Friday, February 11, 2022

VIA Historical Association


The new VIA Historical Association (VHA) was the topic of our February Associated Railroaders of Kingston meeting, ably presented by ARK member and VHA Treasurer Andrew Jeanes. Andrew presented not only VIA's history, but also the genesis of modern VIA preservation by the Toronto Railway Museum and Exporail, and the extension of the Rapido Trains Inc.'s efforts by the VHA with its now-charity status.


The VHA has its own website and Facebook presence. Here are some excerpts from their online mission statement:

The VIA Historical Association was founded in 2020 by a group of dedicated VIA Rail Canada enthusiasts and historians. Building upon the collection assembled by model railroad manufacturer Rapido Trains Inc., the VHA aims to assemble a representative collection of VIA train cars and locomotives to interpret the history of Canada’s national passenger railway.

Since its incorporation in 1978, very few artifacts of VIA equipment have been preserved for future generations of Canadian historians and railway enthusiasts to appreciate. 

In the next few years, the majority of VIA’s fleet will be retired and replaced. If we don’t act now, most of this heritage equipment will be either scrapped or dispersed across North America like VIA’s conventional fleet was in the 1990s. The VHA collection will allow VIA’s history to be preserved, and our aim is to maintain the equipment in operational condition according to Transport Canada regulations. We hope that the VHA collection will be used to celebrate VIA’s history during milestone events, such as VIA’s 50th anniversary. We also hope that VIA will use our collection to operate railfan excursions, charity events, VIP charters, etc. The collection will serve as a travelling museum and educate the public about VIA’s history.

The VIA Historical Association also looks forward to sharing VIA’s history through online exhibitions, printed publications, and in person at railway-related events across the country. 


Why do rail enthusiasts seem to have a core belief that many, many pieces of equipment should be preserved? Preferably one of each, (or more, like GG-1's!) of their favourite piece, favourite manufacturer, favourite railway. I don't hear this from ship or airplane enthusiasts, fans of apartment buildings, parking garages, baseball stadiums or other large, bulky objects. Most enthusiasts don't usually realize that preservation = labour. That's volunteer labour, usually at a museum, with bylaws, rules, cliques, an unclear collections policy, infighting and often failure, followed by scrappers coming in, and the demise of preservation efforts. Preserved trains require either indoor storage or ongoing, expensive maintenance if outside in the great Canadian outdoors. Both are expensive.

My mother-in-law told us the other day that she has 21 teacups. She doesn't use them, she just displays them. She treasures them all, but who knows if anyone else does? She hopes they will find good homes and continued treasuring! Such was the misapprehension of civic, industrial and museum bodies that assumed future generations would always maintain and treasure the hulking locomotives and other rolling stock they preserved at the end of steam.

                                              WHY VHA PRESERVATION?

Except for a few static displays, such as a Park car and F-unit in VIA colours at Exporail, and other ex-VIA equipment no longer in blue & yellow, the VHA intends to have the largest extant preserved fleet of VIA preserved equipment. There is a core group of current employees, rail enthusiasts, former employees and modellers that are willing to help. There is also centralization of preserved equipment and resources in the Greater Toronto Area.

In the course of creating my four books on VIA Rail, it became apparent to me that VIA is a very manageable railway history to document, and therefore a finite fleet to preserve. Unlike, say, the Pennsylvania Railroad! Preserving 'one of everything' on the Standard Railroad of the World would require greater museum space than already devoted to preserved pieces of the PRR fleet!

VIA is also recent enough for many still alive to remember (unlike the PRR!) and let's face it, VIA did most of the preservation itself as their aging equipment was rebuilt and refurbished in-house. Some have described VIA's fleet as a rolling museum.


I don't usually promote 'causes' on Trackside Treasure. The first questions in readers' minds would be, 'well thanks for telling us to contribute to the cause, but did you?' I guess that's what social media influencers do. So, why this post? The day after Andrew's presentation, I came across an historic photo montage (top photo) from five years ago that I was preparing to use on the cover of my fourth book on VIA Rail.

It seemed to be a message to post a VIA good news story - one that matches my 2022 Year of Optimism masthead widget! And I do hope to forge ongoing meaningful connections with the VHA. Not in that scraping-off-old-paint way, but possibly through cross-marketing, submitting material, and blog posts like the one you're reading now! Speaking of  'five years ago', that's when I caught the freshly-wrapped Glenfraser CANADA 150 gliding through Belleville on VIA No 53 on February 11, 2017. It's a sign!


Panorama issue 2021:1 of  the VHA's full-colour, bilingual, glossy paper magazine includes stories on the untimely demise of VIA's Turbos, origins of the VHA's present equipment collection, a restoration report on E-series sleeper Edmundston, and more on Mission 2028 - the VHA's planned expansion of its fleet to include a touring exhibition train for VIA's 50th anniversary. Panorama is distributed free of charge to donors, supporters and friends of the VHA. 
Thanks to VHA President Jason Shron, a copy of the inaugural issue came my way prior to the publication of this post. Here's VIA's boilerplate from its masthead: The VHA's unique mission includes preserving and restoring examples of VIA Rail Canada rolling stock and locomotives for public exhibition and operation; educating the public about VIA's vital role in Canada's transportation network; and documenting VIA's history through archival materials, exhibits and publications.

To this humble blogger, that sounds like a worthwhile, realistic and VIAble mission.

Running extra...

Your humble blogger has had the pleasure of meeting Jason on a few occasions. The first quite by chance - on June 19, 2008 as we headed east to Montreal in VIA1 on VIA train No 52/40. Hearing a conversation down the car aisle, a passenger with book in hand was chatting amicably with on-board staff. I put two plus Turbo together and realized it was none other than a certain model train manufacturer doing the kibbitzing. On his way back to his seat up the aisle, it was, "Excuse me, are you Jason Shron?" Surprise!

Thanks to my son-in-law for snapping this photo of the ideal Retired Railfan Reflection and Respite location along Coronation Boulevard, just east of Mi 182 Kingston Sub. A resin chair, trackside, waving to traffic between trains!

This week's should-watch includes a trans-Atlantic collaboration between James Hilton and my blog partner Chris Mears. - Bear Creek. The equipment lettering and presentation of the overall scene are masterful!


Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks for the great post about the VHA! I appreciate the support.

Eric said...

It's something I can do that doesn't involve paint-scraping!
Thanks for your comment, Steve.

Lord Darth McIan said...

A worthy cause and one that I'm proud to be a member of. Thanks for the shout out Eric!

Eric said...

Good work, Ian! We're helping spread the message in a VIAriety of ways.
Thanks for your comment,