Waterloo Central Railway Museum
Our latest slew of articles has seen us exploring the lovely little community of St. Jacobs in the Township of Woolwich, visiting everywhere from the one-of-a-kind St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market to a fully-functioning Mennonite farm.
Today, however, will be our last stop (at least for now) in St. Jacobs. All aboard, we’re heading to the Waterloo Central Railway Museum (imagine a train whistle bellowing and smoke billowing for full atmospheric immersion)!
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The Waterloo Central Railway is part of the non-profit Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society (SOLRS). The history of this dedicated group stretches back to 1993, in St. Thomas, when life-long train lover Don Broadbear set about restoring the Number 9 steam locomotive out of 500 separate pieces.
Four years later, it was up and steaming once more. In 2007, SOLRS moved from St. Thomas to the Waterloo Region (but more on that shortly).
One more thing before we dive into the Waterloo Central Railway Museum: Donald Broadbear is an inductee of the North America Railway Hall of Fame – quite an achievement, considering fellow inductees include Grand Central Station in New York City, Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy, and Sir John A. Macdonald.
Alright, let’s get rolling!
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A Day at the Museum
The Waterloo Central Railway Museum is a wonderful place for a visit or a tour. Yes, the train rides themselves are quite memorable and enjoyable (and we’ll explore the railway itself shortly), but the museum holds its fair share of treasures, too.
One thing that sets this destination apart is just how passionate the volunteers here are about the museum, and the trains within. Do you love trains already, and are keen to chat with a fellow enthusiast? Are you looking to learn more? They’ll be happy to help!
History is a major component to the Waterloo Central Railway Museum. Just as trains ended up uniting the fledgling Canadian nation in the late nineteenth-century, railways bound the Waterloo Region’s constituent parts together, and connected them with other parts of Ontario. Learning about railways is a way to learn about the region’s broader history.
The main attraction is, obviously, the trains. They have a wide variety of trains here (and let me tell you, if I were a train, this is where I’d want to retire – they’re very well taken care of and restored here!). Included amongst their (over a dozen) trains are locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and the perennial favourite – cabooses!
In addition to the train cars is an extensive collection of artifacts and tools. You can admire the historic trains (and other items in the collection) at the Railway Museum in St. Jacobs (the community, as opposed to the area around the Farmers’ Market), found at 50 Isabella Street.
You can book a tour – or ask any questions you might have – by contacting them here.
There’s another way to enjoy their museum collection, too: excitingly, you can also explore the Museum Car while taking a ride along the Waterloo Central Railway itself! Let’s take a closer look at that aspect of the experience.
The Waterloo Spur
One of train travel’s distinguishing features is that you can always see where it’s headed, before it’s headed there. Simply follow the train tracks as they recede into the horizon and you’ll be able to tell the train’s exact path.
There’s something almost poetic, and warmly historic, about it! So: what way do the train tracks lay for the Waterloo Central Railway? Well, let’s start with where it starts.
If you’re interested in the history of the Waterloo Region, then (as noted earlier) visiting the Waterloo Central Railway Museum is a great way to learn more. It was in the 1850s, when the Grand Trunk Railway reached Berlin (Kitchener’s name until 1916),that the Waterloo Region really took off economically.
In the 1880s, the Waterloo Junction Railway was laid, connecting Kitchener-Waterloo (Berlin-Waterloo?) to St. Jacobs and Elmira.
This line, which was renamed the Waterloo Spur when the Canadian National Railway got ownership, was abandoned in the ‘90s, briefly operated as the “Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway,” and was ultimately acquired by the Region of Waterloo.
All Aboard, and None Are Bored
The Waterloo Central Railway runs trains along this line, now, and it’s fun for young and old alike. Not only is it a nice way to get from northern Waterloo to St. Jacobs and/or Elmira – it’s also a way to experience and appreciate history.
And not just the history of the railway itself, but also of the trains: the passenger train equipment was built in 1923 (Midway Coach 1437) and 1950 (Coach 5504 and Coach 3216).
As of 2018, the southern terminus of the Waterloo Central Railway is the station at Northfield Drive in Waterloo. Interestingly, the northern terminus of the Waterloo Region’s LRT service is also on Northfield Drive. It’s fascinating to see the past and the future of the Region meet – and it’s also a great way to get to the railway from other parts of Kitchener-Waterloo!
There are five stops along the passenger service route: Northfield Drive in Waterloo; the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market Platform (the primary departure point); Max’s Sports World Dome (slightly north of the market); the Village of St. Jacobs; and the Town of Elmira.
The Elmira-station is about 1.5 kilometers from Elmira-proper, but this turns out to be a good thing: the Waterloo Central Railway offers a free, guided, tractor-pulled wagon ride into town! Naturally, you can hop on the wagon to get back to the station, too.
While these are the basics, there are actually quite a few ways to enjoy the Waterloo Central Railway experience. There are special, reservation-based ‘Themed Train Experiences;’
Hop on / Hop off service at certain times (find out more here); the standard, seasonal Market Day Train Rides (dates and details here); charter service (great for school trips, work parties, and beyond); service to the popular Elmira Maple Syrup Festival (see the service options here, and read about the festival here); and more.
All in all, the Waterloo Central Railway and the Waterloo Central Railway Museum are two of the finest attractions in the Region.
There’s history, there’s educational value (they even run a Train School!), and there’s even utility of function (this is, after all, a working railway, connecting residents and visitors alike to two of the Region’s loveliest communities).
As the train slowly rolls into the station in St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, clicking and clacking as it goes, yet another WRX Property Group article comes to a close.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this scenic tour of beautiful Woolwich Township, and hope you’ll join us on our next literary excursion (no tickets required).
If you’ve got any real estate questions, or you’re looking to buy a home in the Waterloo Region, please feel free to contact us – we’re trained to help!
Written by Will Kummer