Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Roundhouse
Why it matters:
Built in 1909 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR), this extremely well-preserved locomotive roundhouse in Biggar, Saskatchewan is the last of its kind on the prairies. In 1908, Biggar was chosen as the site of the largest GTPR station in Western Canada. The town was then made a divisional point, necessitating the construction of the massive circular building to service and store 21 locomotives at a time and prompting a construction and population boom. The GTPR was absorbed by Canadian National Railways (CNR) in 1920.
The 4,300-square-metre roundhouse has 12-metre fir beams, more than one million bricks and 18 stalls for locomotives. Tunnels have recently been discovered, presumably leading to the nearby railway station. With the advent of diesel engines, and the consolidation of repair and maintenance services at larger Canadian centres, most roundhouses fell into disuse (at one point, Biggar’s was used for grain storage) and were torn down. The only remaining prairie roundhouse similar to Biggar’s is in Hanna, Alberta; this 1919 structure, however, is severely dilapidated and half-collapsed.
In the early 1970s the roundhouse was slated for demolition, but the Mayor convinced the CNR to delay for 2 years while a new tenant for the building was sought. The building’s long-term future was secured in the winter of 1973-74 when local resident Kevin Kuruluk signed a lease agreement on the use of the land from CNR and purchased the building for $1 to operate a turkey farm. The Kuruluk family sold the turkey operation in 2005. Their lease on the roundhouse runs out in early 2009 and a clause in it requires the owner to demolish the building at that time. While the CNR may be open to a new potential lease on the roundhouse, it has made no commitments at this point.
In 1995, Biggar’s large GTPR station was designated under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act (HRSPA). The Act, however, does not extend protection to other important railway buildings, including locomotive roundhouses.
The Kuruluk family has spent nearly $500,000 over the years on repair and maintenance to the roundhouse. Using the historic building for food production did not require modifications other than the erection of a few artificial walls, leaving it completely intact. Located on its own 4.3 acre plot of land away from the main CNR line, the roundhouse does not presently impede railway operations. This separation also makes the roundhouse more adaptable to public uses.
Why it’s endangered:
The roundhouse’s current owner and property leaseholder has ensured that it remains in very good structural condition. However, its landowner, the CNR, intends to demolish the building in early 2009 when the lease expires.
Where things stand :
The Mayor of Biggar, Ray Sadler, and many others in the surrounding area, including railway preservationist Tom Cholowski, are mobilizing to save the roundhouse because of its great historical value to the community and the building’s uniqueness on the prairies. Current plans envision the roundhouse as a museum, and a collection of artifacts has already been amassed, including the roundhouse’s original 1908 blueprints.
An organization is currently being formed to try and find a solution for the future of the roundhouse.
Mayor Sadler and Cholowski collected over 3,000 signatures—more than the town of Biggar’s population—to petition federal protection for the building. Support has also come from railroad societies across Canada. In March, 2008, local MP Carol Skelton (Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar) brought the petition forward to the House of Commons calling on the federal government to designate the roundhouse as a National Historic Site.
Update: The owner’s efforts to find a sustainable new use for the roundhouse — from trailer manufacturing to artist studios — were not successful due to ongoing access and safety legalities presented by CNR.
In more recent years, local support to preserve the building diminished. Despite efforts of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Roundhouse Society in 2014-2015, neither the Town of Biggar or CNR would support efforts to have the roundhouse designated as a Provincial Heritage Property.
Sadly, the roundhouse was demolished in early March, 2015.
Location: Biggar, Saskatchewan
Top 10 Endangered Places List: 2008