The museum itself is housed in the Canadian Northern / Canadian National Station of Smiths Falls. Construction began on the station in 1912 and was finished in 1914. On January 7, 1914, Canadian Northern Railways (CNoR) officially opened the station to the public. In 1918 the station became a Canadian National (CN) as CN took over CNoR.
The station was built as a first class rail station to compete with the Canadian Pacific (CP) Station across town. As a first class station, it was built with high architectural standards. The building includes a decorative turret, expansive waiting room, smoking lounge, and women’s waiting room.
Unfortunately for CNoR and CN, the grand design of the station did not represent the small Smiths Falls population. Most passengers continued going to the CP station and traffic was never very heavy at the station.
Yet the traffic that did go through the station was important. As part of the transcontinental expansion, the line going through this station was the shortest route from Montreal to Toronto. As such the line was often used by federal and provincial politicians. This high-class passenger clientele can also be seen as a reason for the high quality and grandeur of the station. The station had four passenger trains that went through each day. Two trains when directly to Toronto and another two went directly to Ottawa.
As most stations were, the Smiths Falls station was an important part of the local community. In times without radio, TV, phones, and computers, people would come to the station to get the news via the wire.
During the second world war the building also played an important role as it was rented out to the military as a training hall. Artillery groups would use the breezeway to practice.
<p>The station’s grand design also had problems. The roof of the building was originally all slate, -as it can currently be seen on the turret- but the engineer did not calculate the roof’s capacity correctly. The roof was capable of carrying the weight of the slate but was not able to carry the weight of slate and snow. As a result the roof had to be reinforced and the slate was removed. The slate was buried beside the station and the mound of dirt covering it can still be seen, beside the diesel engine.
Even with the lack of passengers, the station was used by CN until 1979 when it was closed down. It soon faced demolition but a group of activists joined together and created the museum association to save the building. In 1983 the museum association acquired the station and in 1985 restoration began. The restoration added a few features to the station such as replacing of the platform to original specifications in the 1990s and the library and offices, which were added to the originally open attic.