CNR Center

Stratford revisited.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

The last time I visited the (abandoned) CNR shops in Stratford it was a very cold day in the winter. Today, I dropped by again, and it was the exact opposite, very hot! I had dropped by in June as well, and intended on updating the information I had about it then, but the time slipped by.

To be honest, I just don’t know what to make of what is going on there. When I was here in the winter I thought it was just another abandoned railroad building. I had noticed a sign showing what a developer was hoping to do with the property.

click on image for larger view

While there in June, with my brother, we were looking into what was left of the turntable pit, which looked more like a garbage pit, when a guy in a cowboy hat started walking over to us. It was during the week, and there were a few people working around the place. I figured he was coming over to tell us to get off the property, but to my surprise he was very friendly. His first words to us were “we are going to be putting a working steam engine onto the new turntable”. Not what I had expected to hear.

He introduced himself as Lawrence Ryan, the owner of the property. He started explaining what he (and a few investors) were going to do with the place, and it is ambitious to say the least. A shopping center, water park with a wave pool, a 5000 seat stadium, IMAX theater, luxury hotel with a facade to resemble downtown Stratford as it looked in 1907 and several working steam engines running excursions from the area. He seems very serious about the project and did a good job of convincing us it will happen. Work has been under way for some time now, cleaning up the property, but I don’t see any signs of serious construction.

He also told us about his woes with the local city council, or as he put it, a few idiots who have their own agenda. I can’t say that I’m surprised, I have never been a big fan of the city council types. I can’t imagine why any city council in their right mind would block an opportunity to expand their tax base. Stratford is very well known for its annual Stratford Theatre festival, and could easily support a project like this, and Canada is sorely lacking any form of serious railroad heritage.

I wish Lawrence all the best in this endeavor, I would certainly like to see it happen, as the alternative I sure would be some condos or other uninspired creation on the property.

The town of Stratford I’m sure would like to see something happen here, the property in its current state is an eyesore and a lawsuit waiting to happen. I’m sure if Mr. Ryan sees this through a lot of the councilors will change their tune.

The well published battles are getting hotter, and I’m sure the lawsuits between the developers and the councilors will stall this where possible. I read an op-ed piece in one of the local papers about it, and it sure sounds petty to me, like a bad divorce.

I really don’t know if Lawrence Ryan is just a dreamer with a broom only stalling the inevitable, or, a serious developer that has the ability to see this happen, I guess time will tell.

What follows are a few pictures I took around the outside of the place today, enjoy!

Other than the rails still in the ground, there is very little “railroad” left here, this, was one of the exceptions….

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

It appears they are excavating some of the rails that were buried under the pavement, which I find very fascinating! Two of the crossings that were here have been uncovered, along with the trackwork, including a turnout, that accessed the turntable pit. All this was just under the surface of the pavement, and the grass.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

This track was one of the engine entrances into the shops. I wonder if these will ever see trains again….

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Another excavated crossing…

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

This turnout is just past the diamond, and led either onto the turntable, or into the tender shop. The entire tender shop end of the building burned to the ground in 2003, but that does not seem to have affected the plans much, this space is where the hotel will be located.

Apparently the last train to cross this turnout went to the turntable pit….

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Further up from that turnout is the newly excavated turntable pit, shown at the right of this picture. Recently there was a blurb in the local paper about the complete lack of fences around the property, and it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. The cut off telephone poles with rope surrounding the open pit I guess is Lawrence’s answer to that. Its stuff like this that really makes me question how realistic this whole project is. As much as I like to be able to snoop around the place, it does seem that Mr. Ryan is leaving himself open to a lawsuit if someone should get hurt on the property. It is a huge shame that we have closed off half the country for the sake of insurance companies, but that unfortunately is the reality. I hope this whole thing does not get mothballed, much to the delight of the city council, because some idiot falls down.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Its a slight improvement over the winter….



Same hydrant, different angle, and season. This entire end of the property is nicely cleaned up now, when we there in June there was still lots of rubble. Mr. Ryan was very proud of the fact that only three bins of junk had been taken to the local landfill, everything else was recycled. The bricks and concrete foundations were crushed unto rubble they will be using for fill. The old timbers were shredded into mulch to be used later. All the steel was sold for scrap.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Some spikes that did not make it to the recyclers.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

This image really illustrates the rift between the city and the property owners, and the logic they are using. Who would erect a solar powered parking meter here, in a location that is completely unaccessible to the public. There is municipal parking next to the building, but this meter is no where near the lots. Maybe when it was erected it made more sense, but judging from the area I could not see how.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

I’m not sure what this phallic looking erection was, but I did see it in an old photograph, so it goes back to the steam days….

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

That number is 1-866-224-8177. I just called it, and, believe it or not, its Lawrence Ryan’s home phone number! I spoke briefly to his son about the project, who also assured me this project will be going ahead. He was a bit distracted because his cat was having kittens, so I will call tomorrow and speak to Lawrence. I have a few questions.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

The fact that everything is just left out in the open, completely accessible by the public is something I find very refreshing, and unique. I recall when I was a kid places like this were everywhere, and nobody gave it much thought that someone would get hurt in them, and if they did, the blame would lie where it belonged, on the trespasser. I am grateful I grew up then, when we still had the freedom to explore, and we took responsibility for our own actions. I get the impression that Mr. Ryan is the same way, would rather risk the lawsuits and tell the lawyers to get lost, and enjoy his freedom. Hopefully it will last.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

A glimpse of the past, hiding behind a hideous facade of of modernity. Mr. Ryan has my full support in his efforts to peel away the layers, legal, ascetic or otherwise.

Posted by: | 08-01-2005 | 05:08 PM
Posted in: Uncategorized


  1. Interesting chronicle. Any thoughts of organizing a write-in campaign? If there’s one weakness of bureaucrats, it’s that they do, eventually, cave to public pressure (at least in the US, things may be different north of the 49th. 😉

    Bumper stickers like “I like trains, and I vote!” appearing in town may shape views.

    – Thomas

    Comment by Thomas — 8/7/2005 @ 8:55 am
  2. I can’t help but wonder what has happened in the past 3 years?

    Comment by Alex — 12/15/2008 @ 6:17 pm
  3. Alex…the building has continued to rot…more metal has been removed to send to the recyclers (so Larry can pay his bills)…after 10 years of the site literally rotting away under Larry Ryan’s watch the City has started expropriation proceedings. The citzens of Stratford are breathing a collective sigh of relief that the property will be in City hands and the plans for the new University are well underway. Larry…continues to insist he has a viable development underway….even though 10 years has passed and not a single permit has been pulled.

    The turntable…the posts where claimed to be part of the “restoration”….what ended up there was a make shift stage for a concert Larry was promoting. The City shut down the “restoration”…aka stage building….as there was no building permit.

    The parking meter….the parking lot is paved and operating. The meter sits on City land.

    Comment by Matt — 3/10/2009 @ 8:34 am

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