Century old St Thomas MCRR Locomotive Shops – home of the Elgin County Railway Museum
The railways played an integral role in the foundation, and growth of the City of St. Thomas, both economically and in population. In it’s railway heyday, St. Thomas was interchangeable with the term “Railway City” or “Railway Capital of Canada” as it was a North American railway hub with at least five different railroads steaming their way through the city. The MCRR Locomotive Repair Shops were constructed over a period of a year between 1913 and 1914. An article from the St. Thomas Daily Times – March 28, 1914 with the headline “M.C.R.’s New Quarter Million Dollar Shops Nearly Completed”, demonstrates the significance of this building and the impact it has on the community – “The completion of these works places St. Thomas among the leading railway divisional centres, in point of equipment, on the American continent and no effort has been spared either by the Michigan Central Railway or the contractors to make both the buildings and the equipment the most up-to-date possible to obtain.” This new industrial building also impacted the community economically, employing more than 400 workers at its peak. The Elgin County Railway Museum has been housed in the 52,000 square foot building since it’s incorporation in 1989, and purchased the property in 2010.
Elgin County Railway Museum Mission Statement:
To preserve, teach, and display to the public the rich heritage of the railroads and their role in the development of St. Thomas and Elgin County.
The railway has been part of St. Thomas since the completion of the London and Port Stanley Railway in 1856. More than 26 railways have passed through the city. This provided the foundation for the birth of St. Thomas due to the provision of employment and, subsequently, the income to sustain the community. At one point, St. Thomas was interchangeable with the term “Railway City.” It was also known as the “Railway Capital of Canada” in its heyday.
St. Thomas was a convenient shortcut between Chicago and New York: two major railway cities, especially concerning freight shipment. South Western Ontario is also predominantly flat terrain which is perfect for railways. The city and surrounding area grew rapidly which resulted in immense change for the community. St. Thomas became the “Railway Capital of Canada.”
The 1913 MCRR shops are the oldest continuously operating locomotive repair shops in North America.
The Elgin County Railway Museum is located in the former Michigan Central Railroad (MCRR) locomotive repair shops, just south of the Canada Southern (CASO) train station. The 55,000 square foot “shops” building have served as headquarters of the museum since 1988. The building and surrounding 15 acres of railway land were purchased by the museum in 2009. Locomotive, passenger car and railway service vehicle repairs and restorations are performed today. The adjacent CASO station was, and still is, innately tied to the MCRR shops. The CASO station, now owned and operated by the North American Railway Hall of Fame (NARHF) was divisional headquarters for many American railway companies and provided passenger service, while the MCRR shops provided maintenance and repair service for locomotives. Both buildings remain important heritage sites in the heart of the City of St. Thomas. Guided tours of the Elgin County Railway Museum are available year round (see Events & Hours). CASO station tours/rental information are available at the NARHF web site (see Links).