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The Leaky Roof Railway

By R.L.Kennedy

Nicknames for railways have long been common; L&PS," Late and Poor Service", (London & Port Stanley); TH&B, To Hell and Back", (Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo); PGE, "Please Go Easy", (Pacific Great Eastern); K&P, "Kick and Push", (Kingston & Pembroke. Less familiar is a Toronto one known as the "Leaky Roof".

The Parkdale area of downtown Toronto is a very old railroad area, in fact amongst the earliest in Canada. The industrial area south and east of King Street West and Dufferin Street is known as the Circle and was a maze of Canadian Pacific and Canadian National tracks serving various manufacturing companies of which none now remain.

One large old complex used to be the Central Warehouse, with tracks from both CN and CP connecting into it. Back in the 1920's the Grand Trunk/Canadian National rolling stock was in poor, no, decrepit condition and many box cars spotted at this warehouse had their contents damaged due to rain leaking through defective wooden roofs.

It became such a problem that the warehouse had a man stand on their roof with a fire hose and pour water onto the roof of each boxcar while another man stood inside to watch for leaks! Many cars were rejected. Since the CN was unable to supply good steel cars it became an easy matter for alert CPR crews to offer to switch out the bad order wood cars and replace them with good steel CPR cars. Of course the CPR then got the road haul while CN got back a decrepit empty car.

In those days (and until the 1960's and 1970's), cars were chalk marked to show all the switchmen where they were to be switched to. Cars at Parkdale going to the GTR (later CNR) were chalked "GTR"
and were interchanged at the Bathurst Street Yard, west of Union Station. Some very local cars were interchanged at Cherry Street, east of Union Station, near the CN's Don Yard, and these were chalked "ooCN". The small "oo" meant
"Toronto" and for this reason "GTR" remained the mark used on switch lists and chalk "marking up" right to the end to avoid confusion as to where the cars were going.

Bad order cars would be marked "RIP" to direct them to the repair track. "RIP" standing for Repair In Place, for outdoor repair tracks as opposed to going into a shop. So, all these rejected cars were not actually shopped for running defects but because of their bad roofs. They would thus be chalked "GTR Leaky Roof" and there were so many of these cars for so long that to the CPR men in Parkdale they and by extension the railway itself, became known as the "Leaky Roof".

The railroaders from those days are all gone now. Even of those few remaining employees and pensioners who are familiar with the name Leaky Roof, fewer still know the real meaning of it. As so often happens, it becomes lost in time.


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