British Columbia's alluring warm desert climate is home to something quite extraordinary beyond its celebrated wine. Set in the Buena Vista industrial park on the periphery of
Osoyoos, located at BC's southern border, sits Trip Advisor's #6 top-rated "things to do" for the entire province of British Columbia! Quite an achievement for this tiny town tucked away in the Okanagan Valley near Washington state. The municipality (population of 4,845) also sits adjacent to the Osoyoos Indian Band Reserve, where they do produce wine.
Opened in 2003, Poul and Ulla Pedersen's Desert Railroad Museum sports 2 km of tracks, 45 trains, 18,000 miniature people (made of white, unbendable German plastic) - each painted by Ulla and 1,800 miniature houses and buildings depicting every conceivable scene in life (modeled on Europe) including - as Poul delightedly points out to me with his red laser, a nudist colony, a mermaid, a miner working inside a mountain and an underground subway rail system that might make Toronto politicians proud.
Poul, looking fit at 74, attends to the trains and the computers that monitor their movements, while daughter Lotte constructs incredibly detailed landscaping with European style towns and houses while Ulla paints the myriad citizens. Inside the large display area, I spot several weddings, hot-air balloonists, a football match, horse race, train wreck, wind farm, forest fire, zoo, circus, skaters and even a funeral, covering life to its very end with a red light district thrown in for naughty merriment. Poul likes to keep visitors on their toes.
Multiple trains appear everywhere throughout Lotte's inventive sets. Some emerge from tunnels while others shuffle along steep viaducts. We are treated to the high-speed variety, the express trains and the slower local trains, a subway train and freight trains, one transporting cars and another seemingly headed for the Ukraine loaded with military vehicles and tanks.
The lights inside the gargantuan spread-out display area periodically dim by computer to showcase lit nighttime areas - including a Ferris wheel, a ski slope and myriad buildings. There is everything here from an airport and a farm to a police car at a road check. There is also a beam in Poul's eyes. He is simply one big kid. Poul and Ulla migrated from Denmark to Spain and then finally landed in Canada in 1981. Why Osoyoos I ask? Poul says it was the warmest spot in Canada.
In fact, it is here in Osoyoos that we discover our country's warmest lake and hottest, driest climate amidst a stunning valley framed by luminous, blue skies, sparse desert hills, contrasting verdant vineyards and fruitful orchards, a climate perfect for growing - producing delicious fresh fruit, vegetables and award-winning wines. A mere 2 km away from the U.S. border, the name Osoyoos derives from an Okanagan First Nations word that describes "the narrows" or the coming together of two lakes.
Most of Poul's museum trains and buildings were purchased from
Marklin, a company located in Gottingen, Germany. Poul thinks that it produces the best models in the world, and he has one locomotive running daily here that's over 40 years old. It's a major job keeping the display area clean, so, like Mr. Dyson, Poul invented a special attachment for a vacuum to expedite the process.
This is the perfect place for an extended family gathering. I brought my son-in-law, Andrew, and my two grandsons, William, 6 and Emmett 3, to enjoy this delightful 2000 square foot museum. Where else can inter-generational men bond in such whimsical fashion?
William, who knows absolutely everything there is to know about Star Wars, appears so mesmerized by the mammoth and intricate display that he does not
want to leave. Andrew, his dad, seems a tad reluctant as well. Only Emmett, perhaps immunized by TV's
Thomas the Train, seems to prefer a speedy exit towards ice-cream land.
Poul admits to fancying model trains early on as a child in Denmark, particularly because he lived adjacent to an actual railway line. Thus, he was doubly smitten, and his fascination gathered steam as his own small model layout gradually grew in size. Their quest for a warm climate was sparked by Ulla's arthritis which has forced her to employ a wheelchair. They are housed on the ground floor while the model railroad fills the entire upper floor.
There is a gift shop with hand-painted wooden accessories made in-house, a unique selection of many different souvenirs from fridge magnets to T-shirts and, of course, myriad individual toy trains and sets in a wide price range.
The Railroad Museum is open year round Monday - Saturday - 10 AM - 5 PM, closed on Sunday; Admission price - Adults - $7.50, Kids 2 - 12 years old - $4.50
Marklin Model Trains and Miniatures Osoyoos Desert Railroad
Osoyoos desert model railroad
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune, Niagara Falls Review and Seniors Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.