The railway has been part of St. Thomas since the completion of the London and Port Stanley Railway in 1856. It made a significant impact on the completion and success of the city due to the provision of employment and income to sustain the community.
With the development of the Canada Southern Line through the city in 1872, St. Thomas was transformed into what was known as the “Railway Capital of Canada.” Due to the location of St. Thomas being placed almost directly between Buffalo and Detroit, and a convenient shortcut between New York and Chicago, this offered a more direct route between these destinations.
By the early 20th century, St. Thomas was a North American Railway hub, with over 150 freight and passenger trains running through the city in a day, and 26 railways passing through St. Thomas since 1856.
By 1913, the Canada Southern Line had become the Michigan Central Railroad (MCRR), and it was during this year that the Michigan Central Railroad Repair Shops were built. These shops are the oldest continuously-operating locomotive repair shops in North America. In 1914, the St. Thomas Daily Times described the significance of this building and the impact it would have on the community with a sentiment that still rings true today, “The completion of these works places St. Thomas among the leading railway divisional centres, in point of equipment, on the American continent and no effort has been spared either by the Michigan Central Railroad or the contractors to make both the buildings and the equipment the most up-to-date possible to obtain.”
This building had major impacts on the community, employing more than 400 workers at its peak. The 55,000 square foot “shops” building has served as headquarters of the Elgin County Railway Museum since 1988. Now, this building is able to preserve and educate the public on this special piece of history. The Elgin County Railway Museum has stood by its mission statement for over 20 years; “Collecting, preserving and interpreting the Railway heritage of Southwestern Ontario which will engage, educate and inspire local and global audiences.”
Let’s celebrate the heritage of our very own Railway community and learn about the amazing history of our city that the museum has to offer at the Elgin County Railway Museum’s Grand Re-Opening on May 12th, from 12-4pm. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, and $4 for children.
Some new and updated exhibits to get excited about include; Passenger and Railway Worker artifact display, Agents Office and Boarding Area exhibit, Updated Maintenance of Way display, Access to the cab of the 5700 steam engine, interior of the baggage car exhibit and the caboose, Updated Wabash rail yard in the History in Motion exhibit, and over 8,000 more square feet to explore!
“We are very excited to have completed the first phase of our roof replacement project. It has opened up 8,200 square feet of the building to the public, allowing visitors an up-close experience with the Museum’s rolling stock collection of coaches, cabooses and engines - something rail-fans of all ages have been asking for!”, says Executive Director, Dawn Miskelly
While celebrating a special piece of history, take a guided tour around the mighty engines, see history in action in the History in Motion model railway exhibit, climb aboard a century-old caboose, and explore the museum's biggest artifact – the historic building itself!
It is not down in any map; true places never are.