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Historic train engine to be donated to Simcoe County Museum

'It does pain me a little to see the engine not return to Allandale,' says Barrie councillor and chair of the Heritage Barrie committee

The tracks end for Barrie’s historic train engine at the Simcoe County Museum.

Simcoe County councillors, sitting as committee of the whole this week, have approved the donation of Engine 1531, its tender box and caboose from the City of Barrie to the Midhurst museum, where the equipment will be on display once restored.

The city would fund Engine 1531’s restoration at a $319,000 cost from 2023 until 2025.

“It does pain me a little to see the engine not return to Allandale,” said Barrie Coun. Clare Riepma, chair of the Heritage Barrie committee. “However, if we were to retain it, the cost to restore it would be much higher because the city doesn't have the expertise and would have to hire it somewhere.

“In addition, there would be the cost of moving it back to Allandale and building a structure to house it and create an interpretive facility for it,” he added. “As well, the city would then have to maintain it in the long-term.”

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

“The county already has a transportation exhibit at the museum and the engine has been part of that for a number of years now,” Riepma said. “The county has also agreed to assist the city with developing some historic material that we can use with respect to the engine.”

County council will consider final approval of the deal at its June 14 meeting.

In late 2021, Barrie councillors decided to back the Heritage Barrie committee decision that the historic engine be donated to Simcoe County Museum and the city fund its restoration at a $319,000 cost from 2023 to 2025.

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 Train Station.

Approximate funding in the amount of $150,000, $100,000, and $69,000 would be included in the city’s capital budget for those years, 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 the Allandale Train Station, in consultation with the Allandale Neighbourhood Association and Heritage Barrie, and report back to city councillors with options and costs associated with the recognition program.

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, according to 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 Train 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 CN Railway 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.

Last year, city staff contacted Simcoe County Museum to explore the potential of donation. Museum staff 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 $31,900 contingency fund.

Museum staff have indicated they can complete the restoration work in phases, during the years 2023 to 2025.

Displaying Engine 1531 at Simcoe County Museum is said to be 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.