There have been some significant changes at Squamish's former West Coast Railway Heritage Park.
For starters the park is now called the Railway Museum of BC. This change was made in the spring to reflect the reality of the organization better, said the museum's Craig McDowall.
"The West Coast Railway Association, was sort of a misnomer because it looked like we were focusing only on the West Coast aspect of railways in B.C. and we really reflect the entire province, obviously. So, we decided to change the name to better reflect what our focus is."
All aboard to Santa
Sadly, the train to the North Pole has left its Squamish station, but not to worry, it will be back better than ever thanks to a makeover.
From about 2012 to 2019, the winter event was known as the Polar Express, of the famed movie The Polar Express.
"We ran the event for the first five, six years, just to establish [it]," said McDowall, noting the two biggest events — and fundraisers — for the non-for-profit park pre-COVID-19 were Day Out with Thomas in the summer and the Polar Express. But using the brand of The Polar Express movie cost the organization a 30% royalty to a company affiliated with Warner Brothers, which owns the rights to the movie.
"After the pandemic, like for every other non-profit, donations dried up because corporations couldn't afford to make donations during a pandemic, so we decided we were going to take a big jump and basically drop the Polar Express and change the name to the North Pole Express and not have to pay a royalty at all," explained McDowall.
The two fundraisers were cancelled during 2020 due to the pandemic.
The sold-out renamed North Pole Express, which opened this weekend, returns throughout December.
"It was a gamble," McDowall acknowledged, but one that has paid off.
"We ended up selling out this event earlier than we did the first year we ran the Polar Express," he said, adding he assumes the timing of the event coinciding with most folks being double-vaccinated and many families having cabin fever has played a role in the success.
Attendees over 12 years old have to show proof of vaccine, and masks are required.
There are new events for attendees to do once they get off the train and come into the North Pole as well.
"It has totally changed and we have set up a huge protective area where they board the train, so even in inclement weather, like this weekend, they will be dry,” said McDowall.
There are also new characters on the train, with the event taking almost 100 volunteers to keep it on track, according to McDowall.
Trains depart at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and there's an extra 6 p.m. departure on Saturday only.
Walking the summer line
While the pandemic impacted operations, the park was open every Saturday this past summer and had a "great turnout," with up to 420 people coming through during the 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours it was open.
"We had speeder rides, we had big train rides, we had mini-rail rides and we had all kinds of new exhibits," said McDowall.
Day Out With Thomas is coming back next May.
The track ahead
Another reason the park wanted to change its name was because of a recent acquisition from Vancouver Island.
Canfor's forestry operation near Woss Lake closed down two years ago and the museum was gifted a log car and crew speeder, which looks like "something from outer space," McDowall said.
The crew speeder was used to transport forestry workers up to the end of the line to harvest the trees. Then a train with log cars would follow to bring the harvested logs back down to where they were shipped south, off the island.
"This crew speeder accommodates 12 and it looks like something from Mars. It has got... a higher level for the operator to run the car down the tracks. It has a big bulb at the top that looks almost like a flying saucer at the top with wheels," said McDowall.
The crew speeder is operational but needs to be refurbished.
Over the next 18 months, a new exhibit will be set up around these features to, “[Illustrate] the importance of the railways and building the forestry industry in B.C.," McDowall said, adding part of this exhibit will be in place next summer.
Find out more about the museum at https://www.wcra.org/