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Canadian Northern Railway Roundhouse


Other Names:
Canadian Northern Railway Roundhouse, Turntable & Water Tower Foundation
Hanna Roundhouse

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Canadian Northern Railway Roundhouse in Hanna is an iconic piece of historic railway infrastructure. The designation includes the roundhouse and turntable as well as other separate, but associated elements. The roundhouse, built in 1913, is a large, ten-stall, fan-shaped, brick and concrete building. A rectangular building, which contained a boiler room and machine shop, projects from the rear of the roundhouse and the foundation and remains of a 1922, five-stall addition are found to the immediate south of the roundhouse. Other associated elements include a concrete and steel turntable and remnants of numerous other structures, such as the foundations for a water tower and other storage buildings. Some tracks and evidence of tracks are present, as are many examples of metal switches and other railway fixtures. The roundhouse site is located in the former railway yards along the southern edge of the Town of Hanna.

Heritage Value
The Canadian Northern Railway Roundhouse is significant for its association with the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) and as an example of essential railway divisional point infrastructure and architecture. The roundhouse is one of the most significant, historic railway structures in Alberta.

The roundhouse site provides evidence of the role of railway divisional points, which were integral parts of the railway network. Between 1912 and 1914, the CNoR built a line between Saskatoon and Calgary and established Hanna as a divisional point. The Hanna divisional point possessed facilities essential to the CNoR’s operations, such as a roundhouse, turntable and rail yard; buildings for storage of fuel, tools and equipment; water tower; and a nearby dam and reservoir. All were located in a long and narrow strip of land alongside the main line. Although much of the track has been removed and structures demolished, evidence of these features can be found within the current roundhouse property. Surface scarring and extant switches show track location and orientation, and foundations show the location of the water tower, sand tower and other buildings. These elements, along with the roundhouse and turntable, remain as evidence of typical divisional point infrastructure and organization.

The roundhouse and turntable at the western edge of the site are rare examples of once essential railway infrastructure. The roundhouse, built in 1913, is designed to maximise the confined railyard space and was used for the short-term storage and maintenance of steam locomotives. The circular turntable, consisting of a concrete depression with a pivot-mounted steel bridge, allowed locomotives to be turned in a very small space. The roundhouse, built with concrete and brick exterior walls and a wooden roof, is structurally and stylistically similar to roundhouses built by the CNoR and other North American railways. The roundhouse’s iconic semi-circular or fan shape with a long, curved rear wall and shorter, curved front is the result of the structure wrapping around the turntable. Large doors on the front elevation provide access to the ten locomotive stalls. The roundhouse’s interior consists of a large open space, split in two, five-stall halves by a firewall. A series of concentric wooden joists support the roof, which is punctuated by a series of square openings for venting locomotive smokestacks. Lighting for the cavernous space is provided by electric lights suspended from the ceiling and natural light through the tall, multi-paned windows across the rear wall and a row of clerestory windows. A rectangular, concrete structure containing the boiler room and a machine shop, part of the original design, projects from the rear of the roundhouse.

Architectural evidence of the changing railway technology is present at the site. Ever-increasing locomotive size resulted in the construction of a longer, five-stall, brick addition in the 1920s, of which only remnants still remain. In 1943, a portion of the roof was raised, resulting in the tiered roof, clerestory windows and the brick construction of the upper walls. Despite the many changes to the building, it, along with most other roundhouses across Canada, became obsolete in the post-war period. The railway company, now Canadian National Railways, abandoned the roundhouse in 1961. After so many decades of use by the railways, the lands surrounding the roundhouse likely contain debris and industrial archeological artifacts that would provide further evidence of the site’s use and evolving railway tools and technology. Today, the roundhouse at Hanna is the most intact example of this integral, historic railway infrastructure in Alberta, one of the best examples in western Canada and one of the few remaining examples in the country.

Source: Alberta Culture and Tourism, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2321)

Character-Defining Elements
The heritage value of the Canadian Northern Railway Roundhouse in Hanna is expressed through such character-defining elements as its:

Roundhouse Exterior
- semi-circular form radiating from and wrapping around the turntable;
- front elevation (facing the turntable) consisting entirely of large doors;
- form and construction of the wooden locomotive doors, consisting of metal bracing, upper and lower sections and a central, multi-paned window;
- rear elevation, consisting of a long, curved brick and concrete wall;
- fenestration pattern and arrangement of tall and narrow, multi-paned windows on the curved, rear elevation and the north-facing elevations;
- pattern of in-filled window openings and more recently added passage openings on the south elevation (common wall of the former five-stall addition);
- wood siding between the locomotive doors and on the upper portion of the front elevation;
- concrete construction of the original exterior walls and the brick construction of the upper walls, showing the rear-sloping orientation of the original roofline and the alterations made in 1943 to accommodate larger locomotives;
- concrete and concrete-capped brick parapets;
- raised ceiling and clerestory windows over the rear portion of the building;
- metal roof access ladders affixed to the sides and rear of the building;
- rectangular-shaped, flat-roofed boiler house projecting from the rear wall;
- fenestration pattern of the boiler house;
- extant remaining foundation and low, partially demolished brick walls of the 1921 five-stall addition on the south side.

Roundhouse Interior
- post and beam supporting structure with con-centric rows of support pillars;
- wooden ceiling and roof;
- openings in the ceiling over each stall showing the former location of the fume hoods;
- concrete firewall splitting the interior workspace into two five-stall sections;
- extant historic lighting fixtures suspended at various heights from the ceiling;
- extant examples of miscellaneous metal fixtures and tools on the ceilings, walls and support pillars; pipes; and door hinges.

- location just outside the roundhouse;
- concrete walled, circular pit with a central pivot and wood and metal gear wheel;
- wood-decked, steel bridge with riveted steel sides intended to rotate on the pivot.

General and Landscape
- location in the former rail yards on the south side of the Town of Hanna;
- extant metal fixtures and switches around the yard;
- extant rails and ties approaching the turntable and crossing the property;
- remains of the water tower to the southeast of the roundhouse and concrete foundations of other former railyard buildings in the area;
- association with and views of the nearby dam and reservoir;
- undetermined, but potential presence of archaeological artifacts relating to railway operations throughout the site.


Street Address: PO Box 1267, Hanna, AB T0J 1P0
Community: Hanna
Boundaries: Lot 3, Block 3, Plan 0313132
Contributing Resources: Building

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2015/06/02

Historical Information

Built: 1912 to 1912
Significant Date(s) 1913 to 1961
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Communications and Transportation
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Context: General Background on Roundhouses:

Roundhouses and turntables were essential elements of railroad infrastructure from the 1870s to the 1960s.Used for sheltering and maintaining locomotives, the shape and orientation of roundhouses and their turntables allowed for economic use of space in often severely constricted railyards. Roundhouses were typically constructed at divisional points, which were typically located about every 150 to 200 miles, about as far as a train’s crew could operate before requiring rest and the locomotive requiring inspection and resupplying. Although roundhouses and turntables were frequently altered and expanded to accommodate larger locomotives and evolving railroad technology, they became obsolete following the Second World War as railroad companies converted from steam-driven power to diesel-electric locomotives. Diesel-electric locomotives were more fuel-efficient, required smaller crews and were able to travel longer distances, eliminating the need for many divisional points and their roundhouses. Roundhouse design, once considered innovative, became difficult to work with. Their numerous roof support posts and fan shape restricted movement and made the installation of cranes and heavy equipment difficult. Also, by the 1950s, many roundhouses, which had been poorly maintained during the Great Depression and the Second World War, were in ill-repair. Railroad companies often deemed it more economical to abandon or demolish roundhouses than to repair and upgrade them.

The Canadian Northern Railway Roundhouse at Hanna:

From 1912 to 1914, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) built the Goose Lake Line between Saskatoon and Calgary. A newly surveyed town named Hanna, after the CNoR president David Hanna, was selected as a divisional point and the required infrastructure was built, including a railyard, station, large reservoir and a roundhouse with turntable. The roundhouse was completed in 1913.

Hanna was an important center of rail activity throughout the steam era and was one of the CNoR’s busiest traffic points. In 1919, the roundhouse was expanded with a five-stall, brick addition to accommodate larger locomotives.

In 1920, the CNoR and numerous other railways were nationalized to form Canadian National Railways (CN). Some duplicate routes were eliminated, resulting in increased traffic through Hanna. The roundhouse was upgraded again in 1942 to accommodate ever-increasing locomotive size. A larger, motor operated turntable was installed and, in 1943, a bi-level roof with clerestory windows was installed over the original 10-stalls, increasing the ceiling clearance by about eight feet.

Like other major railways, CN converted to diesel-electric locomotives over the 1950s. In 1961, the Hanna roundhouse was deemed obsolete and was decommissioned. The structure was leased to a series of local businesses. Most of the rails and turntable equipment and machinery were removed and the interior was altered to suit the purposes of the businesses leasing the structure.

In 1990, Hanna was completely eliminated as a divisional point and all maintenance facilities were consolidated in Calgary and Edmonton. The roundhouse was abandoned and began to rapidly deteriorate. The brick, 1920s addition partially collapsed in 2007 and was demolished for safety reasons in 2012.

In the early 1900s, there were at least 25 roundhouses in Alberta, 12 operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway, seven by the Canadian Northern Railway and six by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Today, only three of these roundhouses are still extant. Two have been severely compromised, existing in portions (Strathcona CPR roundhouse) or as a ruin (Big Valley CNoR roundhouse), leaving the Canadian Northern Railway Roundhouse in Hanna as the only extant example of this once iconic piece of railroad infrastructure remaining in Alberta and one of only a few still remaining in Canada.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1374
Designation File: DES 2321
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link:
Data Source:
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