Walk through the Longo’s supermarket on Laird Drive and you’ll notice more than their produce section and meat counters.
Archival images and other physical mementos point to the building’s previous role as a locomotive repair shop. The neighbourhood owes its existence to the yard the shop served, around which the Canadian Northern Railway started a planned community.
The railway began accumulating farmland here in 1912 in order to build facilities for its expanding services and a town modelled on its communities of Port Mann, BC, and Mount Royal, QC. Planned train facilities included car storage yards, repair shops, sidings and a station, all designed to compete with the Canadian Pacific line which ran to the south. Luck wasn’t on the railway’s side; the combination of the outbreak of the First World War and Canadian Northern’s bankruptcy slowed construction. The facilities were completed by the railway’s successor, Canadian National, after the war.
Designed by Frederick Todd, the original master plan for the Town of Leaside was slowly realized — it was not completed until the early 1950s. Canadian Northern officials had hoped that the rail yard would be its primary repair facility in Eastern Canada. However, this goal was never reached. After Canadian National abandoned the locomotive shop during the 1930s, it was used by a succession of businesses until Longo’s opened in 2012.
By Jamie Bradburn