Members of the North Island Model Railroaders will be at the Museum at Campbell River again with their model train displays. From left to right are Tony Van Bergen, Maynard Atkinson, and Bill Van Bergen. Bill, who was instrumental in the creation of the Railroaders club, passed away in 2019. Image provided

Vancouver Islands model railroaders bring life-long passion for their hobby

Annual train show in Campbell River kicks off three-city showcase tour

Every January, a die-hard group of model train enthusiasts sets up an elaborate display at the Museum at Campbell River. This year will mark the 21st time they have done so.

Tony Van Bergen is one of the original members of the North Island Model Railroaders, a group that was founded about 30 years ago.

“Over the years we have lost some of the original members, and gained some new members, but many of the people involved today have been involved since we started,” he said. “When we started there were about a dozen people and we began developing modules.”

Modules are interlocking sections of train layout, which include track that connects to the other modules, and detailed scenes around the track. Using this system makes the set-up portable and allows them to travel to different shows.

These days they have three shows a year: Campbell River, Nanaimo and Vancouver. In the past they travelled further afield, with some memorable destinations including Portland, Ore. and Vernon, B.C.

When asked when he first became interested in model railroads, Van Bergen explains that he’s had an interest in trains his whole life.

“My dad got into it with me for my first Christmas. I was four months old when I got my first trains,” he said. “I like mechanical things, and I find being around railroads fascinating. In this hobby you have to learn carpentry, electrical work, you have to use creativity and have an understanding of physics. It is a demanding hobby in that way, either you have to learn all of those skills, or you get help from friends.”

The Annual Train Show at the museum has always attracted large crowds, and 2018 had the highest attendance in the history of the event.

Van Bergen has a theory on why this event remains so relevant to families today.

“People are realizing you can’t just sit in front of a TV or a cell phone or a computer all of the time,” he said. “A lot of parents are trying to get their kids away from the electronics and out learning in the world. There are so many facets to model railroads, and the display is so animated. There is a lot going on.”

When asked for any final thought on the matter he doesn’t even hesitate, “It’s just a lot of fun!”

The Annual Train Show at the Museum at Campbell River takes place Saturday, Jan. 25 (noon to 5 p.m.) and Sunday, Jan. 26 (noon to 4 p.m.). The cost is $7 per person or $20 per family. Children under six are free.

There will also be a model heavy equipment display by Island Construction and Trucking Show (ICaTS) in the museum foyer. For more information go to or call the museum at 250-287-3103.

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