The Alberta Central Railway Museum (ACRM) is a site that houses a railway station, railcars, and a working restored train that takes visitors around a 1 km rail loop. The site also has acquired a grain elevator from Hobbema, which was once one of the largest working elevators in Alberta. The site’s owner, Bill Wilson, and the volunteers of the ACRM have put together this museum on Bill’s property.
The main attraction of the site is the train station and various rail cars. The train station features many antiques, helpfully interpreted with signage. Features include the role of women in the railway industry, vintage tourism posters, and a kids’ corner that includes toy trains to play with and an explanation of Morse Code by comparing it to the text messaging of today. Many collections are displayed, including buttons from railway uniforms, and serving china from the Canadian Pacific Railway. Our guide showed us the hooks that were used to pass memos from station to train when the train was not stopping. A binder houses many of these memos dating back to the 1950s, and includes everyday information as well as personal notes such as congratulations on a long-time employee’s retirement. The ticket office in the station has many antiques, including an original clock, typewriters, and a Morse code key that is hooked up to other keys around the site and can be operated by enthusiasts. The train station also features a gift shop that focuses on children’s books and educational toys. The exhibition railcar has a large diorama of Wetaskiwin’s rail yard at its peak, including its many elevators. This car also has historical photos, including several of grain elevators, as well as historical rail tools.
When visiting the site, a ride on the train is a must. The train normally runs at 1:30 and 3:00 PM, but call ahead (780-352-2257) to make sure the train will be running when you visit. The ride costs $4 per person which includes two loops of the site, past the grain elevator and canola fields and back to the station. Frequently, the train’s conductor, a retired teacher, is on hand to explain local and railway history. The train has a variety of cars that you can sit in, including an observation car with armchairs, brocade curtains, and large windows.
The grain elevator on the site is in need of restoration. The ACRM has so far raised and spent $130 000 on the elevator, but much more work is needed. It can be seen from the train, or with permission you can walk out to it, but the interior cannot be visited.
The elevator took an interesting journey from its original location in Hobbema to its current site. After it was bought by the ACRM for $1, it was transported across farmers’ fields, which were frozen over in the winter. In this way the elevator was able to avoid electrical wires, which otherwise would have had to be taken down, costing more money.
The highlight of this site is the dedication and friendliness of the volunteer staff. When I visited, on an unseasonably cold and overcast day, our host Doreen welcomed us and offered a wonderful experience to the few visitors the site saw that day. She provided lots of information and answered our question before taking us onto the train. After our ride, she served us coffee and cookies in the dining car. It was a lovely experience to get to know the other visitors, a family from Camrose, and to hear about a volunteer’s excitement and dedication to the site. Anyone interested in grain elevators, railways or history, or simply looking for an interesting day out, will enjoy the warmth of the volunteers and the work they have put into this site.
Colour photo of Hobbema grain elevators. Unknown date..
Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta
Name of Site: Alberta Central Railway Museum
Year Elevator Built: 1906
Companies that owned elevator: Agricore. The elevator was originally from Hobbema.
Current ownership: Alberta Central Railway Museum, who acquired it in 2002.
Phone: (780) 352-2257
Access to Site:
The ACRM is open from Victoria Day in May until Labor Day in September, Wednesday to Sunday and on holiday Mondays, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Admission and Payment Method:
Adult: $4.00 per person
Student: (ages 6 to 17) $3.00 per person
Under 5: free
Train fares are $4.00 per person. Call (780) 352-2257 to ensure the train is running.
Railway Day Admission: (August 21 in 2011, check http://www.abcentralrailway.com/events.html for future years’ dates); $8 all day, per person, with age 2 and under free. Includes admission, pancake breakfast, beaver tails (fried sweetened dough), rides and all events.
Appeal to Families & Children:
The Alberta Central Railway Museum is especially appealing for families and children. A highlight is a train ride on the restored 1926 first-class observation buffet and sleeper Mount Avalanche train. The ACRM runs the train on a one-mile loop. There are also many events that would be excellent for families. In 2011, these events include Fathers’ Day celebrations, Canada Day, Children’s Day (featuring a teddy bear picnic), the Ice Cream Festival with free homemade ice cream, and Railway Day, where rides, model trains, demonstrations, and beaver tails are offered. Visit http://www.abcentralrailway.com/events.html for detailed event info and dates.
Appeal to People with Passion for Topic:
The museum would be excellent for anyone with an interest in grain elevators, agricultural history and railway history. The ACRM focuses on “Canadian Pacific Railway artifacts and history prior to 1965.” The ACRM’s elevator is the second-oldest standing elevator in Alberta. The rail aspects tell the story of how “railways and elevators worked together to serve agriculture in Western Canada.”
Scenic Appeal of Site:
The ACRM is located on Bill Wilson’s farm, which is an enjoyable natural setting. The train station and cars are surrounded by mature trees, while the train, on a one-kilometre loop, takes you around a large, working field of canola, where the grain elevator is located. The site is off the main roads and very quiet except for the sound of the train and the many birds on the site. There are owls nesting in the elevator with porcupines, and foxes on the site as well. Although the wildlife is unlikely to be a risk, small children should be supervised on the site.
FURTHER READING & BIBLIOGRAPHY
Grain Elevator at Alberta Central Railway Museum
Photo by Eve Coppinger