Rail to the Rescue

2016, History, Permanent Exhibit, Toronto Railway Museum
Canada, Halifax, Halifax explosion, history, Nova Scotia, railway, trains, video content
About This Project

Date: Opening April 1, 2016

Partner: Toronto Railway Museum

Venue: Stall 17 in the Toronto Railway Museum – map

Project Members: Katrina Ojaste and Mary Kate Whibbs


Using the rail car Nova Scotia, Rail to the Rescue explores the significance of the 1917 Halifax Explosion in Canadian history as the 100th-anniversary approaches, as well as the critical role that the railways played in minimizing human casualties in the minutes before the blast and in the days and weeks that followed. Specifically, the exhibit focuses on the actions of George Graham, general manager of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, who survived the blast inside of the Nova Scotia and was the first to inform the outside world of the blast.


The intended audience for this exhibit is adult visitors as the Toronto Railway Museum reports this is their primary visitor type. However, panels were written to a grade eight level and are intended to be understandable by interested visitors aged twelve and up.


The exhibit is located in the Toronto Railway Museum at Roundhouse Park in downtown Toronto. The Nova Scotia rail car currently resides inside the museum as it awaits restoration; its interior also currently serves as office space for the museum.


Our partner for this exhibit was the Toronto Railway Museum, particularly the museum’s manager Bob Dickson. We also received invaluable historical advice from Toronto Railway Historical Association historian Derek Boles. Images were provided by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, the Dominion Atlantic Railway Digital Preservation Institute, Library and Archives Canada, and the City of Toronto Archives. We would also like to thank Historica Canada for providing us with the Heritage Minute free of cost.


Development and planning for this exhibit began in October 2015. Our initial concept for the exhibit was ready by November, and historical research was complete by January 2016. Acquisition of archival images took until February. Production of panel text and graphics began in January and was completed in March. Installation occurred over March 31 – April 2, and the exhibit was officially opened on April 15, 2016.


Rail to the Rescue consists of two interpretive panels, one object label, and a video. The first interpretive panel is a tall vertical panel introducing Halifax at the turn of the century, the Dominion Atlantic Railway, and the causes of the explosion. The second panel is a long horizontal panel mounted at table-height with an approximate timeline of events and stories from the aftermath of the explosion. Both are heavy in archival photographs, to really illustrate the story being told. The object label contains technical specifications on the Nova Scotia to appeal to train enthusiasts, and the video we incorporated is the iconic Historica Canada Heritage Minute on Vincent Coleman and the Halifax Explosion.


Marketing and promotion for our exhibition were provided by the Toronto Railway Museum and the University of Toronto iSchool. Our opening reception was hosted at the Toronto Railway Museum on April 15, 2016. We also promoted our exhibit and reception through social media (Facebook and Twitter).


Feedback received from TRM volunteers has so far been positive. Informal guest observations suggest that our panels are better received than the previous interpretation provided for the Nova Scotia. However long-term outcomes of our exhibition have not yet been available as it has not been open long enough at this point in time.


Finally, we would again like to thank the Toronto Railway Museum for allowing us to host this exhibition as well as the University of Toronto iSchool for supporting us throughout this project.