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Current Developments Surrounding Roundhouse - Part 1 of 4

Click on each image for a closer look!

Anyone who has visited the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre lately knows that the construction activity currently underway around Roundhouse Park is mind-boggling. A person returning to the area after an absence of ten years would be stunned at the changes that have taken place. Someone who hadn't been there for thirty years would have a hard time believing it was the same part of Toronto. Following our recent historical tour on the TRHA website of the West Donlands, we're going to dial the time machine forward and look at recent, present and future construction activity surrounding Roundhouse Park.

Many of these projects are aligned along Bremner Boulevard, a newly created thoroughfare that runs from the Air Canada Centre, eight blocks west to Spadina Avenue. Bremner is a rare case of a major downtown street that has basically been created from scratch. Although the several developments along Bremner may appear uncoordinated to the casual observer, a great deal of municipal planning has gone into insuring that the street maintains a human scale and pedestrians aren't walled in by the canyon-like wind tunnels such as one finds walking in the Financial District.

Bremner Blvd. didn't exist until the 1990's since it would have cut across the heart of Canadian Pacific's John Street facility, closed in 1988, as well as Canadian National's Spadina engine terminal, demolished in 1986. Bremner only became a thoroughfare after the southern extension of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre opened in 1997. Roundhouse Park was then created and Stalls 1-11 of the roundhouse were rebuilt after being dismantled for the Convention Centre construction. Most visitors are still surprised when they're informed that virtually the entire eastern two-thirds of the park, and a third of the Roundhouse, including the turntable, are built on top of the Convention Centre.

The creation of Bremner Boulevard also resulted in a significant potential loss to the railway museum. This was the 1931 Passenger Car Repair Shop, located just north of the Roundhouse, a 75 X 340 foot building with three tracks, big windows and overhead skylights that would have made a superb exhibition hall for the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre. However much we may now regret its loss, it's unlikely that the building could have been preserved, as it would have blocked the current route of Bremner Blvd. and stymied the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in development that has occurred along this thoroughfare.

Bremner Blvd. was originally to be called Esplanade West, an appropriate homage to the history of the area and a name with considerable railway heritage significance. However it was decided that this would confuse people since the existing Esplanade runs from Yonge Street east to Berkeley Street. The new street was then named after Ray Bremner, who was Commissioner of Public Works for the old City of Toronto from 1963 to 1990. Bremner Blvd. now links some of Toronto's most famous landmarks: the Rogers Centre, the CN Tower, the Convention Centre and the Air Canada Centre. Vehicular access to Bremner Blvd. was considerably enhanced in 2009 with the long-awaited completion of the Lower Simcoe St. underpass connecting Bremner Blvd. with Front Street underneath the Union Station Rail Corridor.

The eastern end of Bremner Blvd. seems like an exclusive preserve of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment media empire with Maple Leaf Square occupying the south side of the street. Hanging on the west wall of the MLS-owned Air Canada Centre is Toronto's largest flat-screen TV. Theoretically someone with terrific eyesight could watch Leafs and Raptors games from the sidewalk in front of Roundhouse Park, three blocks away. Many of the developments described here are condominiums. Some of the higher-end units have been purchased by professional athletes who can afford them and who can now walk to work at the ACC. Several of the more modestly priced units are barely larger than a medium-priced hotel room; some of them look right onto the Gardiner Expressway with cars whizzing by only feet from the condo windows. A real estate agent recently claimed that a spry person could probably hop from some of the condo balconies over the highway guardrail if he was so inclined. Apparently this isn't considered a significant drawback by the young urban professionals who are buying these units and value the centralized location. Mind you, there are probably several of us reading this who would cheerfully occupy a similar condo overlooking the rail corridor even if our non-railfan acquaintances considered us quite mad for doing so.

I've organized this development tour in a somewhat clockwise route beginning in front of Roundhouse Park on the north side of Bremner and then heading east to the ACC, north to Union Station, then south and west back to the Roundhouse. The projects are numbered and can be located on the modified Google map. Many of the links below the name of each project will bring you to the website, which is an excellent database of ongoing construction projects in the city. Additional links on their site will take you to the individual developers if you wish more information on their buildings.


IMAGE #1 - This rendering shows Ripley's Aquarium as it will appear from Roundhouse Park.

Most of our readers in the last year are aware of Ripley's Aquarium, located right across the street from the roundhouse on the north Side of Bremner Boulevard and scheduled to open in 2013. The 135,00-square-foot $130 million aquarium will be one of the largest in North America, with a capacity of 1.5-million gallons and housing more than 450 species. There have been few new tourist attractions in Toronto in recent years, so the aquarium is expected to draw nearly two million visitors a year. An aquarium is obviously a family-oriented venue and will attract the type of people who would enjoy the rail museum and the mini-rail operation.


IMAGE #2 - This rendering is looking north across Bremner Blvd. and shows, from left to right, Delta Toronto Hotel, Bremner Tower and PWC Tower.

The centre consists of three buildings on the north side of Bremner between Lower Simcoe and York streets. Moving from west to east, we first have the Delta Toronto Hotel. This is a 45-storey building with 566 rooms scheduled to open in Fall 2014. Next is the Bremner Tower, a 30-storey office building scheduled to open in 2013. The third building in the complex, and the first to be completed later in 2012, is the PricewaterhouseCooper Tower, a 26-storey office building. Sadly these buildings will remove any remaining view of the rail corridor and Union Station, and with it, a visual historical context for the roundhouse. Many of us who have been involved with the TRHC since the beginning can remember the spectacular vista of downtown Toronto that one could see from Roundhouse Park.


IMAGE #3 - This photograph shows the installation as seen from the corner of Bremner and York.

This bridge over York Street connects the the PWC Tower with Telus House and is an extension of the PATH system. The Lake Light Threshold is an art installation on the north side of the bridge that opened in February 2012. It will be interesting to see if this PATH extension will provide a practical indoor route between Union Station and Roundhouse Park. Pedestrians moving across the bridge experience an interesting play of light from the art installation created by New York artist James Carpenter, who is also involved with 7 World Trade Center and Moynihan Station, the new Manhattan Amtrak station.


IMAGE #4 - Looking northeast from the corner of Bremner & York.

Telus House is a 30-storey office tower at 25 York Street that opened in 2010. Walking through the lobby of this building has become the preferred route for many between Union Station and the roundhouse since the aquarium construction has made the Skywalk a much less convenient route.


IMAGE #5 - Looking north from Maple Leaf Square.

Immediately to the east of Telus House is Union Plaza, which will be the major south entrance to Union Station when the revitalization is finished. The plaza has been completed for some time now and is at the south end of the VIA concourse. Many pedestrians are unaware of it because it required dodging around the VIA Panorama Lounge, which has been relocated to the north side of the old waiting room in the former York Pioneer restaurant along Front Street. The city also hopes to divert much of the Union Station vehicular traffic away from Front Street to Bremner Blvd.

Click here to to read Part 2 of this 4 part series of postings

Article and postings by Derek Boles, TRHA Historian


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