A Brief History of the Railfan Hobby in Canada - Part 4 of 5
Click on each picture for a closer look!
A Brief History of the Railfan Hobby in Canada - Part 4 of 5 by Derek Boles
At least two Canadian Railroad Historical Association chapters in Ontario split off from the national organization and formed their own organizations. In 1941, the Toronto Chapter became the Upper Canada Railway Society. The beginnings of the UCRS can actually be traced back to 1932, when two neighbours who lived on Grenadier Road, D. W. Knowles and J. H. Allen, called a meeting of all Toronto area railfans whose names had appeared in the U.S. publication Railroad magazine. A small group of railfans was formed as a result of this meeting and continued to meet informally for the next several years. In 1940, this group petitioned to become the Toronto Chapter of the CRHA, before striking out on their own.
The UCRS operated their first chartered excursion in 1943 aboard Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway No. 83 (ex Toronto Suburban Ry. No. 107). This was one of the first railfan charters in Canada, predating the first official CRHA charter by five years, although the CRHA had organized several informal excursions in the Montreal area since its inception.
For many years the UCRS was Toronto's most active railfan organization, sponsoring numerous excursions and holding well-attended monthly meetings. In 1960, the Locomotive Preservation Committee of the UCRS visited the Canadian National Railway Spadina roundhouse for the purpose of choosing a steam locomotive suitable for preservation and presentation to the City of Toronto. The committee chose U-2-g 4-8-4 No. 6213 and it was presented to the city in August 1960 and moved to the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. The locomotive was maintained by the UCRS for several years, later by members of the Toronto Locomotive Preservation Society. Unlike most "stuffed and mounted" steam locomotives, including 6213's sisters, the engine has been well looked after for the past half-century. In 2009, 6213 was moved to the John Street Roundhouse for incorporation into the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre, where it will be featured as the crown jewel in the museum's collection.
The UCRS also owned two private cars that, in a touch of class, usually brought up the rear of the organization's railfan excursion trains. The last such car, former Canadian Pacific Railway "Cape Race," is now stored in the John Street Roundhouse and it too has become a TRHC artifact.
The vicissitudes of the UCRS can be traced in the evolution of its monthly periodical. For many years it was called simply The Newsletter. In 1975, it was renamed Rail & Transit and given a visual makeover twice until 1980 when it reverted to being called The Newsletter and resumed its pre-1975 appearance. In 1992 it was made over and renamed Rail & Transit once again before suspending publication altogether in 1998. Unfortunately this long-running identity crisis has made it difficult for researchers to locate back issues of this periodical in library catalogs.
The UCRS also published a series of Bulletins, pamphlets devoted to single topics such as individual railways and classes of steam locomotives. As well, they produced booklets and calendars and, on at least one occasion, a substantial book on the history of the Toronto Civic Railways. Unfortunately the UCRS suffered the fate of many railfan organizations, with an aging membership and an inability to attract new and younger members as older members passed away or became less active. Another key factor was the railways' unwillingness to provide opportunities for chartered excursions, the raison d'etre of the UCRS. Sadly the most important railfan organization in Toronto for 60 years terminated its affairs early in the 21st century although the organization's Hamilton chapter continues to hold regular meetings.
A happier outcome was in store for the CRHA Ottawa Branch, which split off in 1969 to form the Bytown Railway Society. It remains one of Canada's most active and productive railfan organizations. The BRS has acquired and restored railway equipment at the Canada Science & Technology Museum and publishes the monthly newsmagazine Branchline, the definitive Canadian print source for current news of interest to rail enthusiasts. The society also publishes the annual Canadian Trackside Guide, considered the bible of railfans throughout the country. As well, the BRS maintains a busy book publishing program that includes the Traction Heritage Series, two volumes on Canadian National passenger cars and Omer Lavallee's posthumous book Canadian Pacific to the East. Recently the organization created an online searchable index for Branchline that extends back to 1966.
Part 4 - Images
#19 - The first general interest publication devoted exclusively to a Toronto railway subject was this booklet distributed in 1953 by the Upper Canada Railway Society. It was published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railway, the first steam railway to operate in Ontario.
#20 - Public interest in the railfan hobby probably peaked in the late 1950s with the retirement of steam locomotives from both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways. This 1962 cartoon by the nationally famous Montreal Star cartoonist Doug Wright, himself a railfan, captured the nostalgia of the era.
#21 - The UCRS continued to publish special bulletins highlighting various aspects of Toronto and southern Ontario railway history.
#22 - The Upper Canada Railway Society's most lasting legacy was the preservation of CNR 6213 at the Exhibition Grounds. In this February 1960 photo, UCRS members swarm about the locomotive after choosing it for preservation.
#23 - For many years, the UCRS maintained an information table promoting the railfan hobby at various venues, in this case, the Sportsman's Show of 1963. The TRHA maintains this tradition at the annual Christmas Train Show and other events.
#24 - From 1964 to 1971, the UCRS sponsored several excursions using Canadian National 6218, now retired in Fort Erie. The engine is seen here leading an excursion between Toronto and Gravenhurst. (Photo by John West)
#25 - Canadian National 6060 assumed excursion duties in 1973 and operated in the Toronto area until 1980. The locomotive is seen here hauling an excursion out of Union Station. Railfan excursions have completely disappeared from Canadian mainline railways in the 21st century. (Photo by Michael Taylor)
#28 - The UCRS continued to publish information booklets about the various steam locomotives used in excursion service.
#29 - The last steam locomotive to haul on excursion out of Toronto was Canadian Pacific's No. 2816 in 2004. The engine is seen here at Union Station in 2003. (Derek Boles)
#30 - The annual Canadian Trackside Guide published by the Bytown Railway Society is considered the bible of railfanning in Canada.
#31 - The BRS's Branchline featured extensive coverage of 6213's move to the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre in June 2009.
Posting by Derek Boles, TRHA Historian
Click here to read Part 5.
Click here to go back to Part 3.