Day Tripper: Trip down memory lane to Smiths Falls and Merrickville

The centerpiece of the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario is this former Canadian National Railway station that was built in 1912. The vans (cabooses) on the left are available to rent for overnight accommodation. (The Leader/Blancher photos)

SMITHS FALLS – A trip to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario is a trip down memory lane. Located in Smiths Falls, the museum preserves the history of railroads in Eastern Ontario. While it is centered on Smiths Falls, which was a railroad hub, the mandate of the museum covers all the region including along the St. Lawrence River.

Like other museums, opening for the 2020 season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its regular programming had to be changed. It welcomed its first visitors of the season July 19th.

Museum summer student Catherine Poag talks about one of displays inside the museum.

Upon my arrival at the museum, I was greeted by Catherine Poag, one of the museum’s summer students, who led the tour. Walking through the 1912-built station, you can see the work that has been done by volunteers since it opened in 1985.

When the station was saved by a local group, the brick passenger station was in rough shape. The main waiting room floor had collapsed into the basement, there were water leaks, and plaster had fallen off the walls. Over 35 years of work brought the station into full working order, as if it was ready to embark passengers on their next journey. That work is still ongoing.

Catherine led our group past displays inside that highlighted some of the volunteers who have made the museum what it is. That was a nice way to recognize people’s contributions.

Museum volunteers are working towards restoring this 1912-built steam locomotive to full operation.

She explained that a lot of the museum’s displays had to change due to COVID-19 precautions. Displays used to be hands on and interactive, but for now they are hands-off.

The tour went outside to view some of the significant displays of the museum including steam engine #1112, which volunteers are restoring to full-operation, and CPR diesel #6591.

Of note, one new item on display is a yellow dining car that was built in 1899. The car recently arrived from the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, where it was in storage for several years.

Some of cars that are usually open for display, like the dental car, automotive box car, and vans (Canadian term for caboose) were closed. But there still is much to explore outside.

The museum’s newest acquisition is this CN dining car that was built in 1899.

The tour was about an hour, then you are free to walk around the 10 acre museum grounds as you like.

The museum is open Friday to Sunday at present and you can book your tour by emailing info@rmeo.org. The museum will close for the season October 11th. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for students, and $5 for children age five to 12. Children four and under are free. Face-masks are required on site for indoor and outdoor portions of the tour.

While you are on a day trip…

Not to make this trip just about a museum, I stopped for a bite to eat at the Pickled Pig Market and Eatery. Located in downtown Smiths Falls (watch for construction on the main street), this shop has locally-sourced meats and cheeses, and make great deli sandwiches. They also have baked goods like butter tarts. There are other items there, but I stopped looking once I discovered they had butter tarts.

Downtown Merrickville is a mixture of old stone and brick buildings that are reminiscent of old Morrisburg before the St. Lawrence Seaway project.

Further down the road, I stopped in Merrickville to wander some of the different shops. The mix of old stone and brick buildings look like photos of old Morrisburg before the Seaway.

If you like (love) Christmas, check out the Merry Christmas Shoppe,  with 1,000s of ornaments and collectables. For the book lover, check out The Merrickville Book Emporium. This small store is filled to the brim with gently-used books on everything from art to zoology, and everything in-between.

If you love ice cream, visit the Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe. They make all their own ice cream and gelato, using locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. The shop currently serves customers via its take-out window.

Lastly, the Rideau Canal is in full operation and the canal park makes a great place to sit and watch the boats go by, and enjoy your ice cream!

Since you’re here…

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