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Transit sites open doors during Doors Open Toronto,
May 28, 29


Photo: James Bow

Several transit-related sites are open to the public Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 during Doors Open Toronto, the one weekend, once a year, when 150 buildings of architectural, historic, cultural and social significance open their doors to the public for a city-wide celebration.

The City of Toronto program allows visitors free access to look inside properties that are usually not open to the public.

The TTC is participating in the event at two sites, but other venues that have played significant roles in Toronto’s public transit and transportation history are also opening their doors.

Although not an official Doors Open event, the TTC is also opening doors on its new Toronto Rocket subway trains on Sunday.

Toronto Transit Commission

The TTC is opening McCowan and Roncesvalles Carhouses on Saturday, May 28 only.

McCowan Carhouse, 1720 Ellesmere Road

Open: Saturday, May 28: from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. only. Last admittance: 4:30 p.m.

Staff in the TTC’s Engineering and Construction Department designed the prefabricated metal carhouse to house the maintenance facility for the world’s first intermediate capacity transit system, the Scarborough RT. Forty employees perform corrective, preventive and running maintenance on a fleet of 28 vehicles.

You’ll get a brief overview of the operations taking place at McCowan. During the tour, you’ll see a linear induction motor and staff will explain how the RT propels itself along the reaction rail. Technical staff will review how the SRT operates using automatic train controls. Various displays include a lathe wheel-turning machine, an SRT car, wheels, axles, and truck mobile along with a work car and snow-removal vehicles.

From the Transit Toronto archives, read:

  • “McCowan RT Yard” by James Bow and Godfrey Mallion, here.
  • “The Scarborough Rapid Transit Line” by James Bow, here.

Getting there by transit

  • Ride the 3 Scarborough RT to Scarborough Centre Station.
  • Transfer to eastbound buses operating along the 133 Neilson or 38 Highland Creek routes.
  • Exit at McCowan and Ellesmere Roads.
  • Walk one block east on Ellesmere Rd, north side to the McCowan Carhouse.

The TTC is conducting another tour of the carhouse — but you’ll have to pay for that one — on Saturday, June 11.

Roncesvalles Carhouse, 20 The Queensway.

Open: Saturday, May 28: from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. only. Last admittance: 4:30 p.m.

On January 22, 1895, the Toronto Railway Company opened the Roncesvalles Carhouse. Today, it remains the oldest of the two carhouses on Toronto’s streetcar system. The original building housed 14 trailer tracks and could handle 75 Peter Witt vehicles. When the City created the Toronto Transportation Commission in 1921, it demolished the old car barn. Today, the Roncesvalles Carhouse has 25 full length tracks and stores 149 streetcars and looks much the same as it did in 1921.

Roncesvalles serves as a work location for 105 full-time employees. It holds 130 streetcars, while providing service 24 hours a day all year round. Today, Roncesvalles serves eight streetcar routes. Staff at Roncesvalles Carhouse are responsible for inspecting, cleaning and repair the cars. Visitors will have a behind-the-scenes tour and see various equipment that the TTC uses for regular maintenance and minor repairs.

From the Transit Toronto archives, read:

  • “Roncesvalles Carhouse”, by James Bow, here.

Getting there by public transit

  • 504 King shuttle buses from Dundas West Station to The Queensway.
  • 504 King streetcars from Broadview, King and St. Patrick Stations to Queen Street West.
  • 501 Queen streetcars from Queen and Osgoode Stations to Roncesvalles Avenue.

Other transportation- or transit-related sites

John Street Roundhouse — Toronto Railway Historical Association, 255 Bremner Boulevard

Open: Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29: From 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Last admittance: 4:30 p.m.

An architectural wonder, the Canadian Pacific Railway’s former John Street Roundhouse is the home of the Toronto Railway Historical Association (TRHA), which is bringing Toronto’s railway heritage back to life.

Built in 1929, railway workers at the roundhouse maintained more than 50 locomotives a day from Union Station. At its centre, a rotating turntable moved trains into bays for repair. CP was one of the first railroads to use a new clean air and energy conservation system, “the direct steaming system” at the roundhouse, which improved train maintenance, fuel consumption and working conditions. Over the decades, passenger rail service declined and the facility closed in 1988.

On both Saturday and Sunday, you can view several restored historic structures, including:

  • the Don Station that once stood beside the Don River Bridge on Queen Street East — the only surviving remnant of the Grand Trunk Railway in Toronto;
  • an operational miniature steam railway with rides for visitors;
  • the roundhouse’s original 36.5-metre (120-foot) long locomotive turntable, fully restored and operational;
  • 10 historic engines, freight and passenger cars; and
  • an indoor model railway show, featuring layouts from across Ontario.

Getting there by public transit

  • 1 Yonge - University - Spadina subway, GO Transit trains and buses to Union Station
  • Walk south on Bay or York Street and then west along Bremner Boulevard


  • 509 Harbourfront or 510 Spadina streetcars to Lower Simcoe Street.
  • Walk north to Bremner Boulevard.

Union Station, Bay and Front Streets

Open: Saturday, May 29 and Sunday, May 30: From 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Last admittance: 4 p.m.

Construction of the Beaux-Arts station — perhaps the most magnificent railway station in Canada — started during World War I, but the first trains did not serve passengers from the station until 1927.

Although both this Union Station and an earlier station further west along Front Street have served as downtown Toronto’s main railway passenger entrance into the City, both stations also have a long association with public transit. Horse cars on the Toronto Street Railway’s Yonge line from Yorkville operated to the first Union Station as early as 1884. Both stations remained as the terminus for streetcars on the Yonge and other lines until 1954. In that year, the TTC opened Toronto’s first subway line between Eglinton and Union Stations, and, since 1967, the station has also served as the hub of GO Transit. Almost 100,000 transit passengers still pass through the station Mondays to Fridays.

A number of architects collaborated on designing the new Union Station: the Montreal Firm of G.A. Ross and R.H. Macdonald, Hugh Jones of the Canadian Pacific Railway and John M. Lyle of Toronto. Monumental in design, the great Hall features a coffered vault ceiling of Gustavino tiles. The four-storey barrel-vaulted windows on the east and west walls echo the shape of the ceiling. The builders carved the names of the various cities the the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways. The list alternates from side to side, naming the cities from east to west.

The interior walls are of Zumbro stone from Missouri; the floors are Tennessee marble, which worker laid in a herringbone pattern. The exterior walls of the station are Indiana and Queenston limestone. Each of the 22 Bedford limestone columns weighs 75 tons and is 40 feet high.

John M. Lyle’s granddaughter, Lorna Harris has curated a display of the history of Union Station in the Great Hall. A volunteer from the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre — frequent Transit Toronto contributor Richard White — conducts tours, offering behind-the-scenes glimpses of the station throughout the day (The tours are shorter versions of the tours that richard and other volunteers usually offer on the last Saturday of each month.)

Learn more about:

  • the TTC’s plans to add a second platform to the Union Subway Station here;
  • GO Transit’s plans to upgrade the track area here and here.
  • The City of Toronto’s plans to revitalize the station here.

Getting there by public transit

  • 1 Yonge - University - Spadina subway, GO Transit trains and buses to Union Station

Lambton House, 4066 Old Dundas Street

Open: Saturday May 28 and Sunday, May 29: from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Last admittance: 3:30 p.m.

Originally a stagecoach stop on the old Toronto-to-Dundas Highway, the hotel also has a public transit association. Streetcars on the former Toronto Suburban Railway Company’s Lambton carline ended their trips near the hotel in Lambton Park. From 1917 until 1935, they could also wait in the hotel for the next interurban radial streetcar to Guelph.

Getting there by public transit

  • 30 Lambton buses from Kipling or High Park Stations.
  • Exit bus at Humber Hill Avenue, walk south and west two blocks.