The Winnipeg Railway Museum was told this week that it will have to close by the end of 2021 to facilitate repairs to Union Station, where the museum is housed. This apparently came as a complete surprise to the museum and they are working on how to reopen and where.
The west wall of Union Station has been deteriorating for years and VIA Rail, the owner of the station, has decided that it is time to fix the wall. Construction of a new wall will require the museum to be closed, as the workers will be in the museum area and personal protective equipment will be required on the worksite.
Once the wall is rebuilt, the space will have to conform to current building codes, and the Museum’s facilities do not conform to the current code in several respects. Upgrades to meet the code are estimated to be around $3 million.
The museum occupies tracks 1 and 2 of the Union Station train shed, tracks which have been designated for use in a future rapid transit corridor in Winnipeg’s Master Transit Plan, approved in April 2021.
The museum also surrounds a model train exhibit, the Gateway Western, located in a building within the train shed. This will likely have to move.
In the short term, people can still visit the museum until December 31, 2021. At that point, the museum will be closed to the public. It’s not clear if the museum will ever reopen at the current location.
I would like to offer a few opinions, but I should preface that by saying that I have a couple of personal policies that apply here. First, I believe that if you aren’t willing to help out, you shouldn’t criticize those who are volunteering. Second, I generally never say anything bad about someone online; you never know where your words will end up.
Like all volunteer-run organizations, I believe the Winnipeg Railway Museum is short on funds and volunteer hours. The men and women who volunteer there work very hard and have done a lot to advance the museum and tell the story of railways in Winnipeg and in Manitoba.
I became a member a few years ago with the intention of helping out where I could, but for a few reasons that I won’t get into, I didn’t renew my membership.
The train shed’s location is ideal from a tourism viewpoint, being adjacent to the Forks, Winnipeg’s busiest tourist attraction. However, the museum’s environment has never been great. The train shed is very cold in the winter, the roof leaks, and the lighting is less than ideal… not to mention that it is not wheelchair accessible, with visitors having to climb a steep set of stairs to access the museum.
It seems unlikely that the museum will be able to stay at the Forks. There is little available real estate remaining in the area, with the two large surface parking lots at the Forks earmarked for use by a planned development, Railside at the Forks.
To me it makes sense to relocate the Winnipeg Railway Museum near the city’s other main train-related attraction, the Prairie Dog Central Railway. Located at the outskirts of the city to the northwest, the area is easily accessed by the Perimeter Highway and would provide a premiere destination for tourists and locals alike. The city has been trying to develop the Centreport area and this would fit right in. There’s lots of land, lots of infrastructure, and rail access to help move equipment over.
No matter where the museum relocates to, or even if it stays where it is, they will require major funding to reopen. I hope they can find some significant donors to help support the museum’s reopening. It’s going to be a long and difficult process. I wish them well.