History of the CRHA

1932 - Founding of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (CRHA)

Gathered at Montréal’s Château Ramezay on March 15, 1932, a group of historians and rail enthusiasts founded the Canadian Railroad Historical Association.

Documentation and research represent an important part of the CRHA’s activities. Moreover, since 1962, the Association publishes Canadian Rail, one of the most important historical magazines dealing with past and present rail heritage and development.

As early as 1936, the CRHA made the commitment to promote rail history through the celebrations and commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the first trip on a public railroad in Canada, in association with Canadian National as well as the cities of La Prairie and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, i.e., the original terminals operated by the Champlain & St. Lawrence Railroad. In 1941, the CRHA became an incorporated association.

1950 - First important acquisitions and donations

In 1950, the Association acquired its first vehicle, the MSR 274 streetcar, donated by the Montreal Tramways Company (today the Société de transport de Montréal). This vehicle was one of the first to be put into service on Montréal streets, as early as 1892. CRHA members restored the streetcar to its original condition before unveiling it to the public in 1952.

This first donation was followed by several other important national historical donations. In 1955, Canadian Pacific donated the official car of Sir William Van Horne, executive director, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific Railway.

This car, built in 1883, had transported celebrities throughout Canadian history, the likes of Sir Sandford Fleming and Sir Donald A. Smith, who were aboard during the ceremony marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Craigellachie, British Columbia on November 7, 1885.

1961 – Founding of the Canadian Railway Museum

The CRHA played a unique role in preserving rail heritage—which was not a priority at the time. The organization successfully preserved objects, documents, books, archives, paintings as well as locomotives and rail vehicles. This lead to the founding of the Canadian Railway Museum in 1961.

In 1965, the Museum opened its doors to the public and showcased 25 streetcars, 20 steam locomotives and five passenger cars. The Museum’s collection reflects the innovations developed or adopted by Canadian railways and underlines the particularities of the Canadian experience.

1961-1971 - Fundraising campaign – preservation and development

In 1961, the Museum launched its first fundraising campaign aimed at generating funds to build a storage facility to house the collection’s most important pieces. For this purpose, the Museum received the financial support of both federal and provincial governments.

Between 1965 and 1970, the Museum doubled its storage capacity, acquired its first historical building (the Barrington Station) and began the construction of a building for its library and archives. The construction of this building was completed in 1971 thanks to a donation received from the three daughters of Charles Melville Hays, one of the presidents of the Grand Trunk Railway who died aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912.

1978 - Recognition and expansion

In 1978, the Museum was designated by the federal government as Canada’s specialized museum for railways—a Canadian first. Once the Museum had completed its development plan, the Government of Canada provided the necessary funding to purchase a railroad from Marathon Realty, a land subsidiary of Canadian Pacific, and 62 acres of land from Delson/St. Constant.

In 1979, the Government of Québec granted “class 1” status to the CRHA, thus making the Association eligible for an operating subsidy and allowing it to hire professional staff. This accreditation served to acknowledge the value of the Museum’s collection and activities.

2004 – Opening of Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum

The dream became a reality on August 27, 2004. Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, was officially inaugurated on that day. The institution has acquired brand-new installations: the Angus Pavilion that meets museological standards and covers some 9,000 square metres, a new miniature rail network, a parking area and a permanent exhibit.

The Angus Pavilion houses a grand gallery of 12 tracks with walkways accessible to persons with mobility disabilities. The gallery showcases 44 rail vehicles, a travelling exhibit hall, a multi-purpose room, a miniature train exhibit hall as well as an observation pit that is unique in North America and allows visitors to examine the undercarriage of diesel-electric and steam locomotives.

The pavilion also houses the mezzanine, the archive and documentation centre, three reserves, the gift shop, the coffee shop and office space.

Today, Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, is open year-round. Group visits and school visits are available upon reservation. These visits are carried out by experienced, skilled and dynamic guide-facilitators.

2007 - Adoption by the House of Commons of a recommandation to designate Exporail National Railway Museum

In 2007, the House of Commons adopted a recommendation contained in the report filed by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to designate Exporail as the National Railway Museum.

This designation is testimony to the significance of Exporail’s collection and to the fundamental role played by the rail industry in the country’s development and economy as well as the fundamental role played by rail workers from here and abroad in building modern-day Canada.

2008 -   Accredited private archive service

In 2008, Exporail’s Archive Centre was also officially designated as an Accredited private archive service. The archive documents collected by volunteers since the beginning of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association, Exporail’s founder, represent a precious legacy. The Centre is open to the public by appointment.

2009-2010 -  New investments

Exporail continued to focus on its redesign projects by improving the layout of its outdoor visit course, setting up a permanent exhibit at the Hays Yard, building a yard observation area and garden and improving the open reserve’s lighting.

Always, the ongoing commitment of Exporail’s volunteers and staff members

From the onset to the present day, volunteers have played a key role in the Association’s and Museum’s administration and operations.

They sit on the board of directors, build practically all of the railway tracks on the site, drive the streetcars and trains during the summer season, serve as guides during thematic days and weekends and handle painstaking restoration work.

Of course, Exporail also counts on a team of 8 professionals, 20 seasonal employees and a hundred or so volunteers who donate 15,000 hours of work. Thus, Exporail’s 60,000 visitors benefit fully from the Museum’s activities.

And then …Exporail’s future and longevity, the project of the CRHA

Today, the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (CRHA) remains a non-profit organization that counts close to 1,000 members and several divisions throughout Canada.

Faithful to its mission, the CRHA continues to preserve Canada’s rail heritage and showcase its wealth. Its initial collection has never stopped growing and, today, Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, has become the conservation site of the largest rail collection in Canada and houses one of the most extensive collections in North America.