a large cardboard christmas tree in the background

The ‘Tomorrow Tree’ was crafted by Montreal artist Laurence Vallières. (Scott Money photo)

But some things have remained constant over the decades of holidays inside Union Station. It has always played host to travellers clutching bags of holiday gifts. These days, they can be headed across the Golden Horseshoe Region using GO, as well as far, as they board UP Express headed to Pearson International Airport as well as aboard VIA trains.

A woman gift wraps a gingerbread box.

A gift wrapper inside Union Station puts her skills to the test on a gingerbread man box. (Sara Wilbur photo)

More than 300,000 people pass through the station every day. Even those who make the journey most days of the week, season after season, likely feel a shift in atmosphere at this time of year.

Photo of the Forno Cultura stall in Union Station with cakes and cookies and treats on the counter

You can get everything from citrusy panettone cake to cedar tip jam at the Forno Cultura stall in Union Station. (Scott Money photo)

There’s a temporary market stall, built in the concourse just west of the Great Hall, selling festive panettone cakes fresh from Milan, and a whole line of jams made from local ingredients like wild blueberries and fragrant cedar tips.  Shoppers gather around, to sample exotic fare, while picking out potential gifts.

Photo of a stack of panettone, a traditional holiday cake from Italy

Panettone is a traditional holiday cake from Italy, but if that’s not your thing they also offer cakes and biscotti made right here in Toronto. (Scott Money photo)

Nearby, a self-playing piano does a rendition of Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’, as travellers stand next to it, taking selfies.

A customer taps their PRESTO card at the UP Express platform.

A customer taps their PRESTO card at the UP Express platform. (Sara Wilbur photo)

Members of the famed Canadian Opera Company are also scheduled to perform to a lunch hour crowd on December 13.

A wide shot of the west wing inside Union Station where christmas trees and long communal tables are setup

Union Holiday festivities run for the entire month of December right inside Toronto’s Union Station. (Scott Money photo)

Nearly a century after opening its doors, people are still boarding trains on the same platforms as Union Station remains Toronto’s heart and soul of travel this side of the North Pole.

A young girl checks out decorations inside Union Station.

A young girl checks out decorations inside Union Station. (Sara Wilbur photo)

Waiting in the cold outside, there’s now a porter on sentry duty, offering travellers an introduction to Union Station’s festive warmth.

Customers walk past a Christmas tree.

Customers walk past a Christmas tree. (Sara Wilbur photo)

 

While we have you here… Did you see our latest story on the progress at Union Station’s Bay Concourse? If not, it’s worth a visit. See the story here.

Story by Scott Money, Metrolinx media relations advisor.