What it means that there’s a museum

Imagine how it would feel if you loved books and libraries, but every time you visited a small town or an unfamiliar city and asked about the library, they directed you to a library museum – a building that had once been a library, that had the architecture of the Carnegie library of your youth, with a bit of the musty smell and the tall shelves preserved, a nominal admission charge and a volunteer at the desk selling bookmarks for the books that weren’t there to borrow.

If church community was a big part of your life, what would it have been like to take a big trip  to Soviet Russia, where Intourist guides showed your group through empty spaces that had once been cathedrals, reciting what they’d memorized about the peripheral details of the building but not acknowledging that people there no longer had a worship space.

What if your childhood had been centred around the local ice rink, where you learned to play house league hockey, went to public skating with your friends, hung out in the lobby and in the stands while your parents and siblings played, and had your first kiss while sitting on the rink manager’s desk with your boyfriend?  But the culture and climate had changed so much within your lifetime that all the rinks were abandoned, except the few which were preserved as arena museums?

Or schools?  If later generations were all to be educated at home and on line, would all the schools be left empty, with local advocates arguing about how to preserve samples of each era of school architecture and fought off developers keen to get at parcels of serviced land?  So that no town would have a school, but every town would have an Old Schoolhouse Restaurant or two?

That’s how I feel about train stations.

I love trains.  I love passenger trains with a passion, but I also love freight trains, even when I am in a bus or car waiting at a level crossing.  I love hearing train whistles at night.  I almost rented an apartment where I could look out on a freight-switching yard, because I thought that would be fun.

I love old train stations that are still used to sell tickets and greet passengers on passenger trains.  I love train stations that now incorporate intermodal traffic as well, like Union Station in Toronto (VIA trains, GO commuter trains, GO commuter buses, and a TTC subway station), the station in Gravenhurst that until recently had Ontario Northland trains, intercity buses, and a taxi company, or the train station in Jasper AB which is also the Greyhound bus station.  I love simple new suburban train stations with their ease of access, friendly signage, clean bathrooms, and amenities suited for a commuting public.

But when I am exploring a town, city, or village that’s new to me and one of the attractions they talk about is a railway museum?  Yeah.  Almost always it means “Trains used to stop here.  But they don’t now, and probably never will again.”  I don’t love that.

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