John Street Roundhouse (Canadian Pacific) National Historic Site of Canada

Toronto, Ontario
Aerial view of the John Street Roundhouse (Canadian-Pacific), 1999. © Parks Canada/Parcs Canada, 1999.
Aerial view
© Parks Canada/Parcs Canada, 1999.
General view of the John Street Roundhouse (Canadian-Pacific), 1994. © Parks Canada/Parcs Canada, 1994.General view of the John Street Roundhouse (Canadian-Pacific), 1994. © Parks Canada/Parcs Canada, 1994.Aerial view of the John Street Roundhouse (Canadian-Pacific), 1999. © Parks Canada/Parcs Canada, 1999.
Address : 255 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1990-02-23
  • 1929 to 1931 (Construction)
  • 1929 to 1982 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Canadian Pacific Railway  (Organization)
  • J.M.R. Fairbain  (Architect)
  • Anglin-Norcross Ltd.  (Builder)
Other Name(s):
  • John Street Roundhouse (Canadian Pacific)  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1990-004, 1999-042


Existing plaque:  255 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario

This roundhouse complex was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1929 to service the steam locomotives of its passenger trains using nearby Union Station. The 32-stall roundhouse featured the most modern technology. Its direct steaming facility was the first of its kind in Canada, allowing a faster and more economical operation, and a smokeless environment. Abundant natural light is provided by its monitor roof and large windows. The switch from steam power to diesel, completed by the CPR by 1960, spelled the end for Canadian roundhouses. The John Street complex was closed in 1982.

Description of Historic Place

John Street Roundhouse (Canadian Pacific) National Historic Site of Canada is a low semi-circular brick structure built to accommodate railway engines on a massive turntable. Located a short distance from Toronto’s waterfront on former railway lands near the CN Tower, it is being rehabilitated for alternate uses which will ensure public access. Official recognition refers to the roundhouse, its machine shop annex, its turntable pit, a coaling and sanding tower, and a water tower.

Heritage Value

John Street Roundhouse (Canadian-Pacific) was designed a national historic site of Canada in 1990 because: it is the best surviving example of a roundhouse in Canada.

The heritage value of the John Street Roundhouse lies in its location on Toronto’s formerly vast rail yards and in the design and surviving physical fabric which illustrate its former role in the rail industry. The John Street Roundhouse was designed by Chief Engineer J.M.R. Fairbairn of Canadian Pacific Railway’s Engineering Department and built in 1929-1931 by Anglin-Norcross Ltd. of Montreal. Constructed as a 32-stall roundhouse to accommodate the inspection, servicing, cleaning and repair of steam passenger locomotives, its use declined with the introduction of diesel service. It continued to operate in a reduced capacity for Canadian Pacific and later, for VIA Rail Canada Inc., who utilized the roundhouse until 1986. Now owned by the City of Toronto, the turntable was removed, the coaling and sanding tower relocated, and bays 1-11 of the roundhouse disassembled and rebuilt in 1994 - 1997 to allow rehabilitation of the site for alternate uses.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, February 1990, November 1999; Commemorative Integrity Statement, January 2005.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of the site include: the location on the former Toronto rail yards; the semi-circular footprint of the roundhouse with its layered profile created by a higher flat-roofed semi-circular structure surrounded by a lower flat roofed semi-circular annex; the industrial character of its construction materials, notably exposed concrete and brick, factory-type metal multi-pane windows, and features such decks, bay doors, firewalls, and clerestory; its post and beam construction technology; evidence of its original interior layout with large, open volumes accommodating stalls and roundtable; the presence of features designed to fulfill its function, including the rear knock-out walls, tracks, drop pits, the machine shop, and the direct steam system; surviving hardware and utility systems including door mechanisms, pipes, duct work, direct steaming lines, the air compressor and other machinery on site; surviving tools, and moveable machinery, such as the shop crane, drop table jacks, car washer, capstan car mover, testing equipment, and yard and lighting fixtures; evidence of evolution of the site from steam to diesel repair, namely the three concrete block walls changing the definition of interior volumes; the functional and spatial links between the roundhouse and its machine shop annex and the reconstructed turntable pit; the spatial and functional relationship between the roundhouse and its machine shop annex, its turntable and the water tower; the coal and sanding tower, and the water tower in their found form, massing, and materials.