The Rivers Roundhouse
And Shops


A component of…

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Rivers, Manitoba

A Project of The Rivers Train Station Restoration Committee

The Rivers Roundhouse and Shops

In “The Story of Rivers” we learn that in 1908, “Now completed, or in various stages of construction, were the mile-long trestle bridge spanning the Little Saskatchewan valley, a two-story depot with its Company offices, the roundhouse and shops, the terminal yards. And nearby - a mushrooming settlement.”
As a divisional point of the new Grand Trunk Pacific, the town of Rivers underwent a considerable building boom as the Railway began the construction of buildings to service and store the many locomotives that would be passing through. By 1909 up to 300 people were employed in railway operations.


Image 1:  The first roundhouse, under construction.
Photo courtesy the Archives of Manitoba.


Image 2: Motive-power required constant care and attention, to be kept ready for duties on "the road." Above, an engine prepares to move off the turntable.”

The most important structure was the Roundhouse.  Roundhouses or Engine Houses are large, circular or semicircular structures that were traditionally located surrounding or adjacent to turntables. The defining feature of the traditional roundhouse was the turntable, which facilitates access when the building is used for repair facilities or for storage of steam locomotives.
Early steam locomotives normally travelled forwards only; although reverse operations capabilities were soon built into locomotive mechanisms, the controls were normally optimized for forward travel, and the locomotives often could not operate as well in reverse. A turntable allowed a locomotive or other rolling stock to be turned around for the return journey.

Image 3: Workers in the “The Shops”.


Image 4: The Shops

Image 5: Some 250 to 300 men were employed in Rivers during the early railroad operations at this point. Pictured here are some members of the machine department.

In 1918 the roundhouse and machine shop were rebuilt and updated. Fire damaged the newly completed structure but the building was saved. A tornado destroyed one end of the building in August 1935 and a storm buckled part of the roof in July of 1940. But it remained a vital part of the railroad operation until the 1950’s when diesel locomotives were introduced. These new engines required much less local maintenance.

Image 6: An aerial view.

Image 7:  In 1918 the roundhouse and machine shop were rebuilt.

Image 8: Another view of the yards.

Image 9: A busy workplace.


Image 10: Engine and Coal Dock.


Image 11: The modernized roundhouse

The Final Years

The era of the steam locomotive was coming to an end in the early 1950’s.  New diesel engines were faster and stronger. They didn’t require the types of local maintenance that the roundhouse and yards had been providing. For a time these new engines used local makeshift facilities in the roundhouse, but soon new liquid fuel tanks replaced the coal dock and the roundhouse was no longer vital to operations.

Rivers was still a busy place. No less than twenty-eight crews (one hundred and forty men) were operating between this point between Winnipeg and Melville. An  average of sixty carloads of ballast material were being taken from the railway's gravel pit on a daily basis as road beds needed constant attention.

But what we today call “downsizing” was inevitable. In 1954 twenty-three men - four roundhouse and eighteen car-department employees - received termination notices from the Canadian National.
Another result of the increasing advances in locomotive technology was that railway operations became centralized, and as a result the divisional point was transferred to Terrace, and eventually all maintenance was relocated to Prince George, BC and Edmonton, Alberta.

In 1958 the railway removed the sixty-foot high smokestack landmark above the roundhouse. In 1961 it was sold to Structural Fabricators Ltd. Which opened for business in the location the next year.


Image 12: The final days