Friday, 16 September 2016

Visit The Winnipeg Railway Museum

This Saturday, September 17 & Sunday, September 18, 2016 is Rail Days, a free public event. Rail Days celebrates railway history and culture as it evolved in Winnipeg. Rail Days takes place at the Winnipeg Railway Museum, which is located on the second floor of the Via Rail Station at 123 Main Street in Winnipeg. Come down between 11 am and 5 pm.


The Railway Museum was started by The Midwest Rail Association, a group of railway enthusiasts who wanted to see pieces of our railroad heritage preserved. When the group opened the Winnipeg Museum, it wasn't their first rodeo. 


The Midwestern Rail Association purchased their first museum in Miami. No, not Miami Florida, Miami Manitoba. Miami is a small town southwest of Winnipeg. Miami's railway station was built in 1889, operated by both the Northern Pacific Railway Company, and the Manitoba Railway Company. In 1973, the station closed permanently and in 1974, the station went up for sale, and The Midwestern Rail Association purchased it, and opened their first museum. The Association sought to restore the station to as close to its original appearance as possible, and to show people what a rural railway station was like in 1889.  In 1994, the Midwestern Railway Association transferred control of the Miami Railway Station Museum to a another local non-profit organization.  

The Miami Railway Station Museum
Source: Government of Manitoba
Back in 1977, the Midwestern Railway Association had begun acquiring rolling stock in Winnipeg. Rolling stock refers to any locomotives, carriage, wagon, or any other vehicle that travels on a railroad. The Association was looking for a home for their collection to preserve, restore, and protect the equipment. 

Before the Winnipeg Railway Museum got to where it is today, they considered a variety of other homes. They looked at the building which houses The Children's Museum at the Forks as the building was once a repair shop for trains. It closed in 1909, but was used for various purposes until 1960, then it closed for over 30 years before becoming the Children's Museum. The Midwestern Rail Association also looked at locations in the Canadian Pacific Railway Station, located at 901 Logan Avenue in Winnipeg. They also considered Hurst Way, even going as far as to break ground, before that project fell through. The Winnipeg Humane Society would later open their new facilities at that site in 2007.

After all those attempts to find a location, finally, the Winnipeg Railway Museum found its home when Via Rail declared that tracks 1 and 2 at their Winnipeg Main Street Station were being declared surplus, and would no longer be used. It was the perfect fit for the Winnipeg Railway Museum.

The Via Rail Winnipeg Station on Main Street
with a Streetcar driving in front of it down Broadway
These days, the Winnipeg Railway Museum is filled with many pieces of equipment in various stages of restoration. The centrepiece of the museum is The Countess of Dufferin. 

Drawing of The Baldwin 4-4-0, the model of locomotive the Countess of Dufferin
Source: The Milepost, Winnipeg Railway Museum's bi-monthly newsletter
The Countess was purchased from the bankrupt railway in North Dakota. The Countess is a Baldwin 4-4-0 model, described as "the workhorse," of railway construction across North America. It was the one of the most common types of locomotive ever built, which gained it the nickname of the "American Standard." The Countess was one of 26 thousand Baldwin 4-4-0s when it was built, but now very few are left.

The Countess of Dufferin on display in the Museum
Source: The Milepost, Winnipeg Railway Museum's bi-monthly newsletter
The museum also has a refrigerated railway car.  Refrigerated cars were a huge milestone when it came to food transportation.  Food could be transported farther than ever before and refrigerated cars completely changed the game of food.  Regional foods could now be transported from coast to coast, allowing for things that never would have been possible before, like eating a lobster dinner in Chicago. That's right, the first lobster ever prepared and eaten in Chicago arrived there via a refrigerated railway car in 1842. It also meant that Georgia peaches became available to Winnipeggers.

The refrigerated cars that are on display in the Winnipeg Railway Museum were built in 1929 by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company to ship perishable food items. Workers would load ice through trap doors into a steel cage. The vents at the top allowed cool air to move into the main compartment where the food was stored. The cars could travel 250-400 miles on one load of ice.

A wooden, refrigerated reefer, made to transport food
Source: The Milepost, Winnipeg Railway Museum's bi-monthly newsletter
The Railway Museum is also home to Heritage Winnipeg's Streetcar 356, Winnipeg's last wooden streetcar. Car 356 is just starting its rehabilitation, and not normally available to the public for viewing.  If you want to see the streetcar, this is your chance!

Streetcar 356
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Archives
We hope you will join us at The Winnipeg Railway Museum this weekend for Rail Days with family or friends to learn more about our rich railway history that helped shape our city. This is a free public event, but donations are encouraged, as this wonderful Museum that is truly a gem for our city, is run completely by volunteers.  If you're interested in learning more about Museum, please visit their website, and sign up for their fantastic bi-monthly newsletter, The Milepost.


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