Discover the Canadian Pacific Railway Steam Locomotive Drawing Collection

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The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Steam Locomotive Drawing Collection documents and illustrates in exacting detail the most vibrant period of steam locomotive development in Canada. Reflecting the changing nature of railway transport in terms of both the speed and weight of trains, the period covered by the collection was marked by significant changes in locomotive design. On the occasion of Archives Awareness Week, we caught up with the Curator who formally acquired the drawings, David Monaghan.

Ingenium Channel (IC): When you were the curator of transportation at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, you were responsible for acquiring the collection. Why was it important to acquire this collection?

Colour photograph of a man, David Monaghan, who wears glasses and has a white beard.

David W. Monaghan, former curator of Land Transportation.

David Monaghan (DM): The first reason was administrative. The Museum’s first Curator of Industrial Technology, Mr. R.J. (John) Corby, arranged for the loan of the drawing collection to Museum in the late 1960s. By the time I began to work on the file in the 1990s, the collection had been on loan from Canadian Pacific for close to thirty years. In order for the Museum to invest more time and financial resources into the collection for both preservation and research purposes, we had to secure title. So a formal request was forwarded to Judith Nevsky, who was then Canadian Pacific’s Archivist - requesting that the deposit be made permanent. Fortunately, the company agreed and the donation went through.

The reason why we wanted to acquire the collection is much more straightforward. It is simply one of the most complete records of the development of the steam locomotive in Canada from the late 19th century up to the 1960s.

IC: How have the drawings been used?

DM: The drawings have always been of special interest to modellers, conservators and researchers. The drawings cover everything from nuts to 3-metre long erecting drawings depicting a complete engine. Certainly, the collection was used extensively when the Museum undertook the restoration of CP 1201 as well as the Shay locomotive.

Scan of a technical drawing showing the inside of cab and cross-section views of bushing for a whistle.
Drawing A-78-L-331-A, one of our smallest drawings, illustrating bushing for a whistle.

IC: How do you feel the drawings could be better used by the Museum or the public?

DM: The collection contains so much information, spanning over 80 years. The drawings can be viewed as a document containing detailed scaled information representing a specific object or assembly of objects. At the same time, they may be used as an artefact unto themselves, as aesthetic objects of considerable beauty and craftsmanship. They also represent a unique way of seeing things in a manner that allows the three-dimensional object depicted to be reproduced from a two-dimensional representation.

IC: Could you use the collection to build your own steam locomotive?

DM: With a little bit of expertise, yes. One could build a locomotive from the drawings - many different kinds, in fact. It would be another matter to find the materials to build one.

Colour photo showing a dark green cabinet with a drawer open. There are drawings that are partially rolled inside the drawer.

Some of the cabinets used to store the collection.

IC: What should people know about this collection that they don't already know?

DM: The drawing collection represents innumerable hours of human labour and is evidence of the remarkable craftsmanship of the people who produced them. Each of the original drawings represents planning, preliminary tracings, final tracings and then the production of an original drawing in India ink on linen tracing paper. Each of the original drawings on linen, of which there are thousands, are unique works that were meticulously drawn to insure accuracy and legibility. So much of Canada’s industrial heritage has been lost. We are fortunate that Canadian Pacific saved this collection and donated it to a public institution in order to provide access to the public and ensure its preservation.

IC: Thank you, David, for sharing your thoughts on these important drawings!

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Profile picture for user Marcia Mordfield
Marcia Mordfield

Marcia Mordfield is Assistant Archivist at Ingenium. She has worked for the corporation for the last 20 years, primarily with the archival photograph collections. Marcia holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Carleton University, and a Certificate in Archives and Records Management from Algonquin College. A highlight in her archival studies was participating in a placement at the Natural History Museum in London, England.