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Former Grand Trunk Railways Locomotive Repair Shops

Former GTR Locomotive Repair Shops (also known as the Cooper Site) – 350 Downie Street, Stratford, ON – RAILWAY LEGACY OR LOOMING LANDFILL?

News Alert: The National Trust wrote a letter to the Mayor of Stratford on April 28 urging council to develop an RFP process for the redevelopment of the site before making any decisions on its demolition, partial or otherwise. 

Why it matters

Built in 1909, Stratford, Ontario’s GTR (later CNR) locomotive repair shops building is a massive steel and concrete facility that is an exceptional example of its kind in Canada. A prominent structure adjacent to Stratford’s downtown, the vacant two-storey building covers close to five of the original 11.4 acres of railway lands, acquired by the City in 2009. An extraordinary industrial site and important cultural heritage asset, it offers a range of development opportunities. And at close to 16,800 sq m (182,000 sq ft) it would be an environmental travesty to send it all to landfill.

A 2012 city-commissioned study by Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects concluded that the site meets the criteria for determining Cultural Merit and is worthy of preservation. The Grand Trunk Railway Site Heritage Committee (a subcommittee of the Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation) is moving ahead with a recommendation to designate parts of the building under the Ontario Heritage Act.

In February 2014, the City’s Finance and Labour Relations Committee (FLRC) heard a number of presentations, which included revenue-generating uses that would see at least part of the building retained and reused. Creative options for reuse included a steam locomotive museum, ground or multi-storey parking; bus terminal; library or YMCA expansion; sports facility; and university campus expansion (a University of Waterloo satellite campus has been built on part of the railway lands).

Why it’s endangered

Although structurally sound, the building appears dilapidated due to the loss of window glass and the deteriorated condition of the more recently added sheet steel cladding.

A report dated October 2013, commissioned by the city to assess options for the future of the site, concluded that demolition and commemoration—rather than adaptive reuse or partial retention—should form the basis of future consideration by city council. 

Where things stand

In May, the FLRC stated that city staff would consider additional public proposals, with or without the building being retained.

City council has deferred a decision on demolition until after a Master Plan for the city’s facilities has been completed. In the meantime, Riversedge Development submitted a redevelopment proposal for the site that council will be reviewing with staff in-camera.

Update (November 2014): Stratford Gazette has reported that the City’s Planning and Heritage subcommittee is continuing to defer a decision regarding the designation of the GTR repair shops. Instead, the subcommittee has referred the recommendation to the city’s manager of development services.

The Gazette quotes a staff report stating that, “city staff will review this recommendation in the context of all of the related reports and materials with respect to this site. Reports to be reviewed include the report from Heritage Stratford, the Goldsmith Borgal and Company Limited heritage report, the Reed Jones Christoffersen structural report, the Malone Given Parson Ltd. review as well as any other information that the city has on file including ideas that have come forward from members of the community.”

Update (March, 2015): In March, the city’s planning and heritage committee recommended that the Cooper Site should not receive a heritage designation until a site plan and heritage assessment are complete. A follow up recommendation was also approved requiring that once the site plan and heritage assessment are complete, a request will be made to Heritage Stratford to evaluate the site and recommend which elements should be designated.

Update (April, 2015): On April 20, an unexpected motion to demolish all but three bays of the structure was narrowly deferred for a week. On April 27, council voted 9-2 to reject the Riversedge Development proposal for the site, and entertained new public presentations that urged preservation of the shops. After a lengthy debate, the matter was again deferred, this time to a special meeting of council set for May 4.