By Doug Hallett
Guelph Museums is about to get a third site, as well as the biggest item in its collection of historical artifacts, by taking over custody of Canadian National steam locomotive 6167.
The locomotive will officially be brought under the wing of the city’s museum organization at a ribbon-cutting event on Saturday Aug. 2. The ceremony will be tied in with the city’s John Galt Day celebrations in nearby Market Square.
Making the locomotive part of Guelph Museums was felt to be “the best way of protecting it long term from a heritage point of view,” says Colleen Clack, the city’s general manager of culture and tourism.
The locomotive, which CN donated to Guelph in 1967, will officially become the city’s third museum site, along with the Guelph Civic Museum and McCrae House.
A restoration committee set up by city council in 2002 has been in charge of the restoration since then. City council will officially dissolve the committee on Monday, its job now done.
The council meeting and the Aug. 2 ribbon cutting will be opportunities to thank the four-member restoration committee as well as many volunteers who have helped with the restoration.
“There has just been so much work done, internally and on the outside of the locomotive,” said Clack.
Guelph Museums will now work towards telling the locomotive’s story through interpretive panels to be installed at the site eventually, she said.
The restored locomotive is expected to draw train buffs to the city. And for regular tourists, as well as city residents, visiting the locomotive and its attached coal tender will be “one more thing for people to do in the downtown core when they are here,” she said.
Fencing close to the north side of the locomotive, which protects the nearby CN train tracks from pedestrian encroachment, has prevented some restoration work from being done on that side. This work is to be done later, after the fence comes down during a later stage of GO Train development in Guelph.
For the time being, Clack said, visitors will be able to walk around the locomotive on three sides, with good opportunities for photos. For years, the locomotive has been shut off on all sides by fencing, but the fencing is coming down except for on the north side.
“It’s not a locomotive you can go into,” and steps have also been taken to prevent people from climbing on it, Clack noted. “It is pretty impressive,” she said with a chuckle. “When you stand next to it and see the size of the wheels, it is impressive.”
The four members of the restoration committee are Paul Breadner, the chair, along with George Renninger, Bruce Lowe and Fred Thoonen. All four men are Guelph residents.
But volunteers with expertise in restoring this sort of train have been travelling from as far away as Newmarket and Simcoe to be part of the volunteer brigade aiding in its restoration, Breadner said.
CN steam locomotive 6167 and a sister locomotive on display in Toronto are the only two locomotives of their type in Ontario that have been “properly” restored, without any use of modern bolts and other fasteners, he said in an interview.
“We were trying to make her look as if she had just come out of an overhaul at the Stratford shop” used back then by CN.
The restoration included expert removal of asbestos from beneath the locomotive’s boiler jacket. The asbestos provided effective insulation in its day, but the more recent discovery of its carcinogenic effects required its removal.
Like the one in Toronto, Guelph’s 6167 is a “Northern” type locomotive, which Breadner describes as “the top of the food chain, sort of the highest level of steam locomotives.”
They were developed in the late 1930s when Canada was trying to develop more economically and knew it needed more powerful locomotives, he said. The “Northerns” were made to be as powerful as possible while staying within weight restrictions of eastern Canada’s railway bridges.
Locomotive 6167’s connection to Guelph is that it was the lead engine in much-photographed excursion trains that travelled through this city from 1960-64 after the days of steam power had ended, Breadner said. It then had a mechanical breakdown and languished for three years in a CN yard in Etobicoke.
It probably would have been scrapped if not for its local fans, who convinced CN to donate the locomotive to Guelph during Canada’s centennial year, he said.
The locomotive sat near the former Greyhound station north of the tracks until 2010, when it was moved to the south side of the tracks, east of the VIA station.
“I’m really excited about handing over the keys” to Guelph Museums, Breadner said.