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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Checking in on the Roundhouse renovation

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Built in 1929-31, the John Street Roundhouse is an architectural wonder.  Its 32 bay semi-circular structure centred around the now functional turntable accommodated Canadian Pacific Railway’s largest passenger steam locomotives and was capable of housing 450 coaches.

450 different kinds of couches would be a more accurate description now since 15 of the 32 bays will now be home to a new Leon’s Furniture store.  Of the remaining 16 bays, 1-14 will continue to be used by Steamwistle Brewery and 15-17 are currently being fixed up for the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre.

While there has been much critical commentary on transforming one of Toronto’s architectural gems into a furniture showroom, the larger forces that have facilitated this process become painfully obvious as one explores the showroom floor.  Although efforts have been made to keep the Leon’s showroom space as open and unobstructed as possible (the space totals around 60,000 square feet and has one of the best views of the downtown skyline in the city), 700 square-foot spaces have been partially walled off to demonstrate how well the furniture will fit into a space that mirrors the average size of a waterfront condo.  In many ways, Leon’s investment into the historic Roundhouse can be understood in parallel to the waterfront development practices of the last decade.

On a more positive note, the surrounding park and site of the Railway Heritage Centre looks to be a fantastic addition to the city.  Complete with a miniature railway that will give rides to visitors, over a mile of new track has been installed around Roundhouse Park. The 12,000 square foot Machine Shop south of the Leon’s space will eventually contain displays on Toronto railway history, a visitors’ centre, theatre and lecture hall as well as a school coat and lunch room for field trips and families.

A Railway Village is also going up in Roundhouse Park, with four historic 19th century structures that include the Don Station (which has been at Todmorden Mills since the 60s and is the only surviving remnant of the Grand Trunk Railway in Toronto), a watchman’s guard tower, Cabin D and the Cabin D annex.  Inside one of the three bays sits the remarkable retired steam locomotive No. 6213 which operated over a million miles between Saskatoon and Halifax.

Photos by Jake Schabas taken June 22, 2009



  1. July 8th. Also, those small black walls on the right side of the photo are the 700 foot squared spaces I mentioned.

  2. Too bad it had to be a furniture store (but as a brewery, cool!), but give Leon’s credit for saving a structure that the three levels of government wouldn’t pony-up for. If this were in Montreal, you could expect their governments might see their way to paying. Problem in Ontario is that outside of the 416 provincial and federal red and orange zones, people live in blue zones where they don’t see why the ‘free market’ shouldn’t rule all.

  3. We can thank the late Dan Leckie for the work he did to save the structure.

  4. Do people who live downtown buy Leon’s furniture anyhow? I associate Leon’s with oversized, 905-scale furniture that would not work well with small condos, apartments or row housing in the core.

    IKEA + Craigslist FTW.