History of the CRHA

Visionary of a unique heritage – Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum

History of the CRHA

The CRHA is the most senior railway enthusiast organization in Canada devoted to preserving and interpreting Canada’s railway heritage, which its founders and members have safeguarded from coast to coast.

Today, Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, is owned and operated by the CRHA figures among the most important railway museums in the world.

Exporail’s Archive Centre—recognized by the Province of Quebec as an Accredited Private Archive Service in 2008—is testimony to the work accomplished by the CRHA’s volunteers and the Association’s interest in sharing this work with the general public and researchers alike.

Today, the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (CRHA) remains a non-profit volunteer organization that counts close to 1,000 members and eleven Divisions throughout Canada.

Our milestones

1932 Founding of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (CRHA)
1937 Start of publication of Canadian Rail and Bulletins
1941 Incorporation of the CRHA
1950 First important rolling stock acquisition
1961 Founding of the Canadian Railway Museum
1961-1971 Expansion of the collection, Construction of two storage buildings and trackage, Barrington & Hays station, and opening of the Canadian Railway Museum
1978 The naming of Exporail as a “specialized railway museum” for Canada
1979 Museum receives an annual operating grant from the Quebec government
2004 Opening of Angus Pavilion and Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum
2007 Adoption by the House of Commons of a recommendation to designate Exporail as Canada’s National Railway Museum
2008 Archives accredited as a private archive service by the Province of Quebec
2009-2010 $1.3 Million permanent exhibition completed
Always The ongoing commitment of Exporail’s volunteers and staff members
Next Securing Exporail’s future and longevity

Get to know us better

1932 – Creation of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association

Meeting at the Château Ramezay in Montreal on March 15, 1932, a group of railroad historians and enthusiasts created the Canadian Railroad Historical Association.

Documentation and research are an important part of the activities of the CRHA. Since 1962, the Association has published “Canadian Rail Canada”, one of the most important historical journals about the heritage and development of the Canadian railway industry, past, and present.

As early as 1936, the CRHA was committed to promoting railway history during the celebrations and commemorative activities surrounding the centennial of the first trip on a Canadian public railway by joining forces with the Canadian National Railway, the cities of La Prairie, and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the original terminus of the Champlain & St. Lawrence Rail Road. In 1941, the CRHA was incorporated.

1950 – First major acquisitions

In 1950, the Association acquired its first vehicle, MSR 274, a tram, donated by the Montreal Tramways Company (now the Société de transport de Montréal). This vehicle was one of the first to run in Montreal in 1892. The members of the CRHA then undertook its restoration and presented it in its original appearance in 1952.

This first donation was followed by several others of national historic significance. In 1955, the Canadian Pacific Railway donated the private car of Sir William Van Horne, General Manager, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Pacific Railway to the CRHA. This car, built in 1883, has carried famous figures in Canadian history, such as Sir Sandford Fleming and Sir Donald A. Smith, who sat in it for the ceremony marking the completion of the first transcontinental railway at Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7, 1885.

1961 – Canadian Railway Museum was founded

The CRHA played a unique role in the preservation of Canada’s railway heritage, which was not a priority at the time. The organization preserved objects, documents, books, archives, paintings, locomotives, and vehicles, and in 1961 founded the Canadian Railway Museum.

In 1965, the museum opened its doors to the public with 25 trams, 20 steam locomotives, and 5 passenger cars. The museum’s collection reflects the innovations developed or adopted by Canadian railways and highlights the unique Canadian railway experience. 

1961-1971 – Fundraising – preservation, and development

In 1961, the CRHA undertook its first fundraising campaign to build a storage building to house the most important pieces of the collection. The CRHA received financial support from the federal and provincial governments. 

Between 1965 and 1970, the Museum doubled its storage capacity, acquired its first historic building (Barrington Station) and constructed a building to house its library and archives. The latter building was made possible in 1971 by a gift from the three daughters of Charles Melville Hays, one of the presidents of the Grand Trunk Railway who died on the Titanic in 1912.

1978 – Recognition and Expansion 

In 1978, the federal government granted the Museum the unique title of “Specialized Railway Museum” in Canada. As a result of the Museum’s development plan, the Government of Canada provided funds to acquire a feeder rail line owned by Marathon Realty, a landholding subsidiary of Canadian Pacific, and 62 acres of land in Delson/St. Constant.

In 1979, the Quebec government granted the CRHA “Class 1” status, allowing it to receive an operating grant and hire professional staff. This accreditation recognizes the value of its collection and activities.

2004 – Opening of Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum

On August 27, 2004, the dream became reality: Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum was officially inaugurated. The institution was equipped with brand new facilities: the Angus Pavilion, which was built to museological standards and covered nearly 9,000 square meters, a permanent exhibition, a new model railway, and a parking lot. 

The Angus Pavilion houses a 12-track Grand Gallery with walkways accessible to persons with reduced mobility, featuring 44 railway vehicles, a temporary exhibition hall, a multipurpose hall, a model train exhibition hall, and an observation pit unique in North America that allows visitors to examine the underside of a diesel-electric locomotive and a steam locomotive. 

In addition, there is the mezzanine, the Archives and Documentation Centre, three storerooms, the shop, the café, and office space.

Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, is now open year-round.  Group and school visits are offered by reservation, with experienced, competent, and dynamic guides.

2007 – House of Commons Recommendation – National Railway Museum

In 2007, the House of Commons adopted a recommendation from the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to recognize Exporail as the National Railway Museum.

This recognition is a testament to the importance of Exporail’s collection and the fundamental role of the railway industry in the development and economy of the country, and of the railway workers who came from near and far to build the Canada of today.

2008 – Accredited Private Archives Service

In 2008, the Exporail Archives was also officially recognized as an Accredited Private Archive. The value of the archival material collected by volunteers since the early days of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association, the founder of Exporail, is a valuable legacy. The Centre is open to the public by appointment.

2009-2010 – New Investments

Exporail continued its plans to redevelop its permanent exhibit by improving its outdoor tour route, installing interpretive islands and station gardens on site, building a viewing area and permanent exhibit at Hays Station, and improving the facilities of the open rail vehicle storage.

From the beginning – committed, loyal and dedicated volunteers and staff.

From the beginning to the present, volunteers have played a key role in the administration and operation of the Association and Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum.

They serve on the Board of Directors, build virtually all of the tracks on site, drive trams and trains during the summer months, serve as guides on these days, and do the grunt work of restoration.

Of course, Exporail has a team of 8 professionals, 20 seasonal employees, and a hundred or so volunteers giving 15,000 hours of work.  Exporail can thus offer all of its activities to its 60,000 visitors. 

The future and sustainability of Exporail, the CRHA project.

Today, the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (CRHA) remains a non-profit organization with nearly 1,000 members and several divisions across Canada. 

True to its mission, the CRHA continues to preserve Canada’s railway heritage and promote awareness of its richness. Its initial collection has never ceased to grow and today, the Canadian Railway Museum, now Exporail, is home to the largest railway collection in Canada and one of the most comprehensive in North America. 

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