Roundhouse once a focal point of the Hubtown
CHELSEY GOULD TRURO NEWS chelsey.gould @saltwire.com
TRURO — Long before diesel-engine trains came along, steam-powered locomotives entering Truro had to be serviced in what was known as the “roundhouse.” Built in 1906 with work carried by Rhodes Curry & Co. to replace another aging roundhouse, it was located on Prince Street across from where the Ultramar service station sits today. The facility was a central part of the “Hub of Nova Scotia,” where the railroad was a significant part of the town’s history as a site for passengers, economic activity and soldiers who went off to war — some of whom did not return. Apparently, there was some protest against Italian contractor Thomas Cozzolino and his Italian workers, despite having hired as many locals from the province as he could — about two-thirds of the 150-member crew. He paid the highest wages in Truro at the time — $2 per day for labourers’ horses and carts and $3 to their bosses, according to articles from 1906. Much of the fast railway construction in Nova Scotia received help from immigrant labourers. The roundhouse had five sections, each holding six locomotives, and when there was not enough room the engines sat outside. Locomotives entered the roundhouse for fuel, water and other necessary servicing, and then were repositioned in the opposite direction via a massive circular turntable. A Truro Daily News article reported that on April 7, 1908, alone, 118 engines were turned in and out of the building. There was also a blacksmith shop where parts were turned out for the locomotives onsite, machine shop, car shop, boiler house, coal tower and a building for store rooms, offices and restrooms — which a large section of the article boasts about. Workers laboured under intense steam. The late Allan Mackinnon talked with the Truro Daily News in 2016 about working as a machinist at the roundhouse. Despite some dangerous manoeuvres, including repairing still-hot spreaders that had disintegrated from burning coal, he had mostly fond memories there and maintained a connection with fellow machinists and railway workers in Truro and elsewhere. “They were all a little crazy, you know,” he chuckled. As steam-engineered trains came to a standstill with the shift to diesel in the mid-20th century, the roundhouse was decommissioned and almost entirely demolished during the 1960s. The remaining structures were converted into a car shop until demolition in 1990. The machine shop continued as a shed until it was torn down in 2017. In 1999, Mayor Bill Mills proposed a restoration of the railway to revitalize the downtown area, including a replica roundhouse which would have been part of a market, museum and convention centre, estimated at that time to cost $3 million to $5 million. The vision was never realized. The site now houses Munroe Court, a complex of Wallace Retirement Living homes. One building was named Sandford Hall after Sir Sandford Fleming, a railway engineer who was a part of the railway’s construction in and around Truro. Another roundhouse exists today in Toronto across Blue Jays Way from the CN Tower as a heritage building and park, where children can ride a mini train and people can view the historic locomotives.