Blowing its horn, the locomotive pulled out of the station for a trip through the woods. The run marked a milestone for one of Vancouver’s biggest draws, the Stanley Park miniature train and railway.
The city is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the tourist attraction. Opened in 1964, it was built around the memory of the arrival of Canada’s first transcontinental train in Vancouver in the 1880s.
“We as a city would not be the city we are today if, you know, the railway had terminated in Port Moody,” Vancouver historian John Atkin told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
The historic train was pulled by Canadian Pacific Railway Engine #374. Its much smaller replicas now meander through Stanley Park, carrying more than 200,000 passengers a year.
On May 27, park commissioner Sarah Blyth hammered a commemorative golden spike on the tracks. With train engineer Tony Hamaliuk by her side, she drove the miniature train for the first time, hauling delighted children through the forest on a clear, sunny morning. Park commissioner Melissa De Genova went along for the ride.
Blyth also announced a three-day celebration, from June 6 to June 8. The event features $5 rides, free entertainment and activities like face-painting, and a barbecue by donation put on by the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.
“It’s a tradition for Vancouver families to come and do the Christmas train and also do the Halloween train, and just be a part of the Stanley Park experience,” Blyth told the Straight at the site.
The seasonal attraction also offers Easter rides, as well as the spirit-catcher train in summer, when the miniature-train plaza undergoes a First Nations transformation into “Klahowya Village”.
Artist Brian Croft has a painting called Stanley Park Junction. Research by the Langley-based man indicates that Vancouver’s fascination with a miniature railway started earlier than 1964. According to Croft’s findings, 1904 park-board minutes make note of an application for a “miniature pleasure railway” that was turned down.
More than 40 years later, the park board announced in April 1947 that Stanley Park would be the home of a miniature steam engine built by John Armstrong, a provincial engineer. In order to do that, the park board had to be constituted a railway company, to comply with federal regulations.
A railway was eventually built on the site of today’s nearby parking lot. According to Croft’s research, it was said that the railway was a favourite project of park commissioner George Wainborn.
In 1958, Wainborn raised money for a bigger railway. Typhoon Frieda came in 1962, destroying about 3,000 trees and creating a two-hectare clearing behind the children’s zoo, Croft’s findings state. It was on this site that the current miniature railway opened in March 1964.
Historian Atkin has a copy of a city pamphlet produced in 1964 that notes that the last spike in the tracks was placed by then-mayor William Rathie and driven with a sledgehammer by Charles Blaney, a former CPR executive and park commissioner. Park-board chair Wainborn is listed as president of the railway company.
Federal rules have changed over time. The park board is no longer required to be a railway company, according to Ken Maguire, supervisor of business services. Maguire told the Straight at Stanley Park that the B.C. Safety Authority inspects the site every year. Meanwhile, Blyth expects Vancouver’s love affair with the miniature train and railway to go on: “Hopefully, we’ll have another 50 years.”