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Historic train engine could remain parked in Midhurst through donation to museum

For engine to be accepted into county museum's collection, budget for restoration must accompany the donation
2021-11-24 Engine 1531
Historic train Engine 1531 sits at Simcoe County Museum in Midhurst.

Barrie’s Engine 1531 should stay on track for a Midhurst home, says the city’s building committee.

The committee decided Tuesday night to back the Heritage Barrie decision that the historic engine be donated to Simcoe County Museum in Midhurst and the city fund its restoration at a $314,000 cost from 2022 to 2024.

“The reality is that the number of dollars that are required for the city to refurbish it and to bring it back here on site and install it are quite considerable,” said Coun. Clare Riepma, chairman of the city building committee. “At the same time, the county (of Simcoe) has a significant railway and transportation display there and we would have to work hard to try to duplicate something like that in Barrie.”

This motion still requires general committee approval, likely on the Dec. 13 agenda, then city council approval.

Restoring Engine 1531 and returning it to Allandale Station, or near Southshore Centre, carries an estimated $600,000 cost, according to city staff. 

Engine 1531, its tender box and its caboose would be included as part of the Simcoe County Museum’s larger exhibit on local railway heritage, with an emphasis on Barrie and Allandale Station.

Funding in the amount of $150,000, $100,000, and $64,000 would be included in the city’s capital budget for the years 2022 to 2024, and funded from Barrie’s reinvestment reserve in order to restore Engine 1531 to a condition suitable for donation.

City staff would incorporate a program to include community displays to recognize the railway as part of Barrie’s heritage and the city’s restoration work at Allandale Station, in consultation with the Allandale Neighbourhood Association and Heritage Barrie. They would then report back to city councillors with options and costs associated with the recognition program.

“The other part of it is that we’re asking to work with the county to eventually put some sort of display at our train station or somewhere on the waterfront,” Riepma said. 

The Ward 1 councillor said the Heritage Barrie committee, which he also chairs, was reluctant to donate Engine 1531, but the dollars were just too large to consider the alternative.

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. 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 eventually moved it from the waterfront to Simcoe County Museum, where it is currently stored. 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 the 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, including a $29,000 contingency fund.

Museum staff have indicated they can complete the restoration work in phases, during the years 2022 to 2024.

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 also 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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