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John’s Passion for the Railways

For John Mellow, there was a fantasy element to the railways:

There was always anticipation at a station that at any moment new people could arrive and others would depart. You could not go to the station in 1950 and not wish you were about to travel somewhere, for trains seemed to go everywhere and you just wanted to go, too.

– John Mellow, OS Don: Recollections of a CPR Telegrapher and Train-Order Operator (2021), page 7

John has had a lifelong interest in railways. In his own words:

Railway stations have held a fascination for me as long as I can remember. Travelling back and forth between Toronto and Napanee, Ontario, since I was six weeks old probably established this keen sensitivity to their world of the railway station.

– John Mellow, OS Don: Recollections of a CPR Telegrapher and Train-Order Operator (2021), page 7

Railway workers help to foster his interest. When John was a teenager, he often visited the nearby railway station. Sometimes the workers would give him an old copy of the rules of the railway, or some old train orders. For rail fans like John, these documents became treasured keepsakes.

John as a Toronto Railway Museum Volunteer

A vintage colour photograph of a man working at a desk. He is facing away from us. He is wearing a headset and a vintage phone is pulled towards him. The desk has many papers on it.

John at work in Don Station, 1965.

John has volunteered with the Toronto Railway Museum since 2006. He worked in Don Station for many years as a telegrapher. Don Station was a small train station located on the east end of Toronto and is the last nineteenth-century train station still standing in the city. Built in 1896 for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Don Station was originally situated on the west bank of the Don River, near where the Queen Street Bridge is today.⁠

John has written a book about Don Station, and his work there. The station was an important hub for the rapidly growing east end of Toronto, especially when the old Union Station was becoming overcrowded. Don Station was built as part of the Canadian Pacific’s Don Branch of the railway, which connected Leaside with downtown Toronto. Until the Don Branch was built, Canadian Pacific had to reverse their trains through Parkdale to enter the city. It was dangerous due to the number of railway crossings.

Colour photograph of a man is sitting at a desk facing away from us. There is an open binder and 2 railway lanterns on the desk. There are 4 windows facing the desk and it is a sunny day.

John Mellow recreates the 1965 photo of him at work, after Don Station is moved to the Toronto Railway Museum in 2008.

Don Station moved to the museum’s grounds in 2008. At that time, John worked as a consultant to help return the station to the appearance of its working years when owned by the CPR.

John Mellow has also contributed to the restoration of the Toronto Railway Museum’s Cabin D Signal Tower. He spent two years working on the restoration of the CPR Belleville Subdivision’s Centralized Traffic Control Dispatching Board, which is now on display in Cabin D.

A modern colour photograph of a small train station with ropes and miniature train tracks in the foreground. “DON” is write on the roof of the station and there is a small sign that says “GIFT SHOP” in front of the station.

Don Station after a recent restoration project in 2020.

Black and white vintage photograph of a small train station with railway tracks in the foreground. A couple people are seen in front of the station. “DON” is written twice on the roof of the station. On the photograph “Sept. 12. 1910” is written in the bottom right corner.

Don Station in 1910.