Via Twitter, I heard that the Railway Coastal Museum in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland was closing. Apparently the city of St. John’s is in a cash crunch, and to save money they’ve decided the museum has to go.
I visited this beautiful building and toured the museum in 2016. It’s a great museum.
Why Close It?
St. John’s mayor Danny Breen was quoted as saying, “We’ve been looking at the Railway Coastal Museum for the past number of years. Efforts have been made to increase the number of visitors there. They’ve been unsuccessful.” Apparently the museum had approximately 8,600 visitors in 2019.
The mayor said it is costing the city $200,000/year and they need to find savings in their budget.
From what I can gather, the station/museum is owned by a charitable foundation, the Newfoundland Railway – Coastal Museum Foundation Inc. (#895769719 RR 0001) that is “dedicated to interpreting the history of the Newfoundland railway system from its inception… as well as the history of the provincial Coastal Boat Service.”
Looking at the charity finances (publicly available as all charities are in Canada), in 2018 they received $356,091 from various sources. About $200,000 of that came from rental income.
The foundation lists real estate assets of close to $1.5 million, which must be the station building and perhaps the grounds as well.
Past tenants of the building included the CN Pensioners, the city Archive (which moved from the building in 2017), and Key Assets (a social services company, who were in the building in 2019).
Their expenses seem reasonable to me. They spent just over half their 2018 income on salaries for five full-time and three part-time employees, only one of which made over $40,000 for the year.
This page from the city mentions the museum and says “the operation of the museum is subsidized by the City of St. John’s.”
Despite the Foundation filings above, I’m not entirely clear who owns the museum, meaning the building and/or its contents. The museum was founded in 2003 by the Johnson Family Foundation, which was founded by Paul Johnson. At some point the museum appears to have been turned over to the city – maybe in 2018 – with a new board of directors. News reports say this board hasn’t met in two years.
A Ray of Hope?
In the December 14 regular council meeting, the Mayor addressed the issue of the station at the end of the session. He indicated that Ron Penney, a former director of the museum and an experienced politician from Newfoundland, approached the council to propose the formation of a community board to take over the museum.
The mayor did indicate that repurposing of the building would go forward, but also indicated that there would be a display of some sort. I am hoping that this means the top floors could be rented out as before, with a dedicated museum space remaining. Time will tell.
What Can You Do?
There’s an online petition to save the museum with over 7,000 signatures.
If you live in St. John’s, talk to your councilor.
News Article Links
- St. John’s to Close Railway Coastal Museum (Nov 26)
- Newfoundland Railway Buff Hopes to Preserve Railway Coastal Museum (Dec 2)
- Museum Closure Will Be A Loss To Us All (Dec 2)
- Consultation Coming on Fate of Museum Artefacts (Dec 10)
- Statement from City Council of St. John’s (Dec 10)
- Museum Association Blindsided by Impending Closure (Dec 11)