It's only fitting that CN's sprawling 100th anniversary historical display is rolling across the country on rail in no less than 20 shipping containers.
Winnipeg is the sixth stop for the display that includes a cluster of those containers featuring all sorts of interactive displays that document the company's amazing history, much of it told from the perspective of the people who worked there.
The installation took two years to create by a Montreal production company and features audio stories with the voices of a couple of dozen employees through the years, a decade by decade historical display using viewmaster-style displays, a video presentation and a computer-generated hologram display where people can put together their own train of the future.
Jim Feeny, a long time public affairs specialist with CN has come out of retirement to help marshal CN 100: A Moving Celebration across the country, said, "It is designed to tell the story of CN, its history, the history of the people who worked for the company and also of the contribution CN has made, not just to the economy, but to the social fabric of the country."
There are all sorts of interactive displays where people can have their picture taken with CN paraphernalia and a kid zone to make Lego trains.
There is a lot of history to tell. Canadian National Railway (CN) was created by an Act of Parliament on June 6, 1919 and through its evolution from a federal Crown Corporation to its privatization in 1995 until today, the displays show the incredible breadth of its involvement in so much of the growth of the country.
The decade-by-decade viewmaster displays will remind people that CN used to be in the hotel and shipping business. Likely few of us knew that CN set up the first transcontinental radio network that then became the CBC in 1934 or that Trans Canada Airways was a subsidiary of CN up until the 1970s when it became Air Canada.
Images from the 1940s show the railroad company's contributions to the war effort, with trainloads of troops disembarking in Halifax to go overseas and the subsequent introduction of women into its workforce to make up for the labour shortage during the war years.
CN is now a railway that spans the country with a main line all the way to the Gulf of Mexico which now moves over $250 billion worth of its customers’ goods annually across a rail network of approximately 32,000 kilometres of tracks.
It's also fitting that the sprawling display should be set up at The Forks, the former site of railway yards until the 1980s. CN has a strong historic presence in many cities across the country — the display has already been to Halifax, Quebec City, Vancouver, Calgary Edmonton — including Winnipeg where the mobile display requires parts of two days to allow for staff and retirees and their families to see the display.
Winnipeg is the home of about 2,200 CN employees and more than 4,000 retirees.
In addition to its large intermodal yards and equipment maintenance facility, Winnipeg is also home to CN’s state-of-the-art Claude Mongeau National Training Centre where over 10,400 experienced railroaders, new hires and customers receive a complete range of hands-on technical training.
CN 100: A Moving Celebration: Admission is free and open to the public Friday afternoon from 3:30, and Saturday and Sunday after 1:00 p.m. in front of the CN stage (formerly Scotiabank stage).
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 7:36 PM CDT: Edits