moved that the 13th Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, introduced on Wednesday, February 13, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to rise today to move concurrence of the House in this report.
The purpose of this report is to protect and develop Canada's railway heritage. I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage who supported this motion.
The railway industry is such an integral part of everyday life—even modern everyday life, as we have seen—that we tend to take the preservation of our railway heritage for granted.
The purpose of this motion is to call on the government to support railway heritage in Canada by providing funds on a sustainable basis to the Canadian Railway Museum, also known as Exporail, located in Delson-St. Constant, Quebec, on the south shore of Montreal.
These funds would be given to the Exporail museum to help it maintain and enhance the national collection of railway artifacts that are spread out across this country in different railway museums, large and small, such as the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and the Revelstoke Railway Museum in Revelstoke, British Columbia, in the riding of my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
As we shall see, this national collection is potentially vulnerable. Its continued existence should not be taken for granted either by the government or by Canadians themselves. Exporail has the infrastructure, expertise, critical mass and history to be the funnel or the coordinating agent for federal funds aimed at ensuring the long term viability of Canada's railway heritage.
This motion, if adopted by the House and acted upon by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, will help sustain a major component of the Canadian identity.
As I said before, we take our railway heritage for granted, perhaps because every day we witness and, in some cases, even participate in the daily traffic of trains, streetcars and subways. In so doing, we make the dangerously false assumption that our rail heritage is safe and sound. In this case, perhaps familiarity breeds laxity and a false sense of comfort and security.
The railways are the stuff of legends. They were a fundamental part of the industrial revolution and remain, even today, a precondition for economic development in developing countries. Rail transport is the cornerstone of our great country. It was instrumental in Canada's economic development. Without the railway, would we have been absorbed by our neighbours to the south?
Rail transportation was also the engine of Montreal's history and economy. Where would Bombardier—the major transportation and aircraft multinational that Canadians and Quebeckers are so proud of—be today had it not purchased Montreal Locomotive Works?
The railway was at the core of the industrial revolution. The railway is the cornerstone of our nation. The railway is ubiquitous. Just think of streetcars, freight trains, commuter light rail and subways. Aspects of the railway extend even back to Roman times. For example, I recently learned that the width between two railroad tracks is the same distance between the wheels of Roman chariots.
Moreover, rail transport will extend into the millennium as a major solution to the problem of global warming.
As my children, Mia and Caroline, know only too well, The Polar Express, another rail service, can even take us to the North Pole to Santa's workshop.
The inspiration for this motion is obviously my own love of rail travel and my deep concern for our Canadian heritage and identity. But in more immediate terms, the inspiration is a gentleman named Stephen Cheasley.
Stephen Cheasley is a well-known Montreal lawyer who, in addition to practising law as a partner in one of the country's largest and most prestigious law firms, has been a civic builder, both behind the scenes and on the public front lines.
At times when the City of Montreal has required vision to overcome temporary setbacks or challenges, Stephen Cheasley got involved. He has chaired boards of civic institutions, like hospitals, conducted task forces and, most recently, was a founder of Montreal International, an agency devoted to attracting international institutions and head offices to locate in our great city on the St. Lawrence.
Stephen Cheasley is also a rail enthusiast. He is president of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association. The association is a non-profit organization, founded in Montreal in 1932 by a group of rail enthusiasts. It is celebrating 75 years of existence this year. The Canadian Railroad Historical Association owns and operates Exporail, as I said, also known as the Canadian Railway Museum.
The association was originally committed to historical railway research and interpretation. In 1951, the association acquired its first historical artifact. Montreal streetrailway tramcar No. 274. This purchase signalled the expansion of the association's role to include preservation and conservation of railway rolling stock on a nationwide basis.
In 1955, the association acquired the CPR car the Saskatchewan, Sir William Van Horne's private railway car, which was present at the driving of the last spike ceremony of the CPR.
I have been in that car when I was on a tour of Exporail last summer. It is a heady experience for any Canadian, including for a member of Parliament of the country that was born on that historic day when hammer hit spike. At the time this car was acquired, it was slated to be burned. I would like to emphasize that point. It was slated to be disposed of.
The history of the preservation of our railway heritage is full of near misses, which drives home the point that we tend to take that heritage for granted and are saved from the disastrous results of our complacency by individuals like Stephen Cheasley and his predecessors at the Canadian Railroad Historical Association.
In 1962, the association founded Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, in Delson/Saint-Constant, Quebec, on the south shore of Montreal. Ten acres of land were donated by Domtar to start this project.
At that time, due to the rapid pace of technological change in the railway industry that was causing old rolling stock to be replaced by newer types and models, the association rapidly acquired new items, such as the CN historical collection of locomotives and cars and the CPR historical collection of locomotives and cars, as well as other items from other Canadian transportation systems in the Maritimes, Ontario and the west.
In 1971, descendants of Charles M. Hays, President of the Grand Trunk Railway, who incidentally died on the Titanic and whose death postponed the opening of the Chateau Laurier Hotel which is just a few steps away from here, financed the building of the archives library building at Exporail.
In 1978, in recognition of its excellence, Exporail was designated as Canada's specialized museum for railways.
In 2004, with the help of the federal government, Exporail built and opened a $13 million state-of-the-art, 125,000 square foot building to display 47 pieces of rolling stock. The building includes exhibition rooms, a model railway, a restaurant, archives, a library and offices.
Why should we support the motion? We have dedicated museums for aviation and agriculture. That is the first point I would like to make. Yet, we do not have a dedicated museum for railways, which were so important, as I said before, in creating Canada.
Second, the motion has the support of other railway museums in Canada because they see this as an opportunity. If Exporail could be made a coordinating agent for federal funds aimed at preserving the national railway collection, which as I say, is spread across Canada, then these smaller museums would benefit as well. What every railway museum in Canada, no matter how large or how small, has in common is their deep love of Canadian railway heritage.
The quality of the Exporail collection is extraordinary. In the fall of 2004, the Government of Quebec commissioned an analysis of Exporail in order to determine, among other things, the state of its collection and its significance compared to other railway museums in Canada. This analysis, known as the Lord report, confirmed the exceptional and unrivalled quality of its collection. Consequently, in 2005, Exporail was named the best museum in Quebec by the Quebec museums association.
Exporail's collection of over 160 pieces of Canadian rolling stock is considered by museum experts to be one of the best in the world. When I went for a visit, I thought I was visiting a museum on the scale of the tramway museum in Maine, for example, a smaller museum for tourists who regularly visit that part of the United States. Exporail is a first class international museum that provides a comprehensive and inspiring portrait of the role of the railway in Canada.
To say that it is vital to Canadian identity is an understatement. Exporail is a resource to other rail museums. As I said, many of the pieces in Exporail's collection are lent to other rail museums across Canada.
Exporail has first-rate procedures and practices. For example, it has a rigorous acquisitions policy. Only 25% of potential rolling stock donations are accepted into its collection. In other words, Exporail does not just accept anything that is offered to it, it has a very carefully thought out, systematic and discriminating approach to the kinds of pieces and artifacts that it accepts into its collection.
Moreover, it does not lend its rolling stock to any museum or entity that requests a piece of rolling stock. Anyone requesting rolling stock or an artifact has to meet certain strict criteria.
In addition to rolling stock, Exporail includes a collection of small objects and archival and other two-dimensional objects, such as engineering plans.
In should also be noted that Exporail holds even three non-national pieces of railway rolling stock, one French and two British locomotives, which is extremely unusual for railway museums anywhere in the world.
Another reason why we need to support this motion is that the collection is vulnerable because of the large expenses involved in the proper preservation of railway rolling stock. We think that because trains, locomotives and train cars are made of steel and they roll on steel, that somehow they are not vulnerable to the elements.
When I visited Exporail last summer, I went to the brand new building which is all temperature controlled and keeps artifacts in a perfect state, but behind that new building is a warehouse-like structure that is full of rolling stock that is not really protected from the elements, despite the fact that these pieces of rolling stock are sheltered. Humidity enters the building. There are cracks in that structure. Air and cold enter the building. These extraordinary pieces of rolling stock are in a state of deterioration and it costs a great deal of money to preserve them. That is another reason why Exporail needs these funds for the preservation of its collection.
Another reason why it is important for the government to step in is that the collection is private. It is not public. Again, we assume that the government is taking care of all this, but if these artifacts, these pieces of rolling stock, cannot be kept, they could be sold off or just disposed of. The Sakatchewan was about to be burned when the Canadian Railroad Historical Association purchased it.
I would like to quote from the report by Barry Lord that was commissioned by the Quebec government in 2004. It stated:
However, the fact that the collections are in private hands leaves them vulnerable should the association and its museum function (Exporail) prove unsustainable in future—notwithstanding the fact that the collection is an irreplaceable part of the nation's heritage.
In a related matter, I would like to make the point that many railway cars today are being purchased by wealthy foreigners, namely Americans, to serve as private luxury cars for their travels around North America. These are Canadian artifacts that we cannot keep and maintain, therefore they are being purchased by wealthy individuals south of the border.
I have no problem with wealthy Americans having fun. I just do not want it to be at the expense of mine and my children's rightful heritage and identity.
The government tells us that it is working on a museums' policy but sometimes we need to get ahead of a policy and we need to act when the situation is urgent. We cannot simply wait until a policy is developed, which might not be released for quite a while because of an intervening election or whatever. It seems to me very clear that when the government wants to act, it does not wait for a policy. It makes the announcement and commits the funds.
As a matter of fact, we heard that the government is already taking action to transform the old war museum a few blocks from here into a museum with the participation of the Aga Khan Foundation. It is also apparently moving the Portrait Gallery from Ottawa to Calgary, which I believe would be in the new EnCana Centre that is being planned for downtown Calgary.
When the government has a reason to do something, it has no problem acting in advance of a policy.
The last reason why I think the House should support the motion is that it opens the door to a new and innovative approach to supporting museums and museum artifacts in Canada. We are not asking for direct funding to the Exporail Museum itself. We are asking for government funding to preserve a collection that is spread across the country. Exporail's role in this initiative would be as the coordinating body for the disbursement of these funds because it has the expertise to make such decisions in collaboration with the railway museum community. This funding of the national railway collection could be in the form of a pilot project which could be extended to other museum communities outside the railway museum community.
Before I conclude, I would like to appeal to members of the Conservative Party opposite to vote freely on this motion when it comes up for a vote. I think they owe it to their communities, many of which house railway museums, it to themselves as Canadians and to our country.
Some MPs may say that this funding is for a museum in Montreal, Quebec and they might have a museum that needs money too so they will vote against the motion because it is not for all museums. This is a pilot project. It could be the opening wedge in a bold new kind of museums' initiative that will help museums across the country in various ridings.
When the motion comes up for a vote, I would ask members to put their own specific local interests aside, because this motion will some day perhaps help all museums in all sectors, and do what is right for Canadian heritage and identity and for this country.