Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum

CN Lunenburg sign
In October 2017, I visited the excellent Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum in scenic Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I had always wanted to visit and I had the opportunity to do so, so I took it.

The museum is billed as "a railway display of Nova Scotia's South Shore". It is located in a former industrial building (here) on highway 3 directly east of Lunenburg.

Museum Entrance
When you enter the building, you'll see a replica ticket counter, with a gift shop to the right and the museum entrance to the left. Behind the ticket counter, the station agent's office looks very realistic.
The station agent's office
Once you pay the entrance fee, you'll get a ticket, stamped for Yarmouth and punched for the current date. Check mine out!

The entrance to the museum portion is built to look like an antique railway car for the Halifax and Southwestern. In the photo below, you'll see Duane Porter, the friendly curator of the museum. I've corresponded with Duane a few times and it was great to finally meet him in person.

Duane is a super nice guy, very dedicated to preserving the history of the railway, and a great tour guide too!

Duane Porter and the Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum
Inside the "car", you'll sit in one of the authentic railway car seats and view a short video introducing the railway and the museum. Once you see that, you can proceed through into the museum itself.

The museum features many model railway scenes of the former Halifax and Southwestern / CN railway, complemented with many, many signs and other items from the railway itself. Numerous photographic displays explain portions of the railway and its history.


The model railway scenes are very detailed and, I presume, accurate. I never saw the railway lines when they existed, but I trust they accurately represent what used to be here.

This winter scene shows Bridgewater. The iconic station is visible in the distance.
Model railway scene of Bridgewater, NS in winter
Some scenes are really "lit" and can be viewed with lights out.
By night
There are numerous displays throughout the museum, including one with railway dishes, one with keys and a timetable display that I drooled over.

Brief History of the Halifax and South Western Railway

The actual Halifax and South Western Railway ran from Halifax to Yarmouth along the east coast of Nova Scotia. It was incorporated in 1901 by the dynamic duo of William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, who later created the Canadian Northern Railway. Mackenzie and Mann purchased the charters of a few paper railways in Nova Scotia to help cobble together their railway.

The line was complete by the end of 1906. The railway started at a junction with the Intercolonial Railway in Africville (Halifax) and wandered along the eastern shore through Chester, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, Bridgewater, and Liverpool before terminating at Yarmouth on the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia.

It became part of Mackenzie and Mann's Canadian Northern, which went bankrupt and was acquired by the federal government in 1918 and became a part of the new Canadian National Railways (CNR).

The CNR built a new passenger station in Halifax after the original station and area was destroyed by the Halifax Explosion. This new station, and the new tracks through the railway cut across Halifax, meant that the H&SW line now started at Southwestern Junction, very near today's Fairview engine servicing facility.

Under CN, the railway consisted of four subdivisions:
  • Chester, from Halifax to Liverpool, with a junction in Bridgewater to the Middleton Sub (109.1 miles)
  • Yarmouth, from Liverpool to Yarmouth (136.6 miles)
  • Middleton, from Bridgewater to Bridgetown (66.9 miles) with a junction with CP's Dominion Atlantic Railway at Middleton
  • Caledonia, from Calendonia Junction to Caledonia (21.9 miles) 
Lunenburg itself was served by a 7.7 mile spur from "Blockhouse".

Traffic on the railway declined, and in the late 1970s it was proving to be very uneconomic. In 1982, the Yarmouth, Middleton and Caledonia subdivisions were abandoned. The majority of the Chester spur was abandoned in the early 1990s, and only a small spur remained to industrial parks. By late 2010, all tracks of the Halifax and Southwestern Railway were gone.

The railway was served by SW1200RS units, and later MLW RSC-14 locomotives. The Middleton subdivision was especially light and CN's unique RSC-24 locomotives were known to operate there.

Visit the Museum

The Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum
The museum is located at 11188 Highway #3, just east of Lunenburg (see Google Maps). In the extended summer season, from May 1 to October 31, it is open Monday to Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM and on Sundays from 1 PM to 5 PM. Please visit their web site for updated details.

PS - The late David Othen wrote a book on the last 25 years of the Halifax and Southwestern. You can buy it at Blurb as a book or eBook. Other books on the railway include Along the Tracks (of the Dominion Atlantic and the Halifax and South Western Railways) by Tony Kalkman, and a reprint of Summer Resorts Along the Road by the Sea, originally produced by the railway itself.  (some of these are affiliate links - I earn a small commission when you buy it through that link, at no additional cost to you)

PPS - Check out my list of Canadian railway museums!

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