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All Aboard!

If you visit Cranbrook’s Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, you’ll never miss your train.

“They’re waiting at the station to take you on a trip to the past,” says Garry Anderson, the museum’s executive director and driving force.

These deluxe hotels on wheels have been lovingly collected over 33 years of dedication and hard work and Anderson is one of the conductors on the journey.

Garry Anderson“The work is done with quality and authenticity in mind,” Anderson says.

But it’s not quite like the old days. Unlike the time when only the rich could afford a train ride, now anyone can experience upper-crust luxury. Inside and out, the trains have been restored back to their former condition of moneyed style.

With such details as stained glass and exotic wood inlay, stepping on the trains, says Anderson, is like stepping into luxurious history.

Founded in 1976, the Cranbrook Archives, Museum and Landmark Foundation oversees the railway museum. A few years after Anderson returned from earning his architecture degree from the University of British Columbia in 1972, he was commissioned to do a heritage report for the city since some important heritage had been lost. More of the town’s heritage was in danger and the city wanted to find a way to preserve that history.

The Foundation was formed to preserve and protect Cranbrook and railway heritage. Over the years, the museum has managed to accrue several trains, including the 1907 Soo-Spokane Train Deluxe, the Pacific Express and perhaps the world’s oldest, intact vintage hotel on wheels, the seven-car Trans-Canada Limited of 1929.

Hundreds of people, says Anderson, have helped the museum grow – from committee participants to board members and volunteers.

“I’m very privileged to have an uninterrupted career at the museum. I’ve been very involved since the start, but there are many other people who have also made huge contributions along the way.”

Before the advent of air travel, the train was king. At the time, Canada was considered a leader in trans-continental passenger train travel due to the country’s changing climate and topography. Designers had to rise to the challenge and ramp up train quality in order to maintain a high standard of travel.

“Cranbrook was founded in 1898 because of the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the yard complex is still located in the heart of the town. Today, Cranbrook boasts perhaps the only yard left on the CPR system with its original octagonal wooden water tower, plus operating turntable, roundhouse, and a two-story wooden station, now awaiting restoration, from the turn of the century. It’s a fantastic piece of history with national significance.”

Anderson credits his work and the work of the museum for the Order of Canada he received in 2008. Railways are an integral part of his life and the story of B.C.

“We can’t preserve everything, but we really have to study what is important to our society,” he says. “If we don’t save artifacts now, there will be a large gap in our history and we won’t be able to get that knowledge back – and we are often judged by what we leave behind.”