Thursday, September 15, 2016

Quebec City CPR Prince Edward Roundhouse in 1930

You remember probably when I discussed track plans and roundhouse based on Quebec City during the summer. I had the nice surprise to get blueprint showing Canadian Pacific roundhouse located a few hundred feet west of Palace Station this morning. Groupe TRAQ member Mathieu Gosselin was kind enough to scan and share this map drawn in 1930. This is also the scene were the first minutes of this interesting movie were filmed in the 1950s.

CPR Prince Edward Roundhouse (credit: Groupe TRAQ, Pierre Parent collection)

For fans of roundhouse scenes, the CPR facilities were nestled between Crown, Prince Edward Streets and St. Charles River. To spice things up, a few customers were rail served by spurs branching off the terminal. The small size and action packed nature of this engine terminal makes it an interesting source of inspiration for people wanting to model something realistic and which could be realistically done without eating too much real estate.

The roundhouse was gradually converted to diesel power in the 1950s and disappeared from the landscape circa 1976, when CPR mainline track in Quebec City downtown was removed to make place to urban redevelopment (social housing over highly contaminated land!) and remove traffic jams caused by the trains, but in fact, behind this official stance lies an incredible fight from local citizen to save St. Roch borough from utter destruction as happened a few year before with the Provincial Parliament Hill. In that era, St. Roch which used to be a thriving typical north american business district is now decaying into a pathetic state of poverty which, to some extent, is still visible 50 years later.

While the back story takes its roots in the mid-60s, the railway saga start in 1971, the local St. Roch parish priest  which name is fittingly Lavoie ("The Way") will lead a series of "attacks" over the railway to attract political attention over the serious issues plaguing the borough. On March 22, citizens are encouraged to place their garbage bins over the CPR tracks. At this point, citizen comities are gaining impetus and the tide is no longer in favour of Canadien Pacifique. The story will be featured in many Canadian newspaper. In the end, the colorful actions of the priest will raise enough concern that Prime Minister Trudeau (the father) will accept to meet him. From that point, politicians will campain to remove the track which will happen, reshaping for ever the way trains interact with Quebec City. For more details about this surrealist story, a nice article in French can be found here.

 A caricature of Mgr Lavoie cleverly nicknamed "Mgr The Rail Way" (March 23, 1971, le Soleil)
As for my personal opinion on that matter, I feel there was some truth in the citizen claims. In many areas, the train would run a few feet from houses full of kid. Gerry Burridge shot a classic picture of a CN special Winter Carnival train almost scratching houses on both side. I've never heard about any accidents, but the risk was high and pollution constant in that urban canyon. I've heard the steam era was particularly insupportable in these impoverish boroughs.

Most vintage movies and pictures show enormous traffic jams in downtown, blocking all major access roads. My only problem with the dismantling of the track, like most urban decisions took in the 1970s in Quebec City, lacked long term perspective. It was a good decision to remove the mainline, but severing Palace Station and almost destroying it wasn't the greatest idea of all time. I've been told that most politicians of the time were convinced the train was a thing from the past and no longer a requirement for a modern and progressive city. Later, when they reconnected the station with CNR mainline in the 1980s, the job was minimal at best and didn't make room for expansion. Worst, the urban redevelopment program decided to build a large non-descript building in the middle of the downtown main street (St. Joseph Street) called Les Façades de la Gare which isolated the station from its borough, creating an artificial barrier that definitely isolated the impoverish sector of the city from the port and historic district.

Such is the story behind the demise of CPR Prince Edward Street roundhouse. By the way, Marty Bernard took a few interesting pictures of CPR locomotives at the roundhouse including RS10 8580 and RS18 8800.

For modellers, Prince Edward Roundhouse is the easiest Quebec City "classic" locomotive facility to model without any need for compression. If sometimes in my life I require to model a roundhouse, I’m pretty sure I’ll have this one in mind for inspiration. Now, I would be quite happy to find the same kind of map about CNR Limoilou Roundhouse (ex-CNoR).


  1. Hasn't Saint-Roch experienced a renewal and shall I say gentrification since the early 2000s?

  2. I did, starting with policies implemented in the late 90s. Visually, St-Roch is no longer the dilapidated and dangerous area it used to be (we called it Bronx in my high school days). Important subsidies attracted the digital technology and video games companies but they are running out and it doesn't seem all of them with stay there. While some businesses thrive other have a hard time to find long term profitability. It's a mixed bag and I wouldn't say the game is won for St-Roch yet. As for gentrification, it wasn't as extreme as it was feared. There is still a quite exotic fauna on the sidewalks! But the worst is behind for St-Roch and some important investments are made even today. I don't think it will reclaim its glories from the past, but will certainly find its way: the place has a strong character and identity. And removing the tracks was probably a good move back then.