Can it All Fit on the Rail Shops Site?

After allocating the amount of land that has been dedicated for the University of Waterloo, how much land actually remains to be developed for municipal or commercial uses? The Railway Shops are a prominent structure on this site and a key heritage feature of Stratford. There are many ideas of how all or part of the existing building and site could be repurposed, but everyone agrees, something needs to be done. The purpose of this proposal is to evaluate what can possibly fit on the site.  

Site Division

  • The land was originally expropriated by the municipality for municipal use with a commitment to dedicate eight acres of the site to the University of Waterloo.
  • In developing a site, developers always begin by using the easiest portion of land to develop, so in this case they would sever the land and sell off those areas first. These areas are the portions that do not include the Rail Shops building since it is expensive to demolish and is landlocked.
  • Before the severed lands are offered for sale, assign areas of the site that have been dedicated to the University and what is needed for municipal uses.  

University of Waterloo

  • As part of the expropriation, the City has dedicated an eight acre portion of land on the approximately 17 acre site to the University.
  • The campus currently consists of a building and parking that occupies approximately 1.3 acres of land.
  • The University has stated it doesn't plan to develop the remaining land for some years.
  • If the City wants development to occur on the site sooner rather than later, the University should be granted the lands that are more challenging to develop so they can be managed over time.  
  • An area of eight acres would cover the land the current University building and parking occupy at the north edge of the site as well as the entire remaining portion of the former Rail Shops building to the rail allowance on the south side of the site.
  • To illustrate the City`s long term commitment to the University, a new street should be developed to extend from the north end (St. Patrick Street) to the south end (St. David Street) so it is not landlocked and to permit access to the internal parts of the campus. It could be named University Avenue.
  • This street will define the east edge of campus, differentiating it from the remaining lands used for municipal or commercial developments.
  • When the time comes for the University to develop their remaining land, the City can prepare the site as required for development to suit the University's needs.  

Rail Shops Building

  • With the Rail Shops building remaining for future University development, it should be cleaned up to make way for any potential adaptive reuse of the portion of the two storey mezzanine section of the structure. Through time the area within the concrete shell can be developed with multiple three-four storey University buildings.
  • The University of Waterloo has already developed an adaptive reuse project at their Cambridge Campus Architecture School where they redeveloped a former factory building. They can develop within the former Rail Shops structure to create a similar style campus in Stratford.
  • Until then, as a municipality, we may wish to develop the space within and adjacent to the Rail Shop structure for community heritage/garden spaces and use the walls of the original structure to display photos or sculptures of the former Rail Shops industry.  
  • With the remaining structure opened up and accessible, sightlines to downtown and to the University campus will transform the site so it is useable by both citizens and tourists and accessible to the surrounding neighbourhoods.  

Municipal Uses for Remainder of the Site

  • The lands east of the new University Avenue are left to be developed by the City or other commercial developers.
  • Existing City streets, Falstaff Street and Shakespeare Street could be continued into the site, connecting to University Avenue to allow for convenient movement of people in and around the area.  
  • These streets will help to divide the site for various potential uses of the municipal and commercial lands.  


  • The transit transfer terminal can be moved from its current location in Market Square and be placed mid block between the University and the Y at the north end of the site.  
  • In addition to being located between the campus and the Y, the location for the terminal is ideal because it is just minutes walking distance from the downtown core.  
  • It would bring students directly to campus and this is typical of most University campuses that include a transit station located within or nearby.  
  • This site would create a safe location for the transit platform as it can be observed by occupants in the Y, the University, and other adjacent buildings that exist or may be developed in the future. It would also have facilities such as public washrooms and a bus drivers room.  

The Family Y

  • This property must be included in the overall plan as the present site is limited for any future expansion.
  • The Y proposes to expand its pool area, preferably to the south or west side of the existing building.
  • This proposal illustrates the current building remaining where it is located, with the option of future expansion to the west side of the structure.  
  • The Y boundary will have to be adjusted to accommodate this addition and related parking.
  • This will result in the property line moving west.  

Skate Park

  • A new skate park has been approved by Council for a smaller facility than desired, in an area that is limited for future expansion and has concerns by neighbours.
  • Moving the proposed Shakespeare Street skate park across the street to the south east corner of the Rail Shops site is ideal because it is larger and has amenities that would be favourable to the needs of a skate park.
  • This location would provide a space large enough to satisfy the needs of a properly sized skate park. -It would eliminate the issues with neighbours.
  • The existing mature trees would provide shade for the skate boarders. -The area is surrounded by City streets, some with houses, so the boarders can display their skills.
  • Most importantly, this could be developed in this location now!    


  • Where the existing soil on the site is contaminated it would need to be removed and replaced.  
  • If excavation is already required, instead of just replacing it with clean fill, there is potential to excavate to a depth as required to create an interconnected parking structure under the respective buildings as they are developed.  
  • It would be policy that parking be provided under any building constructed by the University, City or commercial developer's so the site is parking sustainable.
  • This would provide more green space on the developments around the University campus, similar to other University campus' in the province.
  • In each case, an additional level of parking can be developed by the City to accommodate the need for additional parking required by the activities and businesses in the heritage District as it is within walking distance of the downtown core.    

Remaining Land

  • In addition to a bus transit facility, the expansion of the Y, and additional parking, the City has other needs of its own such as a Police Services building and a Library.
  • This proposal illustrates a location for a new 30,000 square foot Police Services building along Downie Street.
  • With lands allocated for the Police Services building, the remaining land can be used for parking, other City buildings, or can be sold to developers.
  • The only land remaining to be potentially used by the municipality or sold is approximately  1.3 acres.  

Because the site is large, most people believe it can fit a lot more than what it actually can. But once you account for the space required by the University, the Y.M.C.A, a bus terminal, a skate park, a Police Services building, and roadways the area remaining is a very minimal size to use or sell.  

If the land the Rail Shops building occupies is dedicated to the University, the cost to demolish the building now does not buy any additional land that the City could use or sell but only increases the debt the City has already incurred since acquiring this property.  

Council and staff should review the City needs for the property as per the Planning Advisory Committee recommendation and determine what surplus lands, if any, are available for commercial purposes. At this time, limit the amount of demolition as required to make the Rail Shops building safe and accessible so it can be used by the public until such time when the City continues with its commitment to assist the University in developing it. In the meantime, the City can develop the land around the existing structure to make the site usable by the public with options for development over time.  

This site has so much potential and can be used to tell the story of Stratford's heritage. Instead of the Rail Shops structure being an eyesore to the community, it should be celebrated and used as a space that everyone can enjoy with a base that our future can be built upon.  

So let's begin the journey, take the first step, build the skate park so we can start to use the site now!  


Sarah McIntosh, Robert Ritz

Presentation to Council (May 11, 2015)

The Future of the Stratford Railway Shops  

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.  

The decisions being made about the Stratford Rail Shops building should not be about what it is, but what it could be.  

I have had the opportunity to speak with some people who were of the opinion that the eyesore should be torn down, but after explaining to them that retaining the significant portions of structure and cleaning it up would actually save more of the taxpayers' money, they were quick to change their opinion.  

The significant structural portion of the Rail Shops building is the concrete walls. The concrete is the most expensive part of the building to be demolished, so why demolish it when leaving the walls standing could create a wonderful space for telling the story of a key heritage feature of Stratford. By leaving the walls of the building up, we could turn this eyesore into the coliseum or Parthenon of Stratford.  

During its construction, the walls were one of the first parts to go up, implying they can stand on their own and maybe they should.

There are lots of examples of elsewhere in the world, where the walls of old structures were left standing and the spaces around them turned into community hubs or were re-used by developers.

This building has national scale. Why would we want to demolish something that has so much potential? Every development proposal that has been put forth for this site, has taken the opportunity to re-use the existing structure, which is what makes this site and its proposals unique. This is the case because it is more economical to keep the building up then to spend money on demolition and build new. At most, we should only be removing the unsafe portions of the building, to make it a usable and attractive feature of Stratford.

Currently, Cornwall is demolishing a bridge, but leaving part of it standing. And what part is that? The concrete structure supporting it. Cornwall was famous for its cotton mills, some of which have been saved, others demolished. You can see that where they have been demolished, all that's left are vacant rubble sites, whereas the ones that were saved, have been redeveloped. Developers have been able to keep the old walls and have even added new ones where needed. Another building has used the old wall as a frame in front of the new building.

So what does this mean for the Stratford Rail Shops? We know it's expensive and costs taxpayers money to remove what we don't need to. Tonight a member of council could amend the current motion and resolve this issue by requesting a proposal to demolish the least amount of structure required to satisfy the unsafe order.  

However, if more demolition is required, we strongly urge that the walls remain. The Rail Shops structure can be opened up, allowing for sight lines and pedestrian connections to the new university campus and Downtown. At night, the columns can be illuminated and a sculpture of scrap steel could be hung to replicate the image of Locomotive 6218, the last of the steam giants to be refurbished in Stratford, creating an attraction we can all be proud of versus the eyesore we all despise.

The issue here is fire damage, not full demolition. If we are going to do more than just what's required to deem the building safe, let’s at least keep the walls up because with them, you save tax dollars and have the opportunity to tell the great story of Stratford for generations to come.  

Thank you.

Sarah McIntosh, R. Ritz Architect

Letter to the Editor (May 8, 2015)

The Rail Shops have been an eyesore for many years. The cost to demolish any portion of the rail shops is not part of this year’s City budget. If funds permit, Council has the genuine intent to give taxpayers what they want.  

As a compromise between repairing damaged structure or full demolition, last Monday Council endorsed a motion to demolish the portion of the structure with fire-damaged roof and retain a sizable portion at the building’s east end and the west wall with the 1907 date stone – a key heritage feature. Further demolition of the building, at taxpayer’s cost, may also occur if a development for the site is not received by Council by September 30 of this year.  

If the damaged portion of the building is limited to the roof deck and membrane, why spend taxpayers’ dollars to demolish the steel roof structure and walls which appear to be structurally sound? Council also has a concern involving the demolition of the annex, if the walls are torn down, then future developers may not be able to build that close to the tracks. If this is the case, then all the walls on the south side of the structure should stay up for the same reason.  

Since the Council meeting on Monday, I have had the opportunity to talk with some of the residents living south of St. David Street and they all had the same opinion, "It does not need to be torn down, just cleaned up". By opening the building up to the public, the site lines and new access to the university campus and Downtown will transform this neighbourhood and the site.  

Council could resolve this issue at low cost to save taxpayer’s dollars by requesting a proposal for “Engineered Demolition”. This is where demolition contractors bid to retain an engineer to review the damage and tender a price to demolish the least amount of structure. The “Engineered Demolition” could entail three parts. One, ensuring the building meets the criteria to satisfy the unsafe order, confirmed by the engineer. Two, remove the steel cladding, clean the remaining concrete and steel structure and repair the damaged concrete as directed by the engineer to avoid future water damage. Last, if funding can be arranged, remove the hoarding and concrete block that infill the windows and provide access through the first floor windows so taxpayer’s can finally see and walk through the structure they have so much invested in.  

If the cladding is removed the long bays of the structure are open to Downie Street where a sculpture of scrap steel could be hung to replicate the image of Locomotive 6218 for passersby to see. By floodlighting the pilasters and this work of art the structure becomes an attraction we can all be proud of versus the eyesore we all despise.  

Let Council know your choice, make it safe, clean it up or make it accessible until developed by others. 

Robert Ritz, Architect