Q: The article about the historical find next to your office was very interesting. I attempted to view the remains of the roundhouse that was recently unearthed. Is it now all covered up again? Or where did it go? Your assistance would be appreciated.
A: Thank you for your question Rhéal! We’re handing this one over to Dave Allston, our resident historian.
On the morning of August 23rd, Ottawa residents awoke to the news of an interesting historical find near Bayview Station. An archaeological services company hired by developers of the site unearthed the surprisingly well-preserved remains of a 19th-century turntable, engine house and roundhouse. (We originally wrote about it here.)
Seeing the light of day for the first time in 133 years, the captivating turntable foundation was from an early era of transportation, when train engines were small, and the possibilities for easy travel and commerce throughout the province and indeed the country were first emerging. Hintonburg and Lebreton Flats were the nexus for this development, and the surrounding neighbourhoods grew in the 19th century around the rail infrastructure.
The discovery of this buried treasure seized the attention of many – railway buffs and ordinary residents alike. If anything, it got people researching and talking about historic transportation methods, how turntables worked, and what roundhouses are. The media frenzy was fascinating, and talk turned to whether the site could be saved, and somehow incorporated into the planned development.
However a week later, while ideas were still being brainstormed, the archaeologists finished their job and bulldozers refilled the site, much to the chagrin of many in the community.
The future of the reburied railway features is now obvious. As excavation work will begin either late in 2016 or early 2017 on the Trinity Station project, all of the old railway infrastructure on the Trinity land will be dug up and trucked away as the developers clear the entire site down to the bedrock. The soil is heavily contaminated from nearly 100 years of rail use and will need to be removed. This includes the removal of the 1871 turntable and engine house.
“We can’t pull up the foundation to use in any way, there is nothing we can do to display any of it,” says Ryan Moore, Development Manager at Trinity Development Group.
He states that Trinity excavated the site and documented it as required by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Some artifacts were found, though nothing overly exciting.
“There were mostly bits and pieces. Springs from a carriage, clay pipes, broken glassware,” says Ryan. These items were turned over to the Ministry; their fate unknown.
Thankfully, not all will be lost. There are still portions of the old train infrastructure, mostly from the 1883-built roundhouse (which burned in 1910) that are located inside the City-owned rail corridor, which, in theory, could be exposed in the future.
This experience has been a whirlwind for those interested in local history, more of a tease of briefly exposing what few knew was there, and even more complete and better preserved than anyone could have anticipated. Trinity Developments has followed their original plan and we can be at least thankful that the site was uncovered and well-documented for historical research purposes. It’s unfortunate that portions could not be saved and used in a display within the towers to be built. As this new project is to be a mix of retail, office and residential rental units, a dedicated space for a small, permanent museum recognizing the history and importance of the railway on the site should be cinch to include and would be a community focal point for those residing and shopping in the tower. To restore the original wood and stone pivot point, or part of the roundhouse foundation to incorporate in this museum would make for an incredible exhibit. Until it is all trucked away it’s not too late, but the clock is ticking.
Thanks for your question,
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