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Roncesvalles Carhouse

Roncesvalles Plan

Click on the thumbnail above for the official TTC plan of Roncesvalles, annotated by Ray Corley. Plan courtesy Ray Corley

Photos and Text by: James Bow, except where noted.

Opened by the Toronto Railway Company on January 22, 1895, Roncesvalles is today the oldest of the two carhouses on Toronto's streetcar network. The original brick building was located on the west side of Roncesvalles Avenue, north of Queen Street. It contained 14 stub tracks carrying off Roncesvalles and could initially handle 75 double-truck cars. The TRC added a 12-track storage yard to the north of this building in 1907, which could handle an additional 60 cars.

In the Shadow of Dundas Carhouse

At the time, Roncesvalles was something of a secondary carhouse. The bulk of the TRC's storage and maintenance was carried out at Dundas carhouse, located on Dundas Street near Howard Park Avenue. Both suffered from the TRC's neglect, however. Indeed, when the TTC took over the system in 1921, both Dundas and Roncesvalles carhouses were in terrible states. The 1923 TTC annual report stated that Roncesvalles' storage arrangement was inefficient, the trackwork badly worn, the walls settling and the columns 'badly out of plumb'.

But other than Lansdowne, Roncesvalles and Dundas carhouses were the only carhouses in Toronto's west end, and thus were best able to handle the TTC's west Toronto services. In 1921, the TTC elected to modernize Roncesvalles and eventually abandon Dundas. Although both properties were dilapidated, Dundas was considerably older, less suited to the new Peter Witts, and harder to expand. In 1907, the TRC had purchased all of the property to the west of the site, all the way to Sunnyside Avenue, for use for further expansion. They never used it, except for a wide loop to turn King and Queen cars. This property allowed the TTC to completely rebuild Roncesvalles and expand it to handle the extra loads resulting from Dundas carhouse's abandonment.

A Complete Rebuild

The old carbarn was completely demolished. The tracks were realigned so that they largely carried off Queen Street instead of Roncesvalles Avenue. A new carhouse was built at the western end of the property featuring three bays, two three-track bays (tracks 18-20 and 21-23) for cleaning and inspection and one two-track bay (#24-25) for repairs. An office building housing the administrative offices was constructed at the southeastern corner of the property. The rest of the property was given over to storage tracks. Sunnyside Loop was shrunk significantly but still remained in a small section of the southwestern corner of the property.

Roncesvalles carhouse has not changed significantly since its rebuilding in 1923. It stored cars operating out of most of the routes in southwestern Toronto, such as Queen, King and Long Branch. It received Bloor and Carlton cars once Lansdowne division closed to streetcar use in 1966 and received St. Clair and Bathurst cars when St Clair carhouse closed in 1978. Currently, Roncesvalles handles all streetcars on the 512 St. Clair, 511 Bathurst, 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront runs and it shares duties with Russell carhouse on the 506 Carlton, 505 Dundas, 501 Queen, 504 King and 508 Lake Shore runs.

As the TTC embarked on acquiring a new fleet of low floor streetcars to replace its CLRV and ALRV fleet, work needed to be done on the carhouses to handle the new vehicles. In 2013, the TTC built 26,000 square feet of new maintenance facilities at Roncesvalles. One of the issues dealt with was the fact that the new Flexities, unlike previous cars, had most of their major electronics and equipment in their roofs, and the maintenance bays had to be reworked to provide access. The TTC also took the opportunity to add a new one-track service bay. Roncesvalles was the only facility that could service (as opposed to just store) the new Flexity vehicles until Leslie Barns opened in 2016.

Roncesvalles closed outright on February 18, 2018 in order to allow for major work to be done revitalizing the facility's tracks. All streetcar service was shifted over to Russell Carhouse and Leslie barns. The work included replacing the specialwork along the north side of the yard, replacing tracks 21-23 in Inspection Bay 1, and clearing interior obstructions and adding more overhead maintenance infrastructure to allow Flexities to occupy more of the facility and receive service. The facility was also rewired to allow for pantograph operation.

Roncesvalles Carhouse partially reopened on January 6, 2019, operating at 50% capacity while the rest of the renovations continued. The facility would open to full capacity in late 2020.

A Century-Old Institution

Roncesvalles carhouse celebrated its 100th anniversary in January 1995 with appropriate ceremonies. In contrast, the facility's 125th anniversary passed with little notice among the renovations in January 2020. However, while there was discussion about closing Roncesvalles and replacing it and Russell with a single carbarn near the Bathurst/Fleet intersection (this was dropped when Leslie Barns was commissioned and built), the facility's future is confirmed, as seen by the extensive work being done to take it into the 21st century. Roncesvalles continues to perform effectively the job it was built for. There is no reason to believe it will not continue to do so for another few decades, at least.


Roncesvalles Carhouse Image Archive


References

  • Corley, Ray and Ted Wickson, 'Roncesvalles Centennial', Rail and Transit, February 1995, p4-5, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario).

Thanks to Ray Corley for correcting this web page and offering additional information.

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