Check Out This Canadian’s Incredible Model Train Collection!
Thanks to his lifelong passion, Dad cemented his reputation as the "train man" of Cornwall.
On the right track
My father, Maurice “Moe” Lafontaine, was born in North Bay, Ont., on July 10, 1932. At a very early age, he got the “bug” for trains. He loved the “steamers” because they seemed so powerful riding along the tracks. His mother, Marguerite, often took him to the train yard to look at and ride some of the locomotives.
Building a model world
As time passed, Dad started collecting trains and memorabilia. He met and married my mother, Angeline, who was also from North Bay. When my dad was offered a job in Cornwall, Ont., as a teacher, they moved to the Seaway City in 1959. There, he started to build a layout for his train collection in the basement. It was approximately 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and took up most of the room. Dad’s layout had three cities. He started with his hometown, North Bay, because of the The Ontario Northland Railway (O.N.R.). For Dad, the O.N.R. held a special place in his heart as it had helped develop northern Ontario. He then added Cornwall to his layout and completed it with Montreal. Dad would say Montreal was very important because it was the home of the Grand Trunk Railway (G.T.R.) headquarters, which was incorporated on November 10, 1852. The G.T.R. had a mandate to build a railway line between Montreal and Toronto and provided a link to the western provinces to create what we now know as Canada today. In total, there were about 7,000 pieces of train-related items collected, from train models, hats, ties, tracks and buildings to shoes, lanterns and so much more.
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The train man of Cornwall
Over the years, my dad’s passion for trains never diminished. Every night he would go to the Cornwall train station at 6:30 p.m. and wait for the train in order to speak to the staff on board and chat with the conductors. They would share stories, Dad would take pictures, and sometimes he would be given little items from the personnel, such as train hats or even one time, a railroad lantern, as a gift.
With time, his reputation as the “Train Man” of Cornwall grew, and people would call him up to check out his train collection. Most people at the station were on a first name basis with him and the few times I walked with Dad, I was amazed by how well-known he was. Dad would always get a thrill when someone from the station spilled insider-information about trains to him. He was told, for example, about the declining use of those red caboose cars that were attached at the rear of trains for crew members to stay in. He also learned about the new turbo train by CN Rail, which was meant to be a high-speed luxury train, but failed to last very long in service.
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For the love of trains
A very proud moment for Dad came in 1977 when he co-founded the Moccasin Railroad Club with Robert Lafontaine, Jack Marshall, Oscar Ladouceur and Gordon Teel. Today, the club has an annual trophy called The Maurice Lafontaine Trophy, given to the individual who best promotes the love of trains. In 1999, he also self-published his own book called The Railways of Cornwall—The Last Moccasin.
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Linking all Canadians together
My three siblings—Maurice Jr., Louise and Michele—and I have been around trains all of our lives. One of my favourite pieces from my father’s collection is the Canadian Grain Car, with its large logo of Canada and the wheat symbols on the right, because I believe it truly represents one of Canada’s greatest natural resources. Trains are and will always be a part of who we are, but despite always being around them, we didn’t get the “bug” like Dad. The love of rail for Dad came with the powerful influence it had on our country. I remember Dad reading his favourite book, The Last Spike by Pierre Berton, about the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and sharing the powerful images of that last spike, which links all Canadians together. His love of details and the memories he had from his childhood never left him. The HO railway modelling scale for his trains (1:87 their real size) gave Dad the opportunity to create and collect as many pieces as he could without his passion taking over the house.
Next, check out more quirky collections from Canadians!