A piece of Ottawa history hidden for over 100 years off Hunt Club Road was redeveloped recently to make room for a new hotel and restaurants. It was grand vision for a new concept in Ottawa living called “Rideau Yard” and it was the nucleus of a town that never was. Part of this grand scheme for a new “resort town” south of downtown Ottawa was a large railway roundhouse, which was built and its remnants quietly survived for over a hundred years until the new hotel was built.
I noticed the remains of the site when I saw a large circular pit in a vacant field driving by some years ago. With some trusty online aerial imagery and research, I learned it was a remnant of a large railway station and a century-old ghost town once called “Rideau Yard” built in 1915.
Constructed by the Canadian Northern Railway company, “Rideau Yard” opened with great expectations of handling both freight and passenger rail traffic passing between Quebec and Vancouver on the newly constructed TransContinental Rail line. This grand, new station south of Ottawa along present day Hunt Club Road near Antares Drive was an ambitious development that housed an 80-foot turntable and a 15-stall roundhouse, where steam locomotives were serviced. Later re-named “Federal Yard”, it was to be the epicentre for Ottawa’s newest suburb, which boasted a summer hotel and residential streets mapped out close to the Rideau River.
Yet this vision of a new town south of Ottawa never came to fruition and eventually fell into financial troubles. Canadian Northern Railway shut down Rideau Yard and the dreams of their south Ottawa development came to an end in 1922. The hotel was being used by railway employees instead of visiting passengers, and the roundhouse and other auxiliary buildings were demolished some time around 1930. Their ruins became cloaked in overgrowth up until 2017 when it was finally buried to make way for a new hotel and mall.
I had wanted to document what was left of this century old railway station before it was lost forever. A 1980 edition of the Bytown Railway Society publication “Branch Line” included a series of maps and recollections by former employees. This helped me reconstruct what may have been there.
On the site, there was a vast area of roundhouse ruins with railway artifacts strewn about. An aerial image from the National Air Photo Library clearly shows the outline of the old roundhouse building and the turntable. Bricks from the roundhouse, pieces of twisted metal and other remnants of the lost station have now been buried under the development, which has now become the Sandman Hotel.
When I explored the area, the turntable’s open pit and centre pivot structure were concealed under a cover of vegetation but it was easy to imagine a once bustling railway station and steam locomotives trundling on their way in and out of Ottawa on the TransContinental line.
Using the similar roundhouse and turntable complex that was restored and is currently maintained by Toronto’s Railway Museum and the Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto for comparison, we can visualize what Ottawa’s Rideau Yard station may have looked like when it was in operation 108 years ago.
Once labelled the most contaminated site in Ottawa, this “brownfield” property is now owned by Toronto’s Unitrin and Triform Developments, which has given new life to the area, and a hotel has once again been built on the site.
With this new development, it looks like the century-old dream of a busy commercial centre on the land will finally be realized. History has come full circle.
Andrew King, February 9th, 2023
From a previously published article in the Ottawa Citizen
Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages
Google Satellite Images