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The Canadian Pacific Railway Roundhouse in Victoria, British Columbia

by Elizabeth Guenzler

It was through the Roundhouse Museum Society that I became interested in railways in 1992 and this would morph into a life-long hobby which I continue to pursue through various means, but never forgotting the preservation end of it.

Originally known as Russell's Roundhouse (after the nearby Russell Street), the site, comprised of the ten-stall roundhouse, backshop, Armstrong turntable, car shop, stores building, oil tank and sand tower, was built in 1913 and served freight and passenger trains of the Canadian Pacific and its subsidiary, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. It was located in Victoria West (now Esquimalt), just outside of Victoria.

When I joined the RMS, I and another member, Jim Booth, started to research the roundhouse, its history and features. We embarked on an ambitious and lengthy project to measure the interior and exterior of every remaining building so he could build cardbock mock-up models of each, thereby assisting with presentations to those not familiar with a roundhouse its features, purpose and what we as a Society envisioned each building to become as a transportation heritage museum.

Part of this was a research project into the number of existing roundhouses in Canada. I reached out to Earl Roberts, then the editor of the Canadian Trackside Guide, the extremely comprehensive railfan publication published by the Bytown Railway Society in Ottawa. He referred me to his friend John Read, a very friendly and helpful Canadian National Railway employee in the Safety Division who was a railfan himself. John immediately leapt on this project and through friends and colleagues across the country, was able to report back to me and we found out that as of 1998, there were only about twenty roundhouses left in Canada, three in British Columbia and Victoria's was the only one still connected to the tracks.

Through reading other reports and books about the roundhouse, it became evident that the Victoria Roundhouse was unique in a number of ways, including the stalls being numbered counter-clockwise and the floors were originally dirt with concrete installed during World War II.

These are but a few of the dozens of photographs taken at the site in the mid-1990s which are mainly detail shots.

A 1996 view of the Victoria roundhouse yards taken from the overlooking hill.

One end of the two-track 152' car shop.

A side view of the roundhouse.

The backshop area.

The 70' (originally Armstrong) turntable. When we measured it though, it was 71' 1"!

The stores building. For many years, a cabinetry firm was located here and the old freight elevator was still in operation. As of 1996, it was previously tested in 1953, carried 1,000 lbs and still worked.

The Roundhouse Museum Society's vision for the site built into a six foot frame. All buildings were removable for easy transport.

Cardboard mock-up model of the roundhouse showing the stalls and backshop area and 1913 photographs of the roundhouse that were used for displays.

The driving of the last spike on the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was performed by Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald on August 13th, 1886 at Cliffside, on the east side of Shawnigan Lake, twenty-five miles north of Victoria. For several years in the 1990's, a public celebration, "E&N Days", would be held either in Victoria or Nanaimo. I participated in a couple of them and this is the 1996 edition at Langford, just west of Victoria. Photograph by the late David Wilkie.

VIA Rail RDC-1 6133 in the car shop.

Interior view of two of the roundhouse stalls. There were concrete walls every two or three stalls.

In 1996, Canadian Pacific Railway re-organized and the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway became an internal shortline called E&N Railfreight. Two GP38s, 3004 and 3005, were re-painted into a green and yellow livery. On July 21st, 1997, Richard called to tell me about 3004 on its way to the roundhouse. I was living close by at the time and captured these photographs of 3004 turning on the turntable.

E&N Railfreight GP38 3004 with its short train ready to return to Wellcox Yard in Nanaimo.

My friend Richard Isles (former chairman of Roundhouse Museum Society and the fellow who taught me so much about railways) alerted me to a visitor at the roundhouse on October 20th, 1997. This was Sperry Railcar 144.

This was often a sight on a Sunday morning and March 4th, 1996 was a typical day.

VIA Rail RDC-1 6133 emerging from the roundhouse onto the turntable.

The E&N Division of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association acquired this Canadian Pacific Railway boxcar and it was awaiting painting in June 1999.

Also acquired was CN caboose 76695 seen here in August 1996 before being repainted.

The re-painted CN (now ENR) caboose 76695 on April 27th, 2002. Photo by Bob Alkire.

The scene at the roundhouse has changed dramatically in more recent times. Condominium complexes have been built very close to the roundhouse, all passenger service on the Island stopped in August 2011 and I do not believe freight service goes further south than Duncan nowadays.

While I missed the Baldwin and earlier eras of the Canadian Pacific Railway on the Island and the bustling roundhouse from the steam era into the 1980's, I am glad I experienced what I did. There were surprises in store for me during my trips to Nanaimo over the years, which you will be able to read about in another travelogue.