The Model Railroad Club of Toronto is secreted away in an inconspicuous corner of Liberty Village, and brings together model railroaders and model train enthusiasts from all across the world. Though some might say the hobby is too far out of the mainstream to hold popular appeal, some well-known figures–like Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart and Neil Young–counted themselves among the ranks of model train hobbyists. But you don’t have to be famous to enjoy this highly involved, occasionally intense and always socially rewarding activity.
The Model Railroad Club of Toronto boasts a model railroad composed of 6,000 feet of two-rail track, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of such miniature vehicles as passenger cars, freight cars and locomotives. Other minutiae include mini-stations, mini-billboards, mini-bridges and even mini-people, all assembled in an intricate map reminiscent of the golden ‘50s; the prosperous post-war era that many recall with a sense of acute nostalgia. The sight is truly striking, simulating a bird’s-eye view of what was once a booming railway system.
The model railroad is laid out and fully operated as a near-replica of the Central Ontario Railway, the latter of which had a run of 32 years, a period that saw a number of key expansions before the railway ultimately gave way to the Canadian Northern Railway, now also defunct.
Model Railroad Club members are serious about their hobby, but not so serious that they don’t have fun with it. “The way I see it, the hobby is really a three-dimensional art form, where individuals can use talents such as carpentry, machining, electronics, model building, collecting, etc.” describeds club president David MacLean over e-mail.
Thus, the activity of modeling railways has immense appeal over a broad range of activities and attracts people from many kinds of professions and industries; they are brought together by their desire to create with, as MacLean puts it: “No agendas … no deadlines … no consequences of something [left incomplete].” Modeling railroads has a special charm for people who like to work with their hands and at the same time enjoy the results of what they produce in a relaxed environment.
Especially impressive is the fact that every part of the model railroad is in solid working order—every train and every light can be turned on, making the model an engineer’s dream. Trains run according to a strict schedule and follow standard operational rules under a set printed timetable. Club members get to take on such roles as Yardmaster, Freight Engineer, Dispatcher, Clerk and others. Enthusiasts take their railroading seriously, and this shows in the painstaking care given to ensure the accuracy of every detail. The hobby requires significant investment, in terms of money but particularly in terms of time—some models take months to build, and constructions and renovations are ongoing.
The club has an interesting history. Originally based in Union Station, the club was compelled to relocate to more commodious quarters after the second World War. Eventually, the club was moved into a decommissioned munitions factory, sharing a very big space with a number of other tenants who sought to join in the effort to convert wartime factories into upstanding businesses. The Model Railroad Club of Toronto is the last remaining ‘original’ tenant in the building, and so is an integral extant part of Liberty Village’s heritage.
The club offers shows, guided tours, private events and birthday parties, and is located in the basement of 171 East Liberty Street, Suite B1. Construction and model railway development is ongoing, and new members are welcome to join. Individual visits can be made every Wednesday after 8:00 p.m, Operating Night, when club members meet. The next annual public shows will run on the last three Sundays in February, and also on Family Day, all in 2013.
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