Transformer Station


In 1992, the City of Toronto entered into an agreement with Hydro One Networks Inc. which allowed Hydro One the option to purchase the land west of the Roundhouse Park for the future construction of a Transformer Station.  As a requirement of this agreement, the City of Toronto repealed and amended the designation by-law in March 2008 to remove any reference to the Machine Shop to allow for the transfer of the lands to Hydro One with all encumbrances removed.  Shortly after the amendment of the designation by-law, the subject land and the Transformer Station project were transferred from Hydro One to Toronto Hydro-Electric System Limited.  Due to the heritage and cultural significance of the site, meetings were held with the TRHA, the City of Toronto and Toronto Hydro to ensure that the site would not be adversely affected by the project.  Fully aware of the position and intent of the City of Toronto and the TRHA, Toronto Hydro stated that the transformer station would be an unmanned, underground station with the Machine Shop made available to the City of Toronto for museum purposes: indeed, Toronto Hydro maintained that the station would be built below grade until early 2011.

In April 2011, Toronto Hydro issued its Notice of Study Commencement for the Class Environmental Assessment for the Bremner Transformer Station and Machine Shop.  As a stakeholder in the Roundhouse Park site, the TRHA was involved in the initial public consultations as well as subsequent meetings with Toronto Hydro and IBI Group Engineers to review the proposed project.  Despite the assurances provided by Toronto Hydro at these earlier meetings, the proposal outlined in the Study Report includes the disassembly and re-assembly of the Machine Shop to allow for the below-grade construction of the transformer station as well as the allocation of space above-grade within the Machine Shop for Toronto Hydro use; this appropriation of space was done without previous consultation with the TRHA.  The Study Report also noted the requirement for fire-separating construction which would have an extremely negative impact on the heritage fabric of the Machine Shop as well as its relationship to the Roundhouse subsequent to re-assembly.

Although not noted in the Study Report, it was later confirmed to us by IBI Group Engineers, at a meeting in July 2011, that the Bremner Transformer Station must be a post-disaster building as defined by the Ontario Building Code.  In order to conform to the requirements of the Ontario Building Code, the Transformer Station must be designed and constructed to withstand earthquake loads and effects per OBC Part 4.  This requirement will have a substantial impact on the design of the Transformer Station and its relationship to both the Machine Shop and Roundhouse; this will also have an incredibly negative effect on the heritage integrity of the Machine Shop.  Based on our concerns regarding the Study Report, the TRHA requested a Part II Order from the Ministry of the Environment in August 2011 to require an Individual Environmental Assessment in order to compel Toronto Hydro to fully disclose their proposed methods of achieving the required fire-separating and seismic construction required for the Transformer Station in relation to the Machine Shop and Roundhouse.

It has since been confirmed to us that the entire Machine Shop is to be re-assembled as a post-disaster structure.  We very specifically questioned the re-assembly of the Machine Shop as a post-disaster structure and were assured by Toronto Hydro that the required construction of the building would not compromise its heritage integrity.  Despite these assurances, we do not believe that the Machine Shop can be re-assembled to meet post-disaster requirements in a manner that is in keeping with good heritage practice, especially as befits a site of national significance.  Toronto Hydro also confirmed to us that they had allocated approximately 50% of the Ground Floor and corresponding space on a mezzanine level for their use; this constitutes even more space than was previously indicated.  This reduces the space remaining for the TRHA and Rail Museum to substantially less than 25% of the space that we had hoped for; furthermore, this space would only be available to the TRHA on a number of occasions throughout the year and at the discretion of Toronto Hydro.

This constitutes a complete reversal of the position of Toronto Hydro at the initial proposal stage when Toronto Hydro specifically solicited the support of the TRHA for their proposal to disassemble and re-assemble the Machine Shop to allow for the construction of what was then conveyed to us to be an unmanned and underground transformer station which would allow the TRHA to utilize the above-grade space within the Machine Shop for the establishment of the Rail Museum.  Documentation which outlines the contents of the meetings held in 2008 with the City of Toronto, the TRHA and Toronto Hydro clearly indicates that Toronto Hydro was aware of the intended use of the Machine Shop to house the Rail Museum as expressed by the City of Toronto and the TRHA.  There obviously came a point during the development of their proposal when Toronto Hydro felt it necessary to allocate space within the Machine Shop for their own use yet they chose not to inform either the TRHA or the City of Toronto.

We were contacted by Toronto Hydro in late November 2011 to inform us that they had issued their revised and final Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) to their website.  We have reviewed the revised HIA and have very serious concerns about a number of proposed measures, as follows:

  • The requirement for a 300mm (12”) expansion joint between the Roundhouse and the re-assembled Machine Shop which will irreparably alter the relationship between the Machine Shop and the Roundhouse and, as such, does not comply with the standard of reversibility which the HIA specifically references
  • The proposed construction of a 510mm thick (20”) reinforced concrete exterior wall which would utilize the original salvaged brick (where possible) as a veneer on the exterior and interior; it is our opinion that this irreparably destroys the integrity of the Machine Shop

The construction measures proposed in this latest HIA are substantially different from those outlined in the previously issued assessments on which the TRHA based its objections and to which the Part II Order responds:

  • This effectively prevents the TRHA from responding to and, obviously, objecting to the actual proposed construction now that it has been resolved
  • We feel that Toronto Hydro was premature in submitting their Environmental Assessment and Site Plan Approval applications and have effectively circumvented the approvals process
  • The haste in which they have approached the approvals process to date leaves us with concerns that, should further issues arise, they would not be addressed in an appropriate, transparent manner
  • Most importantly, it is our opinion that the measures proposed in this latest HIA are even more detrimental to the heritage integrity of the Machine Shop and Roundhouse than those previously proposed and communicated

Since April 2011, the TRHA has been working to provide alternatives to Toronto Hydro which would avoid the necessity of any fire-separation and/or post-disaster construction which we feel will be detrimental to the integrity of the heritage fabric of the Machine Shop as well as to reduce the amount of space required by Toronto Hydro within the Machine Shop which negates the viability of the Rail Museum and the continued work of the TRHA.  To that end, the TRHA has attended numerous meetings with the City of Toronto and Toronto Hydro in an attempt to secure additional property for Toronto Hydro’s use.  The City of Toronto, specifically Culture and Real Estate Services, have expressed their willingness to continue to work with us to find an alternative to the current Toronto Hydro proposal.  We are continuing these negotiations with the City in an attempt to secure land adjacent to the Transformer Station land which would provide Toronto Hydro with up to 74,000 sq.ft. of additional space.

The revised Heritage Impact Assessment states that, in addition to Toronto Hydro, Hydro One has also allocated space for their use both above-grade, within the Machine Shop, and below-grade; the above-grade space within the Machine Shop now constitutes 50-60% of the Ground Floor, an even greater area than was previously communicated to us.  The revised HIA suggests that the allocation of space within the Machine Shop was necessitated by a lack of space below grade.  This assertion is absolutely outrageous given that the option to secure additional land immediately adjacent to the current site has been available to Toronto Hydro for years.  The Minutes of Meeting #19 of the City of Toronto Government Management Committee (November 21, 2008) indicate that the Committee had directed the City’s CCO to determine any necessary adjustments to the boundaries of the Transformer Station lands.  Most importantly, Toronto Hydro had previously reviewed this option as a means to avoid the disassembly and re-assembly of the Machine Shop but abandoned this option due to the encumbrances which we are currently working with the City to remove.

Despite the cooperation of the TRHA and continued willingness of the City of Toronto to work towards a successful resolution, Toronto Hydro has indicated that they have no intention of considering this additional land parcel even if it were available immediately, effectively eliminating any opportunity to establish the Toronto Rail Museum and removing the Machine Shop from the public realm forever.  The TRHA has continually approached this process in good faith and has made every effort to present alternatives to Toronto Hydro which in no way negate their ability to construct a transformer station which meets their requirements; indeed, we feel that our proposals will allow for Toronto Hydro to meet their future expansion needs as well.  Unfortunately, the current Toronto Hydro proposal completely destroys the ability of the TRHA to fulfill their mandate from the City of Toronto to establish a meaningful Rail Museum and, we believe, irreparably damages the heritage integrity of a building of national significance.  It has become clear to us that Toronto Hydro was never willing to work with the TRHA to find a solution that would be mutually beneficial.

We are compelled, therefore, to take all steps available to us to protect the integrity of the Machine Shop and Roundhouse and our shared heritage.

For More Information – Click on these links!