It isn’t easy moving and starting a new job during a pandemic, but the new director of the Revelstoke Railway Museum said it’s a dream come true.
“I’ve been crazy about trains since I was five-years-old,” said Jim Cullen. He got a model train for that Christmas.
Cullen began his new job April 1, having moved to Revelstoke from Calgary.
When he came for the interview in mid-March, he said Revelstoke was bustling. By April, it was extremely quiet.
“It was a weird situation,” he said.
Cullen said volunteering for decades as a railway historian was his “shadow career”, while he worked in corporate human resources for an oil company.
In 1999, he got a job at the California State Railway Museum Foundation.
“Friends accused me of running away with the circus. In a way, I was.”
He worked in California for four years, then was self employed as a consultant for museums and non-profits. One of his recent projects was with the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which focuses on paleontology.
“Golly was it interesting,” said Cullen.
He also got a masters in museum studies in 2018. When the job for director at the Revelstoke Railway Museum was posted recently, Cullen said he had to apply.
“It’s an institution I’ve always admired.”
Cullen said his priorities include ensuring the museum survives COVID-19, to revitalize exhibits and make the museum sustainable.
“It’s a cathedral for trains. No small community has a railway museum building like this.”
Revelstoke was founded in the 1880s when the Canadian Pacific Railway built a track through the area. The city is situated near two of the most iconic railway places in Canada – to the west is Rogers Pass and the east is Craigellachie.
Rogers Pass was one of the most formidable barriers the railway ever faced when building the transcontinental track. The Canadian Pacific Railway dealt with numerous challenges including avalanches and crashes.
Craigellachie, named after a village in Scotland, is the site of the final spike driven into the transcontinental railway in 1885.
The railway is still one of the main employers in Revelstoke. The museum opened in 1993.
“Trains are still part of the heartbeat of this town,” said Cullen.
He said his aim is to turn the museum into a focal point for the community.
“We own the story of Canada’s mountain railway.”
As-of-June 2, the Revelstoke Railway Museum has not settled on a reopening date. However, Cullen said it will probably open before the end of June.
“When we’re ready to open safely, we will. We won’t take any risks.”