Museum Jobs Spotlight: Michael Roberts
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The name of my museum is… Toronto Railway Museum
My name is… Michael Roberts
My job title is… Assistant Chief Engineer
This job title means that I mainly work on…
Give us a quick overview of your department/museum.
We’re a small, but growing, museum in the heart of downtown Toronto. Our mission is to interpret local railway history, including the extensive railway lands surrounding The John Street Roundhouse. We have four 19th century railway buildings that have been moved to our site for conservation, an operational 120′ turntable (among of the largest used in Canada), steam, compressed air, and diesel locomotives, passenger and freight cars, and of course, The Roundhouse itself.
What inspires you about your museum’s mission?
The chance to maintain an operating turntable, and the sights and sounds associated with Railway History.
What advice would you give to the aspiring museum professional?
Do it for yourself. Never let anything get in the way of loving your work.
How did you find your way into the museum industry?
By accident. I ran across the idea that history could be studied through objects and artifacts and that we could understand the lives of everyday people through physical remnants of the past… that caught my attention, so I just keep trying to get better at it.
Best advice you ever received from a museum professional:
“It’s always complicated”
What’s your favorite object or piece of art in your museum and why?
My favourite object is whatever I’m working on at the time. Right now I’m sitting in a Pullman car that survived the Halifax explosion in 1917. The General Manager of the Dominion Atlantic Railway was in this car at the time, and its roof saved him from the falling glass of the Halifax railway station. He was one of the first people to call for help after what was, at the time, the largest human-caused explosion ever.
What is your earliest memory of being in a museum?
Playing on the lawn near the mammoth statue at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa. And the smell of the galleries and the dramatic lighting inside.
What is a story that most people don’t know about your museum or its collection?
Most people know our museum is built on a roof. That’s kind of neat, we are, after all, the only railway museum we know of that has an operating 120′ turntable on the roof of another building. But most people do not know that our location, including that big, multi-story convention center now built beneath it… used to be *in the lake.* Much of the rail lands, including our roundhouse, were built on reclaimed land. Recently, the old Grand Trunk cribs were excavated. And they found a Schooner underneath!