Roundhouse Park

Sunday March 20, 2016

In the 1850’s the era of steam locomotives arrived in Toronto.  At that time the name “Front Street” applied to the street that ran along the water front.  Wanting access to the harbour, the railways decided to create land by in-filling, a process that continued for another 70 years until the corner of Front and John Streets was half a mile from the water. Running for two miles from Stachan Street to Yonge Street this new land became known as the railway lands.  The picture below shows the railway lands with Spadina Street Bridge crossing near the middle.  The Canadian National (CN) Spadina roundhouse can be seen just above it with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CRP) John Street roundhouse near the top of the picture.

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The first railway to enter Toronto was the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron in 1853.  They built a station near the current Union Station.  Soon the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) and the Great Western arrived in town.  The first Union Station was built by the GTR in 1873 and served the growing needs of the railway lands.  In 1888 the CPR brought a new level of competition and they soon outgrew the Union Station.  By 1900 plans were in place for a new Union Station with construction beginning in 1915 but it didn’t open until 1927.  In 1923 the GTR went bankrupt and was merged into the CN.

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When the CPR was completed it passed through Leaside and over the Vale of Avoca and the Belt Line Railway ravine and bypassed downtown Toronto.  The CPR was finally granted permission to access downtown via the Don Valley and they constructed the Half-Mile Bridge. They built a station named Don Station at the corner of Queen Street in 1896.  The station remained in use until 1967 when it was closed.  From 1969 until 2008 it was housed at Todmorden Mills.  In 2008 it was moved to Roundhouse Park where it was restored and opened as a visitor’s centre.  The restored Don Station is seen in the cover photo.

Servicing and repairing trains became a major function of the rail yards and the best way to store locomotive engines was in a circular building or roundhouse.  The John Street Roundhouse was built in 1929 and had 32 bays.  Each of these was accessed by a set of tracks that linked up with the turntable.

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Locomotives were usually operated in one direction and the turntable was used to turn them around.  This is a twin span turntable and in this photo it is shown with the Reinhard Vinegar wood tank car on it.

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The picture below from 1973 shows the CPR John Street roundhouse on the upper left. Notice that the coal towers are located east of the roundhouse, almost out of the photograph.  The coal tower has since been relocated to the west end of the roundhouse. The footings for the CN tower are just rising above grade level in the middle of the shot. On the right the CN Spadina roundhouse, built in 1928, can be seen.

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As the area around Union Station became busier the control of the signal lights and track switches became more complicated.  The GTR built five control towers lettered A to E with cabin D located just west of Bathurst Street where several tracks converged.  Switch tenders manually set the track switches according to directions broadcast from the cabin. When the other cabins were replaced with modern structures in 1931 Cabin D was left in operation.  It used this manual system until 1983 when the cabin was moved to Roundhouse Park.  Beside Cabin D is it’s tool shed as seen below.

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The coaling tower at the roundhouse has been relocated and is currently sheltering some of the museum’s pieces.  Coaling towers were used to elevate coal above the train so that it could be gravity fed via a chute into the steam engine tender.  The picture below shows the black Canadian National Vanderbilt cylindrical tender that was coupled with the museum’s CNR 6213 steam locomotive.  It would have been loaded with coal at a tower such as this.

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The Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo (TH&B) was originally chartered in 1884 and began operations is 1892.  In 1895 the CPR and the New York  Central Railroad bought the TH&B and jointly operated it.  They never built the railway into either Toronto or Buffalo and so the name is a bit misleading.  The steel sheathed, wood sided caboose below was built in 1921.  A caboose was intended to provide a home-away-from-home for the rail crew.  The cupola on the roof was designed to allow the crew to observe the performance of the train in front of them and apply emergency brakes of required.  In the mid 1950’s it was painted yellow and black after the colours of the Hamilton Tiger Cats.  It has now been fully restored and added to the Toronto Railway Museum, a city in which it never served.

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One of the more unusual pieces of rolling stock that the museum has is RVLX 101 which is a rare wooden tank car.  It was originally built in 1938 and acquired by Reinhart Vinegars in Stayner in 1964.  They used it for the next 12 years to ship vinegar to Dallas, Texas.  It has been in museums since 1976.

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The wooden box car was the most common piece of stock used by the railways.  The CPR owned over 33,000 of them and this example was built in 1917.

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One of the newest operations in the roundhouse is Steam Whistle Breweries.  They occupy the first 14 bays in the roundhouse and opened for business in 2000.  The three founders were former employees of Upper Canada Brewing and have the code 3FG embossed on the bottom of their bottles as a reference to the fact that they were 3 Fired Guys.  The photo below shows the rear of the roundhouse and a number of Steam Whistle vehicles.  The former roundhouse water tower is in the background, painted in the Steam Whistle colours.  The truck in the foreground is a 1957 Chevrolet 3100 Apache.

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The CN Spadina roundhouse was demolished in 1986 to make room for Skydome (now Rogers Centre).  When the stadium was built they created a monument to the Chinese workers who helped build the CPR and unite the country.  Between 1880 and 1885 there were 17,000 men who came to work on the railway through the rocky mountains in Alberta and British Columbia.  Over 4,000 of the Chinese workers lost their lives and many others had no way to get back to China when the work was finished.  This memorial is in appreciation of all those people whose names have been lost to history.

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One of the newest tenants of Union Station is the Union Pearson Express.

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The John Street roundhouse was renovated in the 1990’s and opened as Roundhouse Park in 1997.

Google Maps link: Roundhouse Park

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2 thoughts on “Roundhouse Park

  1. Pingback: Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster | Hiking the GTA

  2. Pingback: Todmorden Mills | Hiking the GTA

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