The History of the John Street Roundhouse: 1929 – Present

2018, History, Permanent Exhibit, Toronto Railway Museum
history, railway, roundhouse, Toronto, tourism, trains, transportation
About This Project

Project Members: Abebe Mengesha, Hannah Monkman, Alice Norton-Bell


Venue: The Toronto Railway Museum


Dates: Opening May 2018


The History of the John Street Roundhouse: 1929 – Present explores the evolution of the roundhouse containing the Toronto Railway Museum (TRM) and the surrounding area. The narrative follows the Roundhouse from its creation and the peak of the industrial rail lands, to the redevelopment of the area as a tourist hub. Featuring fun facts about the function of roundhouses and the history of the rail lands, we hope to engage and intrigue incoming visitors since this exhibit acts as an introduction to the Toronto Railway Museum (TRM) as a whole.


The TRM approached the Museum Studies program to create this exhibition in the entryway to their museum. Since the museum is located amongst several major tourist attractions in Toronto, a big portion of the museum’s visitors are tourists. However, the museum is looking to expand its local audience as well. Therefore, The History of the John Street Roundhouse was designed for a general audience, and so is intended to appeal to both adults and children who may or may not be familiar with Toronto.

The Toronto Railway Museum funded this project and was consulted when forming the content for the historical narrative for the exhibit. As the founders of the museum itself, the Toronto Railway Historical Association also approved the final content. We retrieved images from the Toronto Public Library and the Toronto City Archives, and we partnered with graphic designer Wade Thompson to create the aesthetic design for the final panel.


Planning The History of the John Street Roundhouse began in October 2017, when the initial timeline and proposal was developed. The research process was intensive and lasted from November 2017 to January 2018, with the first historical narrative drafted in February 2018. After feedback from the TRM, the interpretive plan for the exhibition was constructed and then refined, with the final content drafts being completed in March 2018. The exhibit will be installed at the beginning of May with an official opening date of May 2, 2018, as a permanent exhibit at the TRM.

Since the space in the entryway is limited and the TRM wanted to reduce congestion, we decided to create a wall panel for the presentation of our content rather than a display case. We focused on polishing the historical narrative, with 12 distinct short texts in our final draft.  We supplemented that text with eight archival images and a map of the surrounding rail lands in order to increase the visual appeal and provide additional historical context. Beyond communicating the fascinating history of the Roundhouse, one of our goals was to draw more people into the museum since the panel will be visible to visitors before they approach the admissions desk. In order to make the panel visually engaging, we hired graphic designer Wade Thompson to create an eye-catching and creative design. Finally, in order to appeal to a younger demographic, we plan to include a few interactive flip panels to provide an opportunity for tactile engagement.


We will be collaborating with the TRM to create social media content to be posted on their Facebook page, their Twitter, and their Instagram accounts. We are also creating various promotional ephemeral (e.g. posters and pamphlets) that will be distributed to various business and attractions surrounding the TRM, including Steam Whistle Brewing, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, and the CN Tower. These materials will be distributed to other popular tourist locations throughout the GTA as well, such as the Toronto Harbourfront and Exhibition Place, in order to reach a wider population.


We hope that our exhibition will help the TRM to bring more visitors to the museum and start redefining the museum as featuring fun and engaging content. Our goal is to increase attendance and pave the way for future redevelopments at the museum.


We would like to thank our project partners, Tyler Best, Derek Boles, and the rest of the staff at the Toronto Railway Museum. We would also like to extend our thanks to our supervising professor Matt Brower, our teaching assistants Rebecca Noone and Camille-Mary Sharp, and the Exhibition Class of 2017-2018 for their support and guidance throughout the project.