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Postcards - A Window into the Past

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TRHA Historian Derek Boles spends much time on eBay monitoring items for auction related to Toronto railway history. It's not often that items come up related to the John St. Roundhouse but this postcard appeared a couple of weeks ago and Derek was able to purchase it for the archives.

The postcard is based on a photograph that was apparently taken from the top of the Toronto Terminal grain elevator that was located at the foot of Peter Street from 1928 to 1983. The photograph itself became a postcard that many have seen, but this is the first time that Derek has found one in colour. There's a date penciled in at the back of 1945, perhaps by the person who bought it, but that's meaningless because postcards were sometimes sold for decades after they were published.

One clue for researchers is the Toronto skyline. One can just make out the Canadian Bank of Commerce building peeking out from behind (and peaking up above) the Royal York Hotel, which it supplanted as the tallest building in the city. What is now Commerce Court North opened in January 1931. A further clue is provided by the number of stalls in the Roundhouse. When John St. opened in October 1929, it had 28 stalls. By June 1931, that had been increased to 32 stalls, the present configuration of the Roundhouse. The postcard shows the earlier configuration. Also, the Passenger Car Repair Shop (now the north side of Bremner Blvd.) immediately north of the Roundhouse, appears to be still under construction since scaffolding can be made out on the side of the building. Therefore, one can conclude that the photograph upon which the postcard is based was probably taken in late 1930 or early 1931.

One mystery remains and that's the longitudinal structure with the red roof at the bottom of this view just to the east of John St. The building is on the north side of the Canadian National High Line, used by the railway so their freight trains could bypass Union Station and avoid paying a wheelage fee to the Toronto Terminals railway. Perhaps it's a CN structure and not related to the Roundhouse.

by Derek Boles, TRHA

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