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Honouring a steam powered passion

Image of Nick Seebruch
By Nick Seebruch
Honouring a steam powered passion
Roger Lafontaine holds a picture of his father Maurice in one hand and a train from his father's collection in the other (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

CORNWALL, Ontario – Roger Lafontaine’s father, Maurice, had a life long love for all things that rode on tracks. Whether they be powered by steam or diesel, Maurice found them fascinating.

Born in 1932 in North Bay. At the age of five or six-years-old, Maurice saw his first train there and fell in love.

“He’d say, when you stand beside a locomotive, that the wheel was taller than he was,” Roger explained. “The strength and power of a locomotive, he loved it.”

When Maurice moved to Cornwall in 1959, he began his career as a teacher, and also began what would become his vast train collection.

At its height, Maurice’s collection included roughly 7,000 model train pieces, model steam engines, train whistles, carriages, lamps, railroad spikes and conductor’s hats.

Roger said that his father would grow his collection by going to many shows, and by meeting railroad professionals. Maurice would frequently walk with his brother along the deck and down by the Cornwall train station. Conductors would stop and give him their hats, or a railroad spike. Maurice even was given a few lamps from caboose cars once those were discontinued.

Roger also remembers his father taking a family trip out to Vancouver, BC, in 1972 and making 75 stops along the way to look at or collect trains.

Maurice even created a model set of track that was 30 ft. long and 20 ft. wide. That model commemorated his three favourite cities, Montreal, North Bay and Cornwall.

Roger explained that the reason his father chose Montreal was because of it’s importance to the Grand Trunk Railroad.

“This was one of the most important railways and helped Canada build the west by sending supplies through Toronto,” he said.

Roger said that his father was always looking for more pieces, right up until his death in 2017.

Before he passed, Maurice decided that he would sell and give away much of his collection, so that it could be enjoyed by others. Roger explained that some of the set was given to family members, some was sold at train shows and 10 train sets were given away to local families to enjoy.

A part of Maurice’s enduring legacy is the Moccasin Railroad Club, which he helped to found in Cornwall in 1977.

The goal of the club is to promote the love of trains and exchange collections and hard to find pieces. Roger explained that the Moccasin Railroad club was a source of pride for his father.

“The club would meet every Wednesday,” Roger said. “You knew never to bother dad for anything on Wednesdays because Wednesdays were precious to him.”

In memory of Maurice, the Moccasin Railroad Club has a trophy named in his honour given to those who carry on his passion for railroads and trains.

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