The first time I drove across the country from New Brunswick to BC, I kept pulling over on the side of the highway to take photos of trains as they rolled through towns and prairies and, eventually, mountain passes. I couldn’t stop. Every region offered such a unique and completely Canadian backdrop. Eventually, I made the move to BC and settled on Revelstoke, drawn to the mountains and the snow and the wonderful community, but also to the industrial, almost gritty vibe that exists in a railroad town.
Unsurprisingly then, the Revelstoke Railway Museum is one of my favourite spots to hit on a rainy, dreary day. (To be fair, it’s a fantastic way to spend any kind of day.) You enter through an old waiting room circa 1950, complete with artifacts from local stations in Revelstoke and Salmon Arm and buy your ticket from an authentic wicket to really set the stage. From there, it’s into a recreated snowshed. Of the fifty-four original structures built to keep tracks clear of falling snow and avalanche debris, only two remain, both at Three Valley Gap. The walls are covered with interesting facts and tidbits, as well as photos, equipment and even a real (stuffed) bear.
Geography is a common theme on many of the posters that line the walls, primarily having to do with the massive undertaking it must have been to blast and build a railway through the nation’s most rugged mountain ranges. Initially, the route called for a northern track along the Yellowhead Highway, but CPR President William Cornelius Van Horne was convinced that the more direct, scenic route would be preferable. This meant laying track through Rogers and Eagle Passes where workers would be forced to contend with more snow and steeper terrain. The murals and stories posted around the museum tell the tale of challenges faced, problems solved and lives lost in the building of our national railway. I always come away a little smarter and lot more inspired by the vision and determination of all parties involved.
For real history buffs, the famed Last Spike is a big attraction. Just west of Revelstoke, this is where the final piece of the puzzle fell into place, completing the railway and joining Canada from east to west. The museum boasts a massive photograph of the moment the last spike was driven into the ground at Craigellachie. In fact, Revelstoke got its name from a banker named Lord Revelstoke who funded the once fledgling railway project and saw to its completion five years ahead of schedule.
As much as I’m into the history and culture of the Canadian National Railway, I’ll admit that I don’t really know or care much about actual trains themselves. Luckily, many people do and the museum has got a number of hot ticket items ready to be admired and raved about. Literally the largest draw is a Mikado P-2k class locomotive. That is a train. It’s large and impressive and looks kind of like something one might hop to Hogwarts. If I think it’s awesome and I’m not even really that into trains, I can only imagine how stoked locomotive buffs must be to poke their heads around in there.
You really cannot spend a day in Revelstoke without noticing the rumbling presence of freight cars as they roll in and out of town. The Railway Museum does an incredible job of putting the historic symbol into context and paying tribute to the very reason our town exists at all. Rain or shine, it’s time well spent.
Museums in Revelstoke, British Columbia
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