Thursday, December 10, 2020 - 11:15 AM

Council Statement: Railway Coastal Museum Closure

St. John’s City Council is listening to the public’s concerns regarding the closure of the Railway Coastal Museum. The City is committed to ensuring the history of the Newfoundland Railway continues to be recognized and celebrated, and the exhibits and artifacts are preserved for future use.

The City acquired the building from the Federal government in 2001 to ensure that it would be maintained. Since that time, the City has played an integral role with respect to the use of the building and the museum alongside the Railway Coastal Museum Foundation and the Paul Johnson Family Foundation.

City Council is not selling the building, and the decision to close the museum was not made lightly.

We are currently reviewing several options for the future display and preservation of the museum’s contents. The City is open to hearing from community groups and interested organizations before final decisions are made. Consultations are being planned with stakeholder groups who are expressing concerns, including the CN Pensioners Association and Museum Association of NL.

Prior to the pandemic, visits to the museum had been in steady decline for years and attempts to increase visitation were unsuccessful. In 2015 the number of visitors to the Railway Coastal Museum was 13,707; in 2019 the total visits were 8,595. These numbers are exacerbated further by the impacts of the pandemic. Tourism is not expected to fully recover for several years to come.

This is not a purely financial issue; it is an opportunity to repurpose a building that is not being utilized to its full potential. Our goal is to repurpose it in a way that respects its historical significance, while also providing new opportunities for economic growth.

The City has been working with the board of the Railway Coastal Museum Foundation, the operator of the museum, since 2001. The Board included City staff, members of Council, representatives of the Johnson family, and representatives of the CN Pensioners Association.

In 2018 the Board approached the City about taking over the day to day operation of the museum. The City agreed to do so, and the Board membership was changed to comprise of City staff and a member of Council.

The most recent meeting of the Board occurred during the Budget 2020 process, where it was decided to close the museum and wind up the foundation. The museum was costing city taxpayers $200,000 annually to maintain. Considering declining attendance, low revenue, and the devastation that COVID-19 pandemic has caused for local tourism, the City could not continue to support this ongoing expense. The City is committed to maintaining the building because it is a historic property and a city asset.

Mayor Danny Breen
dbreen@stjohns.ca