Today, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) station – the present Marché de la Gare – stands out among the surrounding modern buildings as a gem of Sherbrooke’s past and its historic architecture has been well-preserved. However, this was actually the second CPR station to be built in Sherbrooke. When I first came across images of an unfamiliar railway station from Sherbrooke, I was surprised and curious; where could this unexpected station have been located?
As some long-time residents of Sherbrooke might remember, the first station was situated at the corner of Belvedere North and Frontenac Streets, where the tracks came to dead end. Given the cityscape around that intersection today, it’s hard to imagine what it might have looked like over a century ago with a station but, fortunately, we have images from the archives to help!
Shortly after CPR acquired the Waterloo & Magog Railway in June 1888, which already had a line from Magog to Sherbrooke, the CPR commenced clearing buildings from the east side of Belvedere and laying tracks to where the new station, along with freight sheds, would be located. Starting from the track already in place along the Magog River and the mill pond (today Lac-des-Nations), a number of rail spurs curved along the pond and crossed King Street, with one leading to the Paton Mills, while others continued across Belvedere and Marquette Streets to arrive at the station and long platform that ran nearly the whole length between Marquette and Frontenac Streets. The handsome new station was completed in 1890 but in less twenty years, CPR would be back at the figurative drawing board, planning for the construction of a new station at its railway yards near Lac-des-Nations, which is arguably where it should have been located from the outset. By 1907, rumours were already circulating that the CPR would be making large investments in Sherbrooke to build a new station and workshops.
Construction of the second station began in 1909 and was completed in 1910, effectively putting an end to the Belvedere North station’s time as the Sherbrooke image of the CPR. The spur, station building, and freight sheds would, however, remain part of the Sherbrooke cityscape for decades to come. In 1953, a frustrated Sherbrooke resident reported in a letter to the editor that the initial agreement between the City of Sherbrooke and CPR was that they vacate the site along Belvedere North by 1924. This did not happen, however, and the CPR continued to use the tracks and storages sheds to unload and store freight to be transferred to trucks for transportation. With the increased traffic congestion as Sherbrooke grew, having trains cross two main thoroughfares during rush hour, engineers ignoring traffic lights, and sometimes holding up emergency vehicles was becoming more and more untenable for the residents of the city.
By the late 1950s, there was a concrete intent to relocate the freight sheds and tracks from the section along Belvedere Street between King and Frontenac Streets but it would still be years before the plans were fully realized. The first CPR station building was finally torn down in 1963, but the last remaining sections of track crossing King weren’t resurfaced until 1979.