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A Brief History of the Railfan Hobby in Canada - Part 3 of 5

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A Brief History of the Railfan Hobby in Canada - Part 3 of 5 by Derek Boles

The oldest national railfan group in North America is the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, created in 1921. The organization began publishing a semi-annual periodical, The Bulletin, a scholarly publication that featured well-researched articles with ample footnotes mostly written by university academics. The magazine also published a number of Canadian authors, including John Loye, Robert R. Brown, Ray Corley and Omer Lavallee. A 1940 issue was entirely devoted to Ontario's Great Western Railway and in 1982 they published an extensive roster of Grand Trunk steam locomotives, still the most complete treatment of that subject ever published. In 1972, The Bulletin was renamed Railroad History and early in the 21st century transformed itself into a livelier, more attractive publication that remains the gold standard for aficionados of rail history. The R&LHS currently has about 4,500 members. Unfortunately their publication is almost unknown in Canada and difficult to obtain except by direct subscription.

The first railfan organization in Canada and the second oldest in North America was and is the Canadian Railroad Historical Association, founded in Montreal in 1932. The founding marked the conclusion of an exhibition at the Chateau de Ramezay museum commemorating the 100th anniversary of the granting of the charter to Canada's first railway. Over the years, the CRHA became a national organization with several chapters throughout Canada. In 1961, the CRHA established the Canadian Railway Museum near Montreal, the largest and most comprehensive railway artifact collection in Canada, recently evaluated as one of the top railway museums in the world. The CRHA now has about 900 members and publishes Canadian Rail magazine six times a year, the only periodical devoted exclusively to Canadian railway and traction history.

The other leading railfan organization in the U.S. is the National Railway Historical Society formed in 1935. The NRHS is the largest such group in North America with nearly 17,000 members and over 170 chapters. There is supposedly one Canadian chapter in British Columbia, although the annual NRHS yearbook has not shown any activity in this chapter for several years. The NRHS focuses less on the past and more on contemporary railroading than does the R&LHS. The NRHS actively promotes the hobby among young people and runs the annual week long Railcamp for high school students during the summer.

The NRHS has twice held their annual conventions in Toronto, the first in 1958 and the second in 1980. The latter attracted over 1,000 railfans from all over North America for the 5-day convention, which was appropriately based at Canadian Pacific's Royal York Hotel. 250 of the U.S. conventioneers arrived at Union Station on the "Independence Limited" from Alexandria, Virginia, a special train of chartered private cars. Several excursions were arranged by the TTC, GO Transit, VIA and CN, including the last excursions in the Toronto area hauled by steam locomotive No. 6060. In 2002, the Toronto Railway Historical Committee investigated the possibility of becoming the Toronto chapter of the NRHS but there was insufficient interest from local members and the proposal was dropped.

Part 3 - Images

#13 - Railroad History, published by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, is the most scholarly publication devoted to that topic. This 1982 issue was devoted to the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and featured articles by Omer Lavallee and a complete locomotive roster compiled by Ray Corley.

#14 - A more recent issue of Railroad History also featured several articles on Canadian railways. Unfortunately this excellent publication is difficult to obtain in Canada except by direct subscription.

#15 - The earliest known photograph of railway excursionists in Canada shows some of the founding members of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association in 1932. The gentleman on the far right is Robert R. Brown, one of Canada's pioneer rail historians. Beside him is John Loye, whose art work and essay on a Toronto locomotive was featured in a September 29, 2009 item on this website. The photograph was taken by the Donald Angus, grandson of CPR Syndicate member Richard B. Angus and father of the late Fred Angus.

#16 - This 1939 CRHA excursion was held at Asbestos, Quebec for an open pit mine tour on the Asbestos & Danville Railway. Obviously more women were involved in railfanning back then than is the case today. It's hard to believe that excursionists would dress in their Sunday best to ride in an open car behind a steam locomotive descending into a mine pit but that's how people still comported themselves in the months before the outbreak of World War II.

#17 - The National Railway Historical Society runs an annual week-long RailCamp for teenagers at Steamtown in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Canadian Pacific Railway is one of the sponsors of this event, a terrific way for the NRHS to encourage the recruitment of younger members.

#18 - The Independence Limited departs from Toronto following the 1980 NRHS conference held in the city, probably the only time that Southern and Norfolk & Western power hauled a passenger train out of Union Station. (Photo by John D. Thompson, from UCRS Newsletter, September 1980)

Posting by Derek Boles, TRHA Historian

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