Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2012 (3274 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Neither Doug Bell and Norm Leathers lose their trains of thought, nor do they lose track. It’s because they store them both at Union Station.
The president and treasurer of the Winnipeg Rail Museum, located on the second floor of Union Station, know all the right train tales to tell during a stroll through the iconic train station, located at 123 Main St. near Broadway.
"This entire building was the prototype for Grand Central Station in New York City," Leathers says.
"It was designed by architect firm Warren and Wetmore as a test of that much larger design. We helped them worked out the kinks."
Union Station is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with a $6.5 million upgrade and facelift. Originally built in 1911, it was officially opened in June 1912. The station was planned by the Canadian Northern Railroad and Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad to help them compete with the nearby Canadian Pacific station.
While the 100-year-old building is home to thousands of stories, Bell says one in particular stands out in his memory.
"We tell a story here no one else can tell — the story of how the city of Winnipeg was really built," Bell says.
Leathers adds: "Winnipeg is here because of the rail industry."
Bell says the reason for that is simple — Winnipeg’s central location.
"It lent application for a huge railway to act as a launch pad to the rest of the continent. Sounds like CentrePort, doesn’t it?"
With the consolidation of the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways into Via Rail in 1978, Union Station became Winnipeg’s only passenger train terminal. In 1986, Via purchased Union Station and become its sole owner.
Michael Woelcke, senior manager for Via Rail, said train passengers and day-to-day business at Union Station will not be interrupted by the $6.5 million upgrade.
"So we can ensure that part of the building is always accessible," he said.
Woelcke said the improvements are an investment in Union Station and in the city of Winnipeg, noting the $6.5 million in upgrades will ensure Union Station will continue to be an attractive destination for current and future tenants.
While Union Station is no longer as popular a destination as it once was, Leathers says it is a common misconception that cheap air travel is what contributed to the decline.
"The plane didn’t kill the rail industry — it is doing just fine. What has given it the biggest scare was not faster or passenger planes — but the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914," Leathers says.
"It was devastating to Canadians and railways. At the time, one in five people worked for a railway," he said.
"The biggest deathblow to passenger train travel was when Canada Post stopped using trains."
Leathers is confident rail service isn’t about to disappear any time soon.
"The big business continues to be freight, shipping stuff," he says.
Bell contends the train continue to be a popular mode of transportation with travellers.
"If you see a train with 30 passenger cars, you’re talking about roughly 2,000 people," he says.
Bell says the goal for the museum is for it to become self-sustaining. While the museum was incorporated in 1975, it didn’t move into Union Station until 1992.
"We had about 7,200 visitors in 2011. It’s looking like we might double that this year," he says.
"We’ve got a few lofty goals — it is a race to preserve this building and the things in it. Better access and handicapped access to the museum would be great. For our size and attendance we are a top 10 museum in Manitoba but our funding doesn’t quite match. We’d like to get to the point to be using professional management," Bell says.
Volunteers at the museum are gearing up for Railway Days, which will be held Sept. 15 and 16. Approximately 37,500 square feet is filled with artifacts about the history of Winnipeg’s role in Canadian rail history. The museum is open year-round from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays Thursday and Saturdays. For more information on the museum, visit www.wpgrailwaymuseum.com. To catch the next train rolling into the station, visit www.viarail.ca.