Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Roundhouse at Pacific

Grand Trunk Pacific Roundhouse at Pacific, Statement of Significance

Description

The Grand Trunk Pacific roundhouse consists of a concrete foundation with associated discarded brick piles and railway track remnants on the west side of the Skeena River, found east of the CNR railway tracks in the now-abandoned railway town of Pacific, BC. Accessible only by train or boat, the roundhouse site is located in District Lot 919, approximately 120 railway miles from Prince Rupert and about 35 km northeast of Terrace in northwestern BC.

Heritage Values

The Grand Trunk Pacific roundhouse at Pacific, BC is valued for its historical, engineering and cultural significance, particularly as the remains of an important railway repair and maintenance structure associated with the Grand Trunk Pacific railway.

As part of Canada’s second transcontinental railway, the BC portion of the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) was constructed between 1908 and 1914, connecting the Canadian Prairies to Prince Rupert on the northwest coast. The construction of the GTP was considered to be the single most important influence on the opening up and development of central BC. In 1920, due to ongoing financial difficulties, the GTP was placed under the management of the Crown corporation, Canadian National Railways (CNR), and by 1923 was completely absorbed into the CNR.

Constructed in 1915, the roundhouse, located on a 30 hectare piece of flat land near the Skeena River, is significant for its utilitarian nature, being built to the GTP standard plan (Plan 120-115) typical of its time. The remaining physical foundations directly reflect the plans for a large quarter-circular-shaped building with track leading into 12 stalls, each with a below-grade maintenance pit used for the repair of locomotives and rolling stock. A large turntable in front of the roundhouse was used to align the locomotives with the stalls and was connected to a railway wye, which in turn joined the mainline track.

As the first divisional point east of the Prince Rupert terminus, Pacific was a significant part of GTP operations in BC. In addition to the roundhouse, Pacific’s railway infrastructure included a substantial passenger station (CNR Plan 100-159), freight and baggage sheds, water tank, oil tank, and coaling and sanding facilities. The selection of a railway divisional point often spurred additional economic activity which resulted in the growth of the associated community. Divisional points were typically only 110 to 140 miles apart due to the mechanical limitations of steam locomotives and rolling stock of the time. Early locomotives were smaller and slower and could only travel short distances before servicing was required. Originally named Nicholl, Pacific’s importance was such that it was renamed in 1913, reflecting the company’s name of Grand Trunk Pacific.

With increasing advances in locomotive technology from steam to diesel, railway operations became centralized, and as a result the Pacific roundhouse was demolished to its foundations in 1959. The divisional point was transferred to Terrace, and eventually all maintenance was relocated to Prince George, BC and Edmonton, Alberta.

The roundhouse is important for its construction materials. The remaining moss-covered foundations are formed of concrete; brick, glass and steel were the other primary materials employed in its construction. The GTP was known for its use of good-quality materials. The foundations themselves reflect the original association of the roundhouse with its landscape through their physical location, thickness, shape, detail and varying heights relative to the existing grade of the land. Their form corresponds directly to the GTP construction plans.

The contractor, Carter-Halls-Aldinger, was a Winnipeg firm responsible for many buildings, both utilitarian and aesthetic, throughout the Canadian West constructing other GTP roundhouses in prairie towns such as  Watrous and Biggar in Saskatchewan and Wainwright in Alberta.

The GTP roundhouse is valued for being a key part of Western Canada’s transcontinental history, and the fact that such structures are becoming increasingly rare. The traces of the roundhouse provide an opportunity to physically understand the scale and layout of the structure and its relationship to the railway tracks, the Skeena River and the former townsite of Pacific. Vegetation patterns associated with the foundations provide clues to its location and represent the inevitable encroachment of nature on the built structure.

Character Defining Elements

 Site, Setting and Landscape

  • Location of the roundhouse relative to the river, existing railway tracks and the former townsite of Pacific
  • Landscape clues as to the location of the railway tracks leading to the wye
  • The flat land on which the roundhouse, railway wye and turntable are located.

 Engineering Features

  • The concrete foundations in their original locations
  • The expression of detail in the foundations, including form, shape, angle and height relative to grade
  • Nearby piles of brick

Selected Sources

Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company. Plateau and Valley Lands In British Columbia : General Information for the Intending Settler. Winnipeg : General Passenger Dept., Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, 1912.

Grand Trunk Pacific Mechanical Yard Department. Construction drawings for 12-stall Roundhouse, 1913, 1914, 1953.

Kozma, Les. Edmonton Alberta, Personal Communication.

The McCubbins of Pacific. http://www.themccubbins.com/

Lower, J.A. ‚ÄúThe Construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in British Columbia.‚ÄĚ British Columbia Historical Quarterly Vol. 4, No. 3, July 1940.

Lower, J.A. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in British Columbia. A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the Department of History. University of British Columbia, April 1939.

Newman, Dave. Terrace, B.C., Personal Communication.

Royal British Columbia Museum. Living Landscapes. www.livinglandscapes.bc.ca/northwest/skeena_river/pacific.htm

Skeena Valley Model Railroad Association, Terrace, B.C., Personal Communication

Photos: 
Pacifc GTP Roundhouse 1921 (BC Archives photo i_33745)
Interior of the GTP Roundhouse in Smithers.  The same interior as the Pacific Roundhouse.  (BC Archives photo e_02773)
GTP Train at Pacific, 1921.  First Pacific GTP Railway Station in background.  (BC Archives photo i_33745)
Second GTP Railway Station with Roundhouse in background. (McCubbin collection)
GTP Railway crew on locomotive during 1936 Skeena River flood with roundhouse in background. (McCubbin collection)
1947 aerial photo of Pacific and GTP roundhouse.
CN Rail tracks and site of former GTP roundhouse at Pacific in 2011.
Foudation remains of GTP roundhouse 2011.
Southwest corner of GTP roundhouse 2011.
NTS topo map of Pacific and area - 1961
1912 Subdivision Plan of the town of Pacific (Nicholl)
1937 Railway Facilitiy Improvements Plan at Pacific