Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Model Railway Club of Toronto

 Recently, my brother-in-law and I planned a surprise for my nephew. Not telling him where we were going, we travelled into the busy neighbourhood that is now Liberty Village. We proceeded down an alley behind of one of the few remaining industrial buildings and walked down the stairs leading below a luxury furniture store catering to all the new condo residents in the neighbourhood. Tucked into the basement is the Model Railway Club of Toronto (MRCT). There are few things that can excite a child like a model train set can. There is also a guarantee that the adults are more excited than the child, which we were.
throw back image of Liberty Village - photo taken off their site
While it is not visible at street level, the club has been a part of this neighbourhood’s history since 1946. Founded in 1938 and originally located in one of the founders’ basement, the club moved to Union Station temporarily and then after World War II, found a more permanent home at 171 East Liberty Street (formerly 37 Hanna Avenue), a former munitions factory. One can only imagine how much change the club members have witnessed in this neighbourhood over sixty years. One of the reasons I wanted to visit was because I had a very vague memory of being taken there by my father – who was a railroad worker – when I was a kid. I remember it being in Liberty Village because we would always park there to visit the CNE since it was almost desolate with its seemingly empty warehouses signalling a Toronto industrial age long gone.

The other reason I wanted to visit was because the MRCT is moving. Before the club members take on the arduous challenge of trying to unpack and recreate their world at 11 Curity Avenue (St. Clair/O’Connor), they are welcoming the public to visit every weekend until the final show on Family Day 2013 (February 18).

Walking into the club, you feel like you are immediately stepping back in time. Your eyes try and take in everything at once, but you soon realize that you will require more than one lap of the entire layout to truly see all of its unique features. (We did four laps) You also immediately recognize that you are in a world of trains. The club states that a visiting rail marketing executive, who worked in the industry for over 20 years, remarked that it sounded and felt like a real railway. The club members have recreated a loose representation of the original Central Ontario Railway of the 1950s and 1960s, which ran between Picton and Trenton. While the towns in the model are named after club members, they have named passengers cars after towns along the original route and have reflected some of the major industries at that time in their layout – such as mining, farming and lumber.

As you walk through the display, you marvel at the handcrafted creations on display, from the buildings, landscaping and individual people that dot the landscape – whether they are waiting for a train, working in a mill, climbing a mountain or walking through a town’s main street. The landscape is large and realistic and there are just enough trains travelling at once that you are always pleasantly surprised when one appears .

Sometimes you can find art and creativity when you least expect and this was certainly one of those times. As you walk through the layout, you immediately respect the artistry, passion and discipline that it took to create and maintain this mini-world over 60 years. And it was all done not for financial gain, but for the love of a simple toy and the pleasure that it brings. 

The other notable feature of the layout is its local feel. Obviously, it’s an Ontario landscape, but dotted throughout are signs and advertisements highlighting Canadian industry. Once in a while, a train will roll by with a “Proudly Canadian, Made for the World” label. 
throw back image taken from their site
The final element of the day that made the trip truly worthwhile was the opportunity to engage with the club members. For many of them, membership at the club has been a lifelong commitment which is reflected in the pride and knowledge they share with visitors. As they speak to each other on walkie talkies and conduct the vast orchestra of dozens of trains operating at once, they are attentive to their guests, asking questions, telling detailed stories or flashing big smiles at the wide-eyed kids. They are truly passionate about their hobby and want you to enjoy their creation as much as they do.

I highly recommend a visit to the club before it moves as it will be the last chance to see the layout before 2015 (that’s how long it will take to meticulously take down and create the display!). All show times are from 11am to 5pm and cost $10 for adults and $6 for children. You can find more information at
- Helder Marcos