It is much more than a model railroad in the basement of the Freeman Station. It is a significant look at the early years of the city.

By Denis Gibbons

May 3rd, 2022



Folks in the Bay Area remember Bob Chambers as a superb photographer with The Hamilton Spectator, who covered world events like the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981.

Few, though, know of another of his many talents – creating miniature displays, sometimes known as dioramas.

A steam locomotive pulls up in front of the miniature Burlington Junction station. Photo by DENIS GIBBONS

A huge replica of the hamlet of Freeman in the 1920s, and specifically the old Burlington Junction railway station, now occupies the basement of the historical Freeman Station on Fairview Street.

Freeman was located at about the intersection of Brant Street and Old Plains Road.

Retired Teachers of Ontario members presented the Friends of Freeman Station with a grant of $4000. Left to Right: Ron Danielsen, FOFS President; Ruth Miller, RTO Project Sponsor; Penny Hambly, RTO Awards Committee; Carolyn Hilton, RTO Awards Committee; and Claudia Stewart, RTO-District 15 President.

Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTO) provided $4000  to fund a computer control system for its historic model railway educational exhibit. The money was used to purchase the central “brains” of the museum-quality model railway diorama depicting life in the village of Freeman.

Chambers constructed the model in the basement of his home. Gates Bisson contributed other items like a replica of the old fruit-processing plant and Supertest gas station and historian Bob Miller created a cattle pen.

Gary Thompson also donated a circus train, which will be used when children start arriving on field trips. The train often passed through Burlington many years ago on its way to set up in Hamilton.

Miller and KenTaylor, members of the Friends of Freeman Station, operate the model railway setup, which covers 660 square feet.

Miller recalls that before the layout was set up in the basement, the group set up a smaller model railway display at the library and included a Thomas the Train engine, from the popular TV show for children.

“Thomas’ headlights showed up as little eyes,” Miller said. “The kids just loved that.”

Two miniature locomotives approach the junction carefully. Photo by DENIS GIBBONS

The focus is the illuminated Burlington Junction station, which until 1988 stood on the railway line just to the southwest of the intersection of Brant Street and Old Plains Road.

Near the station is the actual junction of two lines – one which ran all the way from Montreal through Toronto and Burlington, then split at Hamilton allowing passengers to travel as far as either Chicago or New York.

Visitors took lots of photos of the miniature layout. Photo by DENIS GIBBONS

The other line, which started at the village of Allandale near Barrie, ran south to Burlington, then down the Beach Strip to service cooling units for frozen fruit grown in the area.

Because it eventually re-connected with the main line at Stoney Creek, it also was a quick bypass of the clogged lines in Hamilton.

The display includes a video describing how a steam locomotive works.

Burlington was once known as the fruit basket of Canada.

Dried fruit, particularly melons grown in farms along Plains Road, were shipped from the station around the world. Later canneries opened in this area.

A child in period costume was part of the crown on the re-opening of Freeman Station. Photo by Denis Gibbons

Queen Elizabeth and Canadian Prime Ministers from Sr. John A. MacDonald to Lester B. Pearson travelled along the main line, as did NHL teams moving from Montreal and Toronto to Detroit, Chicago and New York.

More than 1.000 service men left the station to defend their country in times of war and peace. Marching bands and hundreds of their fellow citizens walked with them to the station to bid them farewell.

After the Second World War, many emigrants from Europe arrived at this station to make a new life in Burlington.

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