Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — Dap Thach has always had a love of trains and all things railway.

Maybe it goes back to getting a train set for Christmas.

So when he was thought about a festive way to spice up the corner unit of his new DTA accounting office in the Ing Building, someone suggested a Muskoka Model Railway Club (MMRC) display.

And he was like — “All aboard!”

“It brings back a lot of memories,” he told

Thach, who bought Kent Ing’s local business landmark in the Muskoka Road south business block next to the Opera House, said “we’ve had a lot of comments about it.”

The miniature display covering the two front windows features the Gravenhurst Train Station and the former Bracebridge Train Station as they once were.

They are particularly illuminating when viewed at night and studied up close.

It’s a fun, family-friendly sight coming up to Christmas.

The old Gravenhurst Train Station was transportation hub with trucks turning off old Hwy. 11 and into the CN freight yard crossing over two track lines then.

And a timely reminder of when businesses used decorate their storefronts in coloured lights and festive fare.

It’s a lost art that too many merchants today ignore at their own business peril — with countless large panes of glass left wanting for decent displays that attract rather than repel customers. And which say a lot about the businesses and their ownership and sense of community pride.

Thach’s own holiday windowfront is a tastefully and professional throwback to that bygone era, thanks he says to the staff in his accounting and business advisory business, which he relocated on the main street this fall from a few blocks north at his family’s China House across from Sawdust City Brewery.

And MMRC president Murray Taylor couldn’t have been more pleased and accommodating “when the lady called.”

Because of COVID the membership, of about a dozen-and-a-half right now, has been sidetracked.

They usually met each Thursday to talk trains and help each other build a section of their track. It’s only $100 to belong.

But not this year, he said.

The Bracebridge Train station, no more, was a beehive of activity between the Muskoka River and the Manitoba main street.

The pandemic put an end to their annual Father’s Day show they host at the Pioneer Power hall at the Bracebridge Agricultural Fair Grounds and the at the fall fair there.

Not to mention a half dozen other shows the club attends with huge displays can cover more floor space than would accommodate five box cars and a caboose.

Taylor told that the “Free-Mo” (free-standing model railways) “bits and pieces” the club owns are right now spread out in garages and basements across Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville.

That’s because they had to give up their old clubhouse in the basement of the Marrin Building in Bracebridge when the coronavirus cancelled shows and the little money made off them to pay to put them on.

So — to get a chance to get back on track, they jumped on board assembling just a bare fraction of their massive display.

Taylor, who lives in Bracebridge, was joined by vice-president Peter Roth and secretary Scott White and his dad, Bruce, of Bracebridge and by treasurer Brian Forsythe and Bob Duckworth of Gravenhurst.

Together, the executive of the club founded in 1985 set up the two scenes on either sides of the front door.

If you look closely and can remember you’ll be transformed into a time when locomotives, freight and passenger trainer were the mode of transportation for many in this part of Canada and further north.

And when their depots were major community hubs with commuters and goods and services passing through towns in and out and a train whistle was as familiar and welcoming as Santa’s sleigh.

Taylor says the club has crafted many realistic displays, many built by former member Ed Sutherland who died last year and others.

They depict the Gravenhurst Station (in hiatus now) on Bethune Drive and its freight yard across Brock Street, as well as the old engine repair yard down the line just past Shoppers Drug Mart.

The train station in Bracebridge, its downtown, and the bridge over the Muskoka Falls are just part of the sections they have in storage and pull out and set up when called on like at DTA Accounting.

Drop by, lean down and look into the past.

It’s enjoyable trip down memory lane for rail lovers who have one-track minds.

And kids who can only dream of the glory days of railroading in Muskoka.

A light at the end of the tunnel is a bygone metaphor for what’s happened to railroading in the north now.
Trains are all but off the track these days, but at one time life in Bracebridge stopped as engines, box cars and cabooses rumbled through The Heart of Muskoka.
Thanks to the Muskoka Model Railway Club members a slice of local yore remains if but in miniature.

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