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London Roundhouse – A piece of London’s railway heritage finds a new purpose

August 2021

Back when steam-powered locomotives dominated the Canadian landscape, railway roundhouses were needed for repair and storage of the locomotives. Most were demolished in the years after the railways converted to diesel -powered locomotives, but a handful remain standing; restored and repurposed as museums or for commercial use.

The London Roundhouse, in London, Ontario, is one that is now used for commercial purposes, now as a digital media centre.

The small, four-bay, roundhouse was built in 1887 for the Michigan Central Railway, but it would have a short life as a railway repair shop. The Michigan Central Railway relocated their servicing operations to St Thomas, around 20 miles to the south of London, in 1898, leaving the roundhouse vacant until 1922, when it saw a variety of uses, from a staging post, to a warehouse, to a restaurant.

Sansone Fruit Company occupied the former roundhouse for 45 years, and then the Great West Steak House restaurant for over thirty years. The roundhouse was bought by Creative Properties in 2006, who proceeded to restore the aging structure, returning it as close as possible to the original layout. This process included demolishing interior walls added after the railway left, and returning floor to its original height, at grade.

When the Sansone Fruit Company renovated the building for their use, the floor was raised up 5 feet, as by this time, most goods were being transported by truck, thus, raising the floor allowed goods to be loaded directly into the backs of trucks.

The restored roundhouse retains the original interior brick walls on all sides and the original ceiling with exposed wooden beams. The large glass and wood train doors, which are still functional, can be opened and closed as the weather permits.

Steel strapping has been embedded in the floor to represent the railway tracks that once brought the locomotives into the roundhouse, and a locomotive vent stack is present in the boardroom.

A new, curved structure, was added to the north side of the old building, creating the semi-circular shape of a full-size roundhouse. A circular driveway is positioned in front, mimicking where a roundtable would have sat.

The London Roundhouse web site notes that, “London Roundhouse┬áis a perfect showcase of classic and modernized architecture mixed, featuring Iron Copper sintered ceramic exterior paneling.”

Sources: The London Roundhouse Project, London Roundhouse | Facebook, snapd London – Community Events Media, Pearson: Architectural love story unfolds | London Free Press (lfpress.com), Roundhouse, Chisholm Building recognized by heritage group | CTV News, Historic London Roundhouse is set for a grand opening as the home of tech firm Ellipsis Digital | London Free Press (lfpress.com), The London Roundhouse (1887) – National Trust for Canada (nationaltrustcanada.ca), .

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/london-roundhouse-a-piece-of-londons-railway-heritage-finds-a-new-purpose/

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