'It was clearly a hub of communications'
Throughout much of the 20th century, the CP telegraph building was a busy place.
Telegraph operators sent and received messages, and there was even a telegraph school where students learned the trade.
“It was clearly a hub of communications,” said Laurentian University School of Architecture founding director Terrance Galvin.
Although CP sent its last telegraph from the building March 31, 1980, it's still possible to imagine what it was like there in 1914, when the building was brand-new.
While the inside of the building bears signs of long disuse, there's separate lounge areas for men and ladies, marble-panelled bathrooms and frosted-glass doors on large-windowed offices.
Most of the building, however, hasn't been used for a long time. The City of Greater Sudbury bought it in 1999 when it acquired the CP freight shed which, until recently, was the city's farmer's market.
But both buildings will soon be home to Laurentian University's new architecture school. The transfer of the title for the city property took effect Nov. 6.
Northern Life toured the CP telegraph building Nov. 29.
Renovations are due to begin on both the telegraph and freight shed buildings in the near future, and be completed next September, when the architecture school is due to open.
The telegraph building will house architecture school faculty, while the freight shed will become a classroom space.
There will also be an entirely new building for the architecture school constructed next to the railway tracks by September 2015. All of the renovations and construction will cost roughly $20 million.
Fans of the Mexican restaurant located on the telegraph building's bottom floor shouldn't fear — the university will continue to lease space to the owners of the business.
In terms of the plans for the older buildings, the renovations will be an example of “adaptive reuse.” This means some aspects of the buildings will be changed or updated, but their character will be preserved.
Mark Simeoni, the city's manager of community and strategic planning, explains that neither building has been designated as historically significant, although the telegraph building was reviewed by the city's heritage panel.
“The (telegraph) building's been changed over the years,” he said.
“We've had three separate additions to it. There's many, many changes to it that perhaps over the years didn't respect some of the architectural features.
“They didn't feel it warranted a full designation, but they did think it was worthy of advising council that they felt certain parts of the building were important.”
While changes are technically allowed, Simeoni said he's glad Laurentian is preserving the buildings' character.
“It's a good example of how you can take an old heritage resource, put some new life into it, and also give it a new purpose that serves the city and community as well.”
Galvin said the telegraph building was considered to be very luxurious when it was built.
“It was really kind of the CP flagship for anchoring the corner and being able to show itself off.”
Purchasing even half of the marble used in the bathrooms as partitions and on the walls would be “exorbitantly expensive,” he said.
Because new bathrooms are due to be built during the renovations, the marble will be taken off the walls and turned into countertops and other faculty office features.
The outside of the building will be refreshed, but will essentially remain the same, Galvin said. Although new, modern, windows will be put in, they'll be the same size so the character of the building won't change too much.
The transoms above each office door, which would have improved air flow in the old days, will also stay, he said.
In planning for renovations, architects uncovered the building's original staircase, which was partly covered over when an addition to the building was constructed in the early 1930s.
“When they made the extension to the building, they made a new stair, which isn't half as nice in terms of craft,” Galvin said.
“It's steel. The other one has beautiful carved-wood railings. So when that stair came in, they covered the old stair to make an office.
“That's an example where we wouldn't keep that an office. We're opening that old stair back up, and at the end of the design, it's become the principal stair, with the entrance off Elgin coming off of that.”
In looking through the building's basement, its original door, bearing the CP logo, was located, Galvin said. The door will be installed at the entrance to the faculty offices.
Once the new architecture school building is constructed, there will also be a sky walk connecting it to the telegraph building, he said.
Galvin said he thinks the public will be happy with the university's attempts to “bring the building back to life.”
“You'll have to come and see next September when we open the doors if people can feel the old character of the building resonating in the new.”