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Old CPR Roundhouse the centrepiece of Toronto’s railway-themed park and museum

February 2020

In the early part of the 20th century, the railway ruled the Toronto waterfront. Locally known as the “Railway Lands,” was once the home to a large railway switching yard, featuring two large roundhouses, the Canadian National Railways (CNR) Spadina Roundhouse, built in 1928, and the Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) John Street Roundhouse, built in 1929, both located south of the rail-line.

The John Street Roundhouse, built by Canadian Bridge Company, featured 32 bays for repairing locomotives, with a 120 foot turntable, the largest used by Canadian Pacific Railway, for transiting the locomotives in and out of the bays.

The CNR Spadina Street Roundhouse, built by Anglin-Norcross of Montreal, was of similar size.

Today, the Union Station Rail Corridor is the only railway activity left on this once vast tract of land. What was once the centre of the railway activity in Toronto has been redeveloped into a mixed-use, family-centred commercial district. This re-development had started in 1972, when some of the tracks just north of the CPR roundhouse were removed for the construction of the CN Tower, which began in February 1973.

The CNR roundhouse was demolished in 1986 for the construction of the Skydome, now called the Rogers Centre.

The CPR roundhouse continued operating for another two years until finally closing down on 13 May 1988. The CPR roundhouse and some of the support structures like a warehouse/office building, a water tower and a coaling tower, were left standing, but the tracks were pulled up and the property was eventually sold to the Canada Lands Corporation.

After sitting vacant for several years, the threat of demolition of the roundhouse loomed as the nearby Metro Toronto Convention Centre, located on the north side of the rail-line, made plans to build an underground parking garage to the south of the tracks, right where the CP roundhouse stood.

A compromise was eventually reached, which saw one-third of the roundhouse on the east side carefully dismantled in 1997 to allow construction of the parking garage, then re-assembled and restored along with the rest of the roundhouse and the water and coaling tower mentioned above.

The warehouse/office building was demolished and not rebuilt.

Steam Whistle Brewing, an independent brewery founded in Toronto in 2000, took over the re-constructed section of the roundhouse.

The Toronto Railway Museum was established at Roundhouse Park in 2010. The Museum occupies three stalls in the middle third of the roundhouse and features an indoor display, an indoor restoration facility, a full size diesel cab simulator, numerous railway engines and rolling stock, the restored and functioning roundtable, and an outdoor miniature railway.

The miniature railway ride has 4 cars carrying 4 passengers each, a caboose and is either towed by a replica steam locomotive/tender or replica CLC diesel-electric Whitcomb center-cab switcher.

A fully restored railway village fills out the property, including a restored Don Station, originally located at originally located at the Don River and Queen Street; Signal Cabin D and a tool shed, donated from the City of Toronto’s collection of buildings; a Watchman’s shanty, along with the water tower and coaling tower that were originally on the property, although the coaling tower was moved to a new location on the west side of the roundhouse.

The west third of the roundhouse is now occupied by Cineplex’s Rec Room entertainment complex, but formerly housed a Leon’s furniture store.

Now called Roundhouse Park, the 17-acre park celebrates the railway history of Toronto for future generations to enjoy. The roundhouse was designated a National Historic Site in 1990.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_Toronto_Convention_Centre, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundhouse_Park, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CNR_Spadina_Roundhouse, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_Whistle_Brewing, https://www.trha.ca/johnstreet.html, http://torontorailwaymuseum.com/trm2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CN_Tower

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/old-cpr-roundhouse-the-centrepiece-of-torontos-railway-themed-park-and-museum/

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