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

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

In 1972, Canadian Railroad Historical Association members based in Toronto re-established a local chapter known as the Toronto & York Division. The division opened the first Toronto Railway Museum at Harbourfront in 1975. Unfortunately the museum lacked the resources to interpret its modest collection in a compelling presentation and was unable to attract financial support. As Harbourfront was converted into a recreational and residential area, the extensive network of railway tracks that once serviced the piers of the Toronto waterfront was torn up and the museum was facing permanent isolation from the rail network. In 1985, some of the artifacts were retained for a future Toronto railway museum, while others were scrapped or disbursed to other museums and collections.

In 1976, the Toronto & York Division began sponsoring the annual Toronto Model Railway Show. The show utilized various buildings in the Harbourfront complex until 1981 when it moved to the Queen Elizabeth Exhibit Hall at Exhibition Place. In 1986, the show was shifted to the International Centre near the airport, by which time it had become the largest train show in Canada. When the event was moved to the Congress Centre in the 1990s, attendance figures had already begun to decline and the last show at that venue was held in 2004. A final and unsuccessful attempt was made to stage the train show at an elementary school in the Jane-Finch corridor in 2005.

The T&Y continues to conduct informal excursions, publish their newsletter Turnout, and hold monthly meetings, although they too are facing the perennial problem of an aging membership and an inability to attract new members. In 2006, the Toronto Railway Historical Association arranged for the T&Y archives to be stored at Union Station. The executives of the TRHA and the T&Y are currently investigating a possible merger of the two organizations and a further pooling of resources.

The national Canadian Railroad Historical Association continues to thrive and Canadian Rail has evolved into a higher quality periodical that is published bi-monthly. The only regular train event held for the general public in the immediate Toronto area is the Christmas Train Show at the International Centre.

Another local organization worth noting is the Toronto Transportation Society, founded in 1973 by a group of transportation enthusiasts who shared a common interest in streetcars, buses, subways and railways. The organization's focus is now primarily on transit in and around the Greater Toronto Area rather than on railways. The TTS conducts well-attended monthly meetings, excursions that mostly revolve around buses, and publishes a monthly newsletter Transfer Points. The organization has a number of younger members and maintains an active Internet presence.

This overview does not include the many professional organizations that exist for railroaders. The Toronto Railway Club has been active since early in the 20th century and features dinner meetings with speakers. There are many professional railroaders who are also railfans although they tend to remain "in the closet." Unfortunately, there is still widespread disdain for railfans among many railroaders in some part due to the irresponsible and sometimes dangerous actions of a very tiny lunatic fringe that tends to gravitate towards any hobby like ours.

In 2001, the first public meeting of the Toronto Railway Historical Committee was convened at the Scarborough Model Railroad Club to investigate the possibility of organizing a steam locomotive hauled excursion in the Toronto area. Soon thereafter the TRHC became involved with advocating for the establishment of a railway museum at the former Canadian Pacific Railway John St. Roundhouse and began hosting an annual railway heritage fair at the Roundhouse in 2002 during the city-sponsored Doors Open event. In 2003, the TRHC also began hosting Doors Open at Union Station.

The following year the TRHC became the Toronto Railway Historical Association and was incorporated as a charitable organization in 2005. The ability to issue tax receipts for charitable donations is a critically important factor in convincing collectors to donate historical artifacts for an archive. In recent years, as many pre-eminent railfans have passed away, several Toronto-focused collections of railway artifacts have been dispersed or left the city because there was no suitable archive here in which to deposit them.

The TRHA is assiduously working as a full partner with the City of Toronto to build the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre, a project that has finally seen much tangible progress in the last couple of years after two decades of inaction. This progress has been well documented on an ongoing basis in the News & Events section of this website. An active and dynamic website is the key to the survival of organizations like ours in the 21t century. In the past year, the TRHA website has received over 4,000,000 hits.

Part 5 - Images

#32 - Number 6060 helped open the Canadian Railway Museum at Harbourfront in May 1975.

#33 - As commercial development began in earnest at Harbourfront, the museum became increasingly untenable, especially when faced with the prospect of a loss of direct rail access.

#34 - The Harbourfront museum acquired a fairly large collection in the few years that it was operating. Many of these artifacts eventually went to other museums.

#35 - Canadian National 7988 was a Montreal Locomotive Works Alco S-2 built in 1949. Although it was built five years later than the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre's 7020, it was a sister engine. The locomotive was scrapped in 1989.

#36 - For a few years, the CRHA's Toronto Model Railway Show was the biggest such event in Canada and one could easily spend two days taking in the entire show.

#37 - The Canadian Railroad Historical Association's Canadian Rail is the only periodical in Canada devoted to railway history.

#38 - The Toronto Christmas Train Show is now the only such regular event held in the city although the venue is just across the municipal boundary in Mississauga.

#39 - The Toronto Transportation Society has attracted many younger members although their focus is on transit rather than mainline railways. This was the Christmas Lights charter of 2006.

Posting by Derek Boles, TRHA Historian

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