Historical society offers glimpse of bygone era—through trains

By day, Scott Milligan is the executive vice-president and chief financial officer of Morneau Shepell, overseeing development and implementation of the company with a market cap of $1.5 billion. But when he leaves the office on Thursdays, he takes on a new responsibility—making sure the trains run on time. Sort of.

Milligan is one of a group of nearly 30 people who gather weekly in a 3,000-square-foot space above George’s Trains to build—and run—a scaled layout of Bayview Junction, one of the busiest train hotspots in North America, located at the intersection of three busy rail lines in the Golden Horseshoe.

They meet under the banner of the Railview Historical Society, an assortment of railfans as they’re known, with a passion for model trains and the history they represent. Railview’s sprawling layout spans from the 1950s to the 1980s, with keen attention paid to historical, geographical and technical accuracy. As for the why, Milligan views trains as a window into Canada’s history.

“Trains built this country in some fashion,” he said. “And for many years the train station in a small town was the place that people came and went from in the same way that an airport is today. It’s become much more about history and nostalgia, and harkening back to a different time.”

Bayview Junction makes for a good setting because of the diverse array of trains passing through each day.

“Whether it’s Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Via Rail or GO, it sort of captures all of what we see in both historical and current times for different railways in southern Ontario,” Milligan said.

As one of the society’s directors, Milligan has been into trains for more than 50 years, since getting his first train set as a present on his fifth birthday. He joined Railview not long after it formed, five years ago, and now makes a point of attending the weekly evening meetings with his fellow railfans, which include several retirees, a dentist, a couple of engineers and a pilot.

The Railview Historical Society is inviting the public to an open house on from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 9, as they showcase the layout and the hobby itself at the society’s Markham headquarters located in Unit 201 at 550 Alden Rd. Whenever Railview has participated in Doors Open, there’s been a wide interest, ranging from children who love trains to grown-ups exploring membership to people who simply appreciate the mechanics and details of model layouts.

Milligan’s hope is to explain what goes into constructing a layout and also a bit about the history depicted in it. Those who have visited in years past will be impressed with the progress, though he chuckled when asked if it was nearing completion.

“I think the answer is ‘no, they’re never ever done,’” he said. “But I think we’re at the point where we can see the finish line, at least, and to be able to say everything has been covered once from the scenic and operational sides. Even from then, we’ve gone back over scenes and we’ve started to make adjustments.”

Members constantly reevaluate components of the layout, making upgrades and even injecting some new ideas. One recent addition is a mechanical service station, which lights up and lets you peer through a window at working welders. Like many features, it started when one of the club’s members had an idea he wanted to test out.

“People like building skills by just trying things or learning from people who have done things,” Milligan said. “Because a lot of it is not hard, but it’s slightly intimidating if you’ve never done it before.”

The group meshes because everyone has their own skill set and their own reason for being involved in the hobby in the first place.

“Some people really wanted to get involved in the design and the construction,” Milligan said. “Some people just want to come to run trains. Some people want to operate a realistic schedule of what were the trains that ran from here to there and at what times and how do we make that all work? I’ve met some members who are just amazing modellers and their work on buildings, scenery, painting backdrops or building locomotives and cars is just outstanding.”


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