THEN & NOW: Steam Whistle Opens Its Doors for the Annual DOORS OPEN FESTIVAL

Milestones in the history of the Roundhouse

While the Three Fired Guys incorporated in 1998 to began drawing up plans for Steam Whistle Brewing, their dream really began to take shape when the City of Toronto granted them use of the historic Canadian Pacific Railway John St. Roundhouse, built 70 years earlier. 

1929: Looking northeast from Toronto harbour towards the John St. Roundhouse and the Royal York Hotel 
2000: Steam Whistle Brewing opens its doors in the newly renovated railway building & Roundhouse Park

Construction of the brewery began in the fall of 1999, and Steam Whistle officially and appropriately opened our doors to the public on May 2-4 weekend in the year 2000. This was a landmark day for Canada’s Premium Pilsner, but also for the City of Toronto which featured Steam Whistle’s new home in their first ever DOORS OPEN FESTIVAL. This now annual eventwas developed as a millennium project in 2000, by the City of Toronto from a European model and has since attracted over 1.7 million residents and tourists. Doors Open Toronto invites the public to explore the city’s most-loved buildings and sites, free of charge. The event provides rare access to buildings not usually open to the public and free access to sites that would usually charge an admission fee.                   


  • Steam Whistle Brewing celebrates it’s hidden history with DOORS OPEN TORONTO:
  • 10am to 5pm on Saturday May 25 & Sunday May 26,  2024
  • FREE tours running every half-hour from 10am to 4pm 
  • Learn about the railway history of the Roundhouse and its modern day use as the home of Steam Whistle Brewing 

DID YOU KNOW? Fun Facts about Steam Whistle’s Roundhouse

Railway Roundhouses that serviced steam locomotives across the world were notoriously dark and gloomy work environments – full of smoke and soot, and hot from coal fires. Such extreme conditions meant these unique buildings deteriorated quickly or often burnt to the ground. The John St. Roundhouse, home to Steam Whistle Brewing, a state-of-the-art facility when built in 1929, was definitely ahead of its time. It’s one of the best examples of railway roundhouses still standing in North America today. 

Lighter and Brighter!

The building’s 288 clerestory wood sash windows allowed light to continuously fill the space during daylight hours, reducing the company’s electricity costs and making it brighter than other railway roundhouses ~ good for employees and energy efficient.


A rusty pipe - an important National Heritage Artefact?!

An unobtrusive rusty pipe runs along the ceiling of the Roundhouse’s outside wall. Most who pass it wouldn’t give it a second thought, but it’s actually a nationally designated Heritage Artefact! Beginning in 1929 and through the 1980’s, this pipe carried steam from the nearby Central Heating Plant and its use in the Direct Steam Process was revolutionary for the railroad industry. Most conventional roundhouses at the time used a locomotive’s existing coal-fired boiler to propel it into the building for service. 

However, workers at the John Street Roundhouse would empty the engine’s coal on the tracks outside the building and coast the locomotive into the service bay. Once inside, a steam line was attached to keep the boiler at a reduced constant pressure (to avoid the cooled boiler cracking) until the service was complete. The coal fire would be re-stoked once the locomotive was safely outside again. This direct steaming process removed workplace danger for the Roundhouse’s employees and was much cleaner and better for the environment. The locomotives serviced at the Roundhouse were so clean and well maintained that they became known in the industry as having the “John Street polish”. 

The Central Heating Plant at York and Lakeshore, was the largest district steam heating facility in Canada in 1929, producing 330,000 pounds of steam per hour to heat the CPR Roundhouse, Union Station, Royal York Hotel and other buildings in the area. 


Dismantled and Rebuilt

In the early 1990’s the John St. Roundhouse was partially dismantled to accommodate construction of the Metro Convention Centre South Building (Convention space and parking floors). In the photo below you can see how the roof differs between Train Bays 1 to 12 on the eastern side of the building to indicate where the structure was taken down. 

Every brick, support beam and element of the structure was itemized and stored until after the MTCC work was completed. Some of the original Douglas Fir beams were showing stress and wear as was the entire roof dating from 1929, so these elements were all replaced with brand new material but in the exact size/shape as originally build. You can see the different aged wooden beams and roof boards in the photo below. 

When Bays 1 to 12 were rebuilt, they had the clever idea of turning the bricks inside out, so that the weathering and graffiti would be hidden within the building. Above you can see evidence of the graffiti painted bricks that were put back in a different order. 

Steam Whistle Brewing treasures the heritage Roundhouse within which we reside. We look forward to sharing the building and its rich rail history with you on tour - Visit us soon! 


Posted on May 06 2024, By: TK Palermo


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