Who Are We?

Who are the Waterloo Region Model Railway Club?

The Waterloo Region Model Railway Club was formed in 1989 by a small group of modellers within the tri-cities of Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and surrounding area (cumbersomely known as the Regional Municipality of Waterloo). This small pocket within south-western Ontario has continually been a hotbed of model railroading activity, and has always contained more than its share of master modellers and fine home layouts. However, at that time it did not possess a permanent layout-based club, nor had it for over two decades. Stranger still was the fact that several communities surrounding K-W had well established clubs with central layouts, and some of these had much smaller population centres to draw members from. The WRMRC set out to change that.

The club was initially formed by an assemblage of modellers who regularly operated a large basement layout in the city of Waterloo. It was during one of the usual gripe sessions about not having a large club-sized layout run on that prompted the layout owner to say “why don’t we start one?” That night the WRMRC was born. The club continued to operate at the owners pike, but dues were collected monthly to begin a fund for finding a large home and materials to build a large layout. Since 1996 the club has been in it’s third (and hopefully final) location, inside a specially built Quonset hut near the small town of Maryhill, Ontario. The model images you see are all taken on this current layout.

From the outset, the WRMRC was determined to be very different from many of the other clubs in south-western Ontario, or all of Canada for that matter. The one club which inspired the WRMRC the most was the La Mesa Model Railroad Club at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in San Diego, CA, famous for modeling the SP / Santa Fe crossing of the Tehachapi mountains. All the WRMRC members were interested in prototype modeling, and all wanted the club layout to follow a specific railway line, just as La Mesa was doing. Most clubs usually feature a fictional home road with allowances for operation by other real railways, or they operate a collection of real railways operating a fictional line. The decision to model only one railway company, in a particular geographic area and a specific period of time is both uncommon and unpopular among most railway clubs.

The membership knew they would not attract masses of modellers once the railway, place and time were limited, but there are definite benefits to modelling a specific prototype. First of all many of the members witnessed other groups self-destruct due to conflicting interests. A few knew of fellow modellers who vowed never to join clubs again due to these conflicts. By choosing a specific prototype, no one individual or internal group could determine what the WRMRC will or will not model, because the prototype railway has already dictated how it must be done. To quote a sinister, yet strangely accurate phrase from George Orwell, “freedom is slavery.” The decision to model a prototype freed us from a lot of undesirable politics, and united us towards a common goal.

The modelling theme the WRMRC ultimately chose was the CP Rail Sudbury Division during the 1970’s. Common questions asked of our club usually consist of:

  • Why Sudbury? Your layout is in Southern Ontario, why model the north?
  • Why CP Rail? There are other railways in Canada (like CN?)
  • Why the 70’s? Steam era and modern day are the two most popular eras.

The short answer to any of these questions is “why not?” Some specific prototype had to be chosen. But in reality the “long answer” so to speak is that it was a democratic decision made during the club’s founding.

Canadian Pacific was chosen as the CPR enjoyed an unusually strong following in Waterloo Region, and it was the most popular railroad modelled by the members personally. The owner’s layout (on which the WRMRC was founded) was modelling CP’s Parry Sound Sub., so it seemed natural. Additionally, back in the Eighty’s there were more reference materials published about the CPR over any other Canadian railway.

The 1970’s were chosen as it was recent history (for 1989) and thus easily researched. Also it was an interesting bridge between the “classic” CPR modellers who like maroon & grey, and the modern day (again for 1989) CP Rail. The 70’s satisfied both camps. At the WRMRC’s founding CP Rail had just dropped the multimark logo, thus no one wanted to follow the “modern day” imageless CPR. The other option was the ever popular steam era. Why did the WRMRC avoid the 50’s or earlier? Simply put, we couldn’t afford all those brass steam engines! If we were to have a prototype layout we would need a lot of accurate steam engines, which either involves scratch-building or brass models. The 1970’s won the vote easily.

Finally, why did a group of modellers in southern Ontario model the province’s near-north? Again, why not? The La Mesa club is in San Diego yet they model Tehachapi, at least a four hour drive away (incidentally the K-W area is a four and a half hour drive from Sudbury). The truth was that once more it was arrived upon by a democratic vote. Modelling southern Ontario was out of the running very quickly, as the area is relatively flat and heavily agricultural. Hard to hide a track going into a wall when it’s supposed to be in the middle of a field. So the north it was.

As the issue was investigated subdivision by subdivision, the members soon discovered Sudbury. It had everything a model railroader could want: big time mainline transcontinental time-freights, lowly manifests, heavy industry with lots to switch, local turn jobs everywhere, mining and logging trains, local passenger services, and it was the only place in all of Canada were the CPR’s flagship, “The Canadian,” stopped and switched. It also has a small yard (well, the railroad thinks it’s small) that is very busy. Additionally the topography along the Cartier Subdivision changes completely every thirty miles. From flat farmland outside North Bay, to rugged rocky forests in Markstay, to earth-scorched lunar landscapes in the Sudbury basin (all thanks to nickel smeltering and poor acid rain controls until the 70’s – now days the trees are growing again), to very rugged hilly scenes in Levack and Cartier. All the forests and rock cuts along the way made hiding those ugly holes in the walls between scenes easy.

There are those in the hobby who do not agree with our approach, and argue that prototype modeling takes the fun and creativity out of the hobby. We are happy to report that nothing could be further from the truth. Club Secretary Ted Kocyla says it well, “The members I have the pleasure to model alongside are some of the most creative individuals I’ve ever met. Trying to get bare sheets of plywood to look like a northern Ontario city of 90000 is hardly fallow. And fun? Well, if none of the members of the WRMRC were not enjoying themselves I’d venture to say that they wouldn’t be members for very long.”

It is not only the goal of the WRMRC to finish our layout (though that is the main goal), but also to promote the trend towards prototype railroad modelling. At the very least, we hope we inspire everyone to model to the best of their abilities, regardless if your models are all brass or tinplate. We hope that as you observe the images presented here on our website, it will stir you to get out of your seat and finish that freight car kit or layout project that continues to be put off. Challenge yourself just as the members of the WRMRC continually challenge themselves.