Canadian Manufacturing

Canada’s biggest model railway to be dismantled

More than 300 model train enthusiasts have spent 38 years constructing what is believed to be Canada's largest fully operational model railway.



MONTREAL—In a warehouse in Montreal’s historic Griffintown neighbourhood, more than 300 model train enthusiasts have spent 38 years constructing what is believed to be Canada’s largest fully operational model railway.

And now the life-like models and detail-laden, 1,493-metre masterpiece they call home are about to be destroyed.

    The numbers:

  • 6,000 square feet
  • 6 train yards
  • 527 switches
  • 18 bridges
  • 17 tunnels
  • 12 major industrial areas
  • 68 businesses represented
  • 40 minutes for a round-trip

The reason for the imminent dismantling is not without irony: the make-believe trains are about to be forced away by a real train company, dealing with real-life issues.

Canadian National owns the 9,000-square-foot warehouse space and wants to lease it out at a higher rent, starting next year. It warned the model-train association five years ago that its time was up.

As a result, one final open house is expected to be held this October, at which point the last train will pull into the station.

“This is the largest fully operational layout in Canada—one of the few I’d say, even in North America, that’s fully operational,” said Pierre Lalanne, president of the Montreal Railroad Modellers Association.

The periodic rumbling of real trains can be heard just above the model railway, which is a scaled-down representation of 4,400 kilometres of track across several Canadian sites.

And the builders didn’t skimp on the details: there are tiny people in the tiny houses inhabiting the tiny towns.

Along the way are odes to real-life Canadian towns, with depictions of places as diverse as Georgian Bay, Mont-Joli, Grande Prairie, Stoney Creek Ridge and Montreal’s stately Windsor Station.

What can be salvaged, will be—some of the buildings, trees and bridges might be carried off elsewhere.

But about 70 per cent of the layout—the mountains, the roadbed and the rest—will be have to be trashed.

After 38 years, CN said it had little choice.

“CN had a long-standing relationship with them, it was a good relationship. But basically we had to re-evaluate the lease and come to a decision,” said Julie Senecal, a spokeswoman for CN.

When the project began, decades ago, the Griffintown district just west of Old Montreal was gritty and industrial and home to the railroad.

Today, it’s filled increasingly with high-end lofts and condos.

Space wasn’t an issue when they started. Five men toiled away in the sprawling basement of an apartment complex in 1950. One of the members was the concierge and he lent out the space.

In 1973, the group moved to its current locale and elected to build big.

If and when they find a new home, the next step will be to rebuild. All current members expect to take part.

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