History down to the last detail

Six new buildings added to the diorama in the basement of the Maple Ridge Museum.

Daryl Birtch

Daryl Birtch

Deep in the recesses of the Maple Ridge Museum lies a series of railway tracks linking Ruskin to Port Haney to Hammond and beyond.

There are three railway yards, two of which, the Coquitlam and Calgary yards, are on top of each other.

To get to these yards, the trains travel one by one through a hole drilled through a 12-inch-thick concrete wall.

Here the trains undergo general maintenance. In other words, some tender loving care.

However, to move a train from one yard to the other takes time. They are not simply lifted off of one track and placed on the other.

You could, laughs Daryl Birtch, a member of the Dewdney-Alouette Railway Society, “but then you wouldn’t be operating it.”

So, the trains are lovingly manoeuvred back through the hole in the wall and through the entire layout of the set until they reappear in the desired yard. A trip that takes the better part of half an hour.

The two yards are located in a back room. Recently, members started to build a grain terminal back there.

“You get involved in these little projects, like we’re imagining what we are going to do up here,” Birtch says, pointing to a series of white tubes that will become the Calgary Grain Terminal.

Members of the club have been building the diorama in the basement of the museum for over 25 years.

Trains roll past mountainous landscapes and cityscapes. There is a grain elevator, a brewery and a coal mine that loads a sandblasting medium used to mimic coal into rail cars.

They have also built a historical scene depicting Maple Ridge and what it looked like along the Fraser River between 1925 to 1935.

Just this year, Birtch and fellow club member Craig Allan added six new buildings to that section.

Using old pictures provided by the museum, Birtch started drawing out plans for the buildings in October 2015 and they finished building the structures just before the first open house of 2016 at the end of January.

There is a grey building that was at one time shared by Campbell’s Drug Store on one side and a clothing store on the other. Beside that there is the yellow B.C. Tel building, which was the telephone office back then.

Scott’s Meat Market is next with what they believe were apartments on the upper floor. Then there is Stevenson’s Hotel, Pelletier’s Livery and hay barn and, finally, a white house with a balcony that they could find no information about.

The attention to detail paid to the exterior of the buildings defies logic. There are windows, doors, balconies and signs painted like the original stores, advertising the goods available inside. There is a man carrying a sack over his shoulder as he exits Haney Station, passing by travelers idly waiting for the next train to arrive. Miniature cars and trucks line the streets.

But it is the detail inside the buildings that show the full dedication of club members.

Even though you would have to strain your eyes to see, both the clothing store and Campbell’s Drug Store are fitted with cash registers and counters along with customers making purchases.

“Because you can’t see too much, there was no point in going too much in detail,” jokes Birtch.

“But for our own satisfaction, we’ve got to know it’s there.”

There is a switchboard operator and a switchboard in the B.C. Tel building, and even a picture of the Haney Exchange on the back wall.

Scott’s Meat Market has counters and shoppers in it along with a butcher wearing a blood-stained apron.

When trains travel past streets, crossing gates clang and are lowered. Birds chirp during the day and crickets at night. And when the main lights go out, street lights come on and all of the buildings light up, illuminating the scenes inside.

The original Haney Hotel, Fuller Watson, the Bank of Montreal, which is now the Billy Miner, and Pacific Berry Growers Ltd. line River Road to where it meets the Haney Bypass.

The Port Haney Brick Company has a kiln built inside and there is a person sawing a log at Maple Ridge Lumber.

“It’s stupidity, I guess,” Birtch says about the detail they put into each building.

“But it’s fun.”

Railway society

The Dewdney-Alouette Railway Society has 23 active members, from 28 to 80 years old.

They host an open house on the last Sunday every month.

The next open house is Feb. 28.

The Maple Ridge Museum is located at 22520 116th Ave. and is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday and Sunday.

• For more information call 604-463-5311 or go to http://mapleridgemuseum.org.