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Could old steam engine's placement in Allandale help drive heritage tourism?

'We have many schools, some of whom are within walking distance to where the train could potentially go in Allandale,' says Heritage Barrie committee member
10-09-2021 MuseumBuildings48b
Engine 1531 at Simcoe County Museum is shown in an undated photo.

Engine 1531 could be the ticket to heritage tourism in Barrie, city council heard Monday night.

Cathy Colebatch, a member of the Heritage Barrie committee, said council should not miss the opportunity to have it here.

“Engine 1531 is an asset to the city of Barrie and could be a valuable asset to Tourism Barrie,” she said. “We have many schools, some of whom are within walking distance to where the train could potentially go in Allandale, as well as the many visitors to our city along the waterfront.

“Imagine for a moment the number of residents alone who would come to visit,” she added. “Another draw to our beautiful city.”

Council decided Monday night to refer back to staff a motion to donate the historic train and its equipment to the Simcoe County Museum in Midhurst, and pay more than $300,000 for its restoration.

Staff are to provide further information concerning a cost-benefit analysis for locating the engine at Allandale Station, or in the vicinity of the Southshore Centre, versus Simcoe County Museum, to consult with Heritage Barrie and report back to councillors.

Coun. Jim Harris has suggested it’s literally worth the investigation. He has noted the original December 2017 motion didn’t ask staff to compare and contrast the difference between the eventual site of the restored engine being at the county museum or at Allandale Station. 

Involving Heritage Barrie could also help the city access grants, public-private partnerships or fundraising to help mitigate the cost of restoring and possible moving Engine 1531.

“We have a potential opportunity to work collectively with the county, city and community together to bring a heritage vision to Allandale,” Colebatch said. “This is an opportunity to elevate heritage tourism in Barrie.”

Pre-COVID, during the last Celebrate Barrie event in 2019, the Allandale Neighbourhood Association had a table there with a bring back Engine 1531 petition. Colebatch said it had more than 300 signatures.

“People were excited to talk trains, both locomotive and GO trains,” she said. “If fact, we’ve handed out more than 1,300 paper trains to children over the years.” 

The donation deal involving Engine 1531, its tender box and caboose would make them part of the Midhurst museum’s larger exhibit of local railway heritage, with an emphasis on Barrie and Allandale Station. Funding of $150,000, $100,000, and $64,000 would be included in the capital budget request for the years 2022 to 2024, from the city’s reinvestment reserve to complete the restoration work needed to restore Engine 1531 to a condition suitable for donation.

Engine 1531 has been at Simcoe County Museum since 2010 and other than asbestos abatement and minor paint work, there has not been any maintenance or restoration work completed on it. The engine is in poor condition and the longer it remains this way, say city staff, the greater will be the effort and cost required to restore and preserve it.

Barrie has a long railway history, including the Canadian National Railway’s Allandale Station designation as a heritage station because of its historical, architectural and environmental significance. Steam Engine 1531 is part of this history, as it was built in Quebec in 1910 by Montreal Locomotive Works and used by the CN Railway unit in the late 1950s when it was stationed at Allandale.

Donated to the city in 1960, the engine was originally placed on display on the lakeshore. This was followed in 1995 by CN Railway’s donation of the caboose. Although these pieces were never used in Barrie, the engine, tender box and caboose are representative of railway equipment used in the city.

The engine was exhibited on Barrie’s waterfront for many years near Victoria Street. The original display was open to the public, but it became a target of vandalism resulting in the installation of a chain link fence to provide it some protection. Due to time and weather factors, however, the equipment experienced significant deterioration.

Construction work began along Lakeshore Drive in 2008 and to avoid further damage to the engine the city moved it from the waterfront to Simcoe County Museum, where it currently sits. The cost to move the engine was $149,000, including hazardous material abatement and the additional track laid at the museum to house the train. 

The engine is on loan to the County of Simcoe, although the city maintains sole ownership and is responsible for any costs including insurance, removal of any hazardous materials, transportation to a new location, and/or restoration.

Earlier this year, city staff contacted Simcoe County Museum to explore the potential of donation. Museum staff have indicated that for them to continue to hold the engine, the restoration works must be completed to preserve it for the long term. So for the engine to be accepted as a donation into the museum collection, a budget for restoration must accompany the donation.

City staff have an updated quote for the restoration and preservation of the engine, tender box and caboose from Simcoe County Museum  $319,000, including a $29,000 contingency fund.

Museum staff have indicated they can complete the restoration work in phases, during three years.

Displaying Engine 1531 at Simcoe County Museum is a good fit with its theme of Barrie and Simcoe County in the early 20th century, covering the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Museum displays also reflecting that period in Barrie’s history include the Barrie Street Exhibit, the Barrie Bell automobile and a 1905 replica of the Allandale Railway station.

Engine 1531 fits into the experience of the transportation theme offered by Simcoe County Museum, where more than 8,000 students visit annually.

Should Barrie city council choose to donate Engine 1531, Simcoe County Museum will need approval from Simcoe County council to receive the donation.

Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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