By David F. Rooney
Fresh from Ontario, this is Jennifer Dunkerson’s first time in the West and as the Revelstoke Railway Museum’s new “conductor,” she brings a new perspective to the job of executive director.
The 44-year-old Brantford, Ont., native, is a museum professional who had curated different museum in southern Ontario, most recently as executive director of the Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre.
“That’s a community-based organization with a large mandate… they were established to promote the history of the industrial strength of Brantford and Canada as a whole,” she said in an interview this week.
You might not think of Brantford as an industrial hot spot but back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was one of the top three power houses of Canada’s industrial economy, after Toronto and Montreal. And you might be forgiven for wondering how that relates to Revelstoke and its railway history. However, there is a connection, Dunkerson said.
“Brantford industries manufactured a lot of the tools and other goods that were shipped West (during the young country’s expansion westward),” she said. “The interesting connection here is that the CP Rail line carried a lot of those manufactured goods out West to help the settlers.”
She acknowledges that she still has a lot to learn about the Canadian Pacific Railway and Revelstoke. But she did study railway history in school and she does have a family connection to railroading.
“My grandfather worked for CN, which is something I try not to say much about around here, as a line foreman” she laughed. “And my dad is a model railroader. He’s into it big time and, as a result, railway history and railway stuff were a big part of our lives as a family. I recall being on family trips as a child and we’d stop at railway yards and my dad would hop out and go look around and there we’d be following him around. And then, of course, through my schooling I realized the importance of railways to our Canadian heritage, in general. I like to say it has had a lot to do with my going into museum work in general.”
Dunkerson said she is looking forward to learning more about the CPR and the mammoth machines that are part of the Railway Museum’s collection. As to the direction she plans to take as executive director, she said she is going to her time and look for ways to “expand and improve on what has been done.”
“I don’t believe in coming in and just totally changing things,” she said. “I believe in working with what’s been done in the past and finding ways to apply my own experience here.”
In the meantime, she is settling in with her family — she has two daughters, Alice and Adelaide, and her husband, Joe, — and getting ready to tackle Railway Days.