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Midhurst museum may not be the last stop for Barrie steam engine

'I think for many people, there is an understanding that, maybe even a hope, that the engine would be returned to Barrie, in the Allandale Station area,’ says Coun. Jim Harris
10-09-2021 MuseumBuildings48b
Engine 1531 currently sits at the Simcoe County Museum in Midhurst.

Don’t be so sure Barrie’s Engine 1531 is on track to call Simcoe County Museum home.

City councillors decided Monday night to refer back to staff a motion to donate the historic train and its equipment to the Midhurst museum, 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.

“I think for many people, there is an understanding that, maybe even a hope, that the engine would be returned to Barrie, in the Allandale Station area,” said Coun. Jim Harris. “That’s why (this motion), to meet that community understanding.”

The Ward 8 councillor noted the original motion from December 2017 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. 

“So this will allow those details to be completely sorted out,” Harris said. “We know that if it was to be restored… that’s what it’s going to cost if it was going to be donated to the county.

“We don’t know the details if it was to be restored and the ultimate resting place was to be Allandale Station or Southshore, what that cost would be," he added. "We do know that there would be a transportation cost and an ongoing maintenance cost. That we know.

“These questions need to be answered so as to make the best decision on where this engine lands, its final place of display." 

That also includes where the money to do this would come from, Harris said.

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.

“So that it can not be a further burden to the city to pay the extra, if the best landing place is deemed to be Allandale Station or Southshore,” Harris said. “It may very well be that when we have all the information in, the best landing place for a restored Engine 1531 is the county museum.”

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 2022-2024, 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. 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 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 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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