When the railway first came through St. Thomas, Ontario in 1856 – with the London & Port Stanley line – no one could have predicted the importance the railways would play in the growth and success of the city. With the development of the Canada Southern Line through the city in 1872, the small town of St. Thomas was ushered into an era of prosperity and had the city known as the “Railway Capital of Canada.” Location was key, as the city lies almost directly between Buffalo and Detroit, and offered a more direct route between the two destinations. By the early 20th century St. Thomas was a North American Railway hub, with 5 railways running through the city, and over 150 freight and passenger trains a day.
By 1913, the Canada Southern Railway had become the Michigan Central Railroad, and it was during this year that the Michigan Central Railroad Repair Shops were built. An article from the St. Thomas Daily Times – March 28, 1914 with the headline “M.C.R.’s New Quarter Million Dollar Shops Nearly Completed”, demonstrates the significance of this building and the impact it has on the community – “The completion of these works places St. Thomas among the leading railway divisional centres, in point of equipment, on the American continent and no effort has been spared either by the Michigan Central Railroad or the contractors to make both the buildings and the equipment the most up-to-date possible to obtain.” This new industrial building also impacted the community economically, employing more than 400 workers at its peak.
The Elgin County Railway Museum has been housed in the 52,000 square foot building since its incorporation in 1989 and purchased the property in 2010. The Museum has grown from a small solely volunteer run institution to a growing and thriving organization with dedicated staff, opportunities for summer employment, and a foundation of strong volunteers that has blossomed over the past 30 years. We look forward to continuing to grow in our community and provide a bond to our city’s history and future as “The Railway City”.