Railway enthusiasts invited to watch Canadian artifacts take to the tracks

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CP 1201 sits in a storage facility, awaiting its move to the new Ingenium Collections Conservation Centre.

Moving artifacts that weigh hundreds of metric tons is no small feat, but Ingenium is on a roll.

Later this month, three pieces of Canada’s storied rail history will take to the tracks during a public event that will see them move out of a storage warehouse and into their new home in Ingenium’s Collections Conservation Centre in Ottawa. The Bytown Railway Society — a volunteer-run organization which restores and operates steam rail equipment — will be a key player in the move.

“To commemorate the move into the newly-built collections storage facility, the Bytown Railway Society will be using its diesel locomotive to push the CP 1201 and two Governor General’s rail cars from the grounds of the Canada Science and Technology Museum to the Collections Conservation Centre,” says Charls Gendron, president of the Bytown Railway Society. “There’s a track that runs from behind the Canada Science and Technology Museum all the way to their state-of-the-art new home.”

The public is invited to come out to the museum grounds and watch the move — which Gendron expects will take about an hour — the morning of the move (for full details, stay tuned to the Ingenium web site). Breakfast foods and coffee will be available for purchase.

CP 1201

Canadian Pacific (CP) 1201 was built by workers in the Angus Shops in Montreal in 1944.

“During the Second World War, CP’s efforts were focused on military production,” explains Sharon Babaian, curator of transportation technologies at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. “This meant that they were using many locomotives built in the 1920s and rebuilt many times since. In 1944, CP decided to build two prototypes, 1200 and 1201, to begin replacing its roster of aging locomotives.”

Design improvements resulted in a multi-purpose locomotive, which made CP 1201 ideal for moving goods and people — primarily in and around Ottawa and Montreal. While it’s the largest artifact in Ingenium’s collection — weighing in at 185 metric tons — CP 1201 was a small engine, relatively speaking. Duncan DuFresne, a fireman with CP who also spent years volunteering his time with CP 1201 at the museum, called it “the biggest little engine on the roster.”

As the last steam locomotive built by the Angus men, CP 1201 had a sentimental quality to it. So when thousands of steam locomotives were decommissioned and the Angus Shops became a locomotive graveyard, CP 1201 was able to avoid destruction.

“By the end of 1960, a total of 42 G5 locomotives had succumbed [to the cutting torch] with another 19 being destroyed in 1961, 15 in 1962 and 5 in 1963,” says Paul Bown of the Bytown Railway Society. “Legend has it that 1201 was spared such an ignominious fate because of her reputation as the last locomotive to be constructed at Angus. Time and again, as she came to the head of the scrap line, she would mysteriously be switched to the rear."

A few years later, CP 1201 would find its second life.

“In a twist of serendipity, by 1966 it was clear there would be a science museum in Ottawa and there was an effort to begin acquiring artifacts,” says Babaian.

After its donation to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in 1967, the CP 1201 served as a national ambassador for the museum, most notably when museum staff and volunteers from the Bytown Railyway Society took it out to Craigellachie, British Columbia for the centennial commemoration of the Last Spike in 1985. The locomotive also saw service during the royal visit of 1977, when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were taken to Wakefield aboard the Governor General’s rail cars.

Governor General’s rail cars

Built in 1927 to transport the vice-regal representatives on their travels, the Governor General’s rail cars are made of steel and weigh approximately 100 tons each; they are among the heaviest pieces of railway equipment made in Canada. The cars were used for the royal visits of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (1939), Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip (1951), Princess Margaret (1958), and Queen Elizabeth (1959). Acquired by the Canada Science and Technology Museum in 1967, these rail cars are fine examples of the well-equipped passenger cars built and used by many high-ranking business and government officials to travel across the continent, back in the days before air transport was viable. For the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the museum arranged for the cars — pulled by the CP 1201 — to take Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on a trip from Ottawa, Ontario to Wakefield, Quebec.

As part of its move to the Collections Conservation Centre, Ingenium will be moving a total of eight locomotives and nine rail cars, which till now have been housed in a leased storage warehouse. A Locomotive Hall in the new facility will provide a more suitable home for these artifacts, and plans are underway for scheduled tours in the future.

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Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.