For nearly a decade, Orin Krivel has worked tirelessly to bring Toronto’s railroad history to life at Roundhouse Park.
The retired architect, 70, and a band of train-adoring volunteers have helped turn a once-derelict national historical site southeast of the CN Tower into a modest tourist attraction, one that co-exists happily with the Steam Whistle brewery.
The next stop was supposed to be the opening of a Toronto Railway Museum.
But now the Toronto Railway Historical Association, of which Mr. Krivel is president, says the long-planned attraction is being squeezed out by a proposed hydro transformer station inside the Roundhouse’s 12,000-square-foot machine shop.
“Essentially, they have killed the museum,” Mr. Krivel said. “The machine shop represents the heart and the necessary soul of the museum.”
Toronto Hydro, which is building the transformer jointly with Hydro One, says it has little choice but to put the station at Roundhouse Park.
The condo boom on the city’s old railway lands has sparked a 127-per-cent increase in requests for new electrical connections downtown since 2003, and nine alternative locations for the station were deemed unsuitable before Toronto Hydro exercised an option to buy the Bremner Boulevard land in 2010.
“As much as we would love to accommodate [the railway museum] there are specific regulatory and safety requirements for the station,” said Tanya Bruckmueller, a spokeswoman for Toronto Hydro, which is spending an extra $9-million to preserve the heritage character of the machine shop.
Local Councillor Adam Vaughan urged the TRHA to make the best of a difficult situation by presenting its exhibits in the machine shop’s leftover space.
“The hydro station is needed, otherwise you’re not going to have people getting up and down the elevator to apartments at City Place,” he said. “When you’re confronted with that, losing a small portion of the rail museum, unfortunately, is what happens.”
The problem doesn’t seem small to Mr. Krivel and other members of the TRHA, who have spent years assembling a collection of artifacts that includes everything from railway silver to train staff uniforms to old railroad books.
They have restored – and are still restoring – heritage locomotives, cabooses and dining cars inside three of the 32 bays that make up the old roundhouse, built in 1929.
The other bays have been transformed into Steam Whistle’s home on one side, and a Leon’s furniture showroom on the other.
All of the heritage rolling stock will eventually be displayed outside in Roundhouse Park, alongside the miniature steam locomotive that already zips elated children past the relocated Don Station and the restored engine turntable.
“Think of it as a Lazy Susan for trains,” Glenn Garwood, the THRA’s spokesman, said as he explained how the association has revived a little of the rail age in the shadow of the CN Tower.
Without the benefit of a tour guide like Mr. Garwood, the site’s story is harder to see. The museum was supposed to be that storyteller.
Mr. Garwood said Toronto Hydro’s former president and CEO, David O’Brien, suggested the transformer station could be built entirely underground.
He and the THRA are asking for a meeting with the current CEO, Anthony Haines, to improve upon the current plan, which leaves only 40 per cent of the machine shop for a museum.
Claudia Benedek of Stanford Downey Architects, which is designing the museum, said the city has offered to cut through the red tape that would make it tough for Toronto Hydro to build part of the station on a neighbouring, empty plot of land.
“We’re not just simply asking them to leave,” Ms. Benedek said. “We’ve just not had an real co-operation from Hydro on any of these [other options.]
Ms. Bruckmueller of Toronto Hydro said the THRA’s proposed compromise would be too expensive and put the transformer station’s timeline at risk.
She said Mr. Haines would be happy to meet with the THRA, but that it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to make available more than roughly 40 per cent of the machine shop’s space.
“What do you do, put a museum in a suitcase?” Mr. Garwood said. “It doesn’t work. We’re not taking that deal. Period.”