Thursday, 19 July 2012

Assiniboine Park's miniature steam train chugging along for nearly 50 years

Assiniboine Park's miniature train has seen a large drop in attendance since the closure of the park's east gate earlier this year. The 24" gauge, steam powered train is certainly one of Winnipeg's most unique attractions but how did it end up coming here almost fifty years ago ?

Postcard ca. unknown

At their December 30, 1963 meeting, Metro Winnipeg council discussed the idea of providing a miniature train attraction at Assiniboine Park. Unsure of what it would cost, they passed a motion to invite proposals from interested parties.

When the call closed on March 24th, four proposals had come in. One was from a local consortium led by businessman Peter Buzunis and his brother Andrew.

They offered to spend $50,000 to provide a steam train, lay 3,000 feet of track and build the necessary infrastructure such as a platform and crossing signs. The consortium's costs would be recovered through a 25 cent fare and the city would get 10% of the gate as rent.

April 18, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

Given that the Buzunis bid wouldn't cost the city a cent and was the only one to offer a steam locomotive, they offered him a contract on April 23, 1964. Things went off the rails right away, though, when city lawyers included a provision that the deal could be revoked by the city at any time without compensation. Buzinis balked and even council ordered lawyers to remove the clause right away. The delay held the project up by a month.

Driving the last, tiny spike
July 30, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

By the end of July the the train had arrived from Pennsylvania and the necessary infrastructure was in place. At 2 pm on July 30, 1964 Metro council chairman Dick Bonnycastle drove the tiny, ceremonial last spike with a hammer and service began under the watchful eye of Ken Cameron, the train’s first conductor.

A sad fact of life for the train has been vandalism. That first summer, two incidents of vandalism occurred, one of them involved someone ripping up sections of track. In a July 23, 1981 Free Press story Andrew Buzinis said that vandalism cost him about $1,500 per year. In 2009 an arsonist damaged a number of the train's buildings and water cooler.

In 1988 Tim Buzunis, Peter's son, took over the train's operation. Peter Buzunis
died in 2007.

The train runs between noon and 6 pm from Victoria Day to Labour Day. (For more info)

Willy's Garage, Episode 10 (video)
Steam train faces troubled times CBC
Low attendance threatens park's beloved steam train Free Press

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