Tucked away amongst the recently-built skyscrapers of Bremner Boulevard and the South Core condos, and encircled by well-known tourism venues (CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and the Rogers Centre) and the buzz of the Gardiner Expressway, there is a charming piece of Toronto’s past where you can take a break and ride the (mini) rails: Roundhouse Park and the Toronto Railway Museum.
I happened by this park recently when we took our son to the nearby Metro Toronto Convention Centre to receive his second Covid-19 vaccine, and was instantly reminded of the many times I brought my kids here when they were younger. The video-game-obsessed teenager was once obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and this was his happy place.
My kids’ favourite thing to do was to ride the mini train. A long bench that you straddle takes a slow (but still thrilling for the young at heart) half-kilometre tour of the whole park. It’s fun to wave to all the tourists walking by and to pretend to toot your horn! Note: all children under the age of fourteen must be accompanied by an adult. A bonus for parents is that the mini train has separate (and affordable) admission from the museum if that’s all that they want to do.
Instead, I now have a big excitable puppy in tow instead of toddlers, so its green spaces were also a welcome sight. It was quite busy with downtown condo-dwellers walking their pooches as there aren’t many other parks in this area. There’s also a small playground tucked away in the corner that is cozy despite the din of the highway beyond.
The Roundhouse is a cool bit of history among all the newness of the metropolitan skyline: 2019 marked its 90th anniversary! The Toronto Railway Museum in Stall 17 of the Roundhouse has just reopened for 2021 and general admission includes access to the museum space for the day. There you can explore the exhibits, discover their collection with self-guided kids activities and climb aboard an 1896 wooden parlour car. The Don Station gift shop is not open at this time.
The John Street Roundhouse also houses Steam Whistle Brewery and The Rec Room arcade entertainment complex, run by Cineplex. With the emphasis this year on outdoor dining, they are both operating extensive family-friendly patios with kids menu options. It’s wonderful to see the museum flanked by two modern businesses that are thriving, while still honouring this beautiful historical building.
Toronto Railway Museum:
When: Mini Train will run on weekends only, beginning July 10 and operating until Labour Day. (Update: the mini train trips have been extended until the end of September!) Museum in Stall 17 reopens July 21.
Time: 12pm to 5pm
Where: 255 Bremner Blvd., between Rees Street and Lower Simcoe Street
Getting There: There is no dedicated parking at Roundhouse Park; however, there is a paid parking lot underneath it (entry at the east side of the park on Lower Simcoe Street). It’s also an easy walk west on Bremner from Union subway station, the 504 King streetcar stop at John Street, or the 509 Harbourfront streetcar stop at Rees Street.