A look into the history of the Kwinitsa Railway Museum in Prince Rupert

Kwinitsa Station Railway Museum now stands in a spot very significant to the railway history of Prince Rupert.

Kwinitsa Station Railway Museum now stands in a spot very significant to the railway history of Prince Rupert, the location of CN Dock, though that was not its original home.

It once stood halfway between here and Terrace, and the story of its construction and ultimate move to Prince Rupert serves as a reminder of how vital the railway was in opening Northwestern BC and creating the City of Prince Rupert.

The little white station with its distinctive bell-cast roof was one of hundreds of virtually identical stations built along the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert. Today it is one of only four surviving. It was built in 1911, one of the so-called “Type E” stations. The Grand Trunk Pacific had six basic designs, “A” through “F,” of which the Type E was the most common.

It was built three years before the last spike was driven at Fort Fraser in 1914. The construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific in British Columbia, undertaken largely in a bid to attract government concessions, was a haphazard and mismanaged affair – “the story of a thousand blunders,” as it was famously described in 1909 by pioneer Prince Rupert newspaperman John Houston. By 1919 the railway had collapsed, and was taken under the Department of Railways and Canals pending the creation of the Crown Corporation the Canadian National Railway.

Under CN the rail line and city found its purpose, connecting with the steamships and creating a transportation hub for the settlements and industry of the Northwest Coast. This was the era when Rupert became the “Halibut Capital of the World,” and the little stations such as Kwinitsa were a vital part of the network. The station agents, “were literally the ‘eyes and ears’ of the railroad,” in the words of Phylis Bowman. “Ready to take train orders to relay to passing trains and reporting train movements and conveying train orders from the dispatcher to the train crew, the agents were an independent indispensable part of railroad operations.”

The small stations grew redundant in the second half of the 20th century with the introduction of a Central Traffic Control system. Realizing that not just Kwinitsa, but a whole way of life in the little stations along the western line was at risk of being lost and forgotten, Prince Rupert residents began to discuss ways of saving Kwinitsa.

Ron Denman, then curator of the Museum of Northern BC, formally requested the City of Prince Rupert acquire the station and move it to Prince Rupert to become a railway museum, and a Kwinitsa Relocation Committee was subsequently formed of Ron Denman, Dr. L.M. Greene, John Marogna, Jack Mussallem, Larry Valentin, Nancy Wilson, and Bert Woodcock. By the time the move actually took place, the station perched on a barge behind the tug Coast Isle with Jack Mussallem at the helm, a staggering number of local businesses and individuals had thrown their support behind the project. Kwinitsa Station arrived on the Prince Rupert waterfront, at the site of the old CN Dock, on Canada Day

1985.

Today the popular Kwinitsa Station Railway Museum is administered by the Museum of Northern BC, and houses exhibits celebrating the life of the railway families, and the very early history of Prince Rupert as a railway town.

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