Friday, August 30, 2013

Death and the Model Railroader VII: R.I.P. Elmwood Hobby Works

(I don't often write about death, and especially not two posts in a row. But life sometimes just works out that way; this week there were two deaths in the Winnipeg model railroad community.)

Sometimes, when a favorite institution closes, people say it's "like a death in the family." And so it is for the model railroading family in Winnipeg as Elmwood Hobby Works closes.

At one time, Winnipeg had six hobby shops, two of them all or mostly trains. I visited all of them, but Elmwood was my hobby shop. It was the kind of place to stop by and meet your friends, see what was new and browse the used bin--I found many treasures there.

Elmwood was started by Hilt Friesen and Vern Gibson in 1997. It started small, occupying a corner of Hilton's House of Interiors--Hilt's interior design and drapery store.

Hilt and Vern in 1999.

The business grew, and soon the drapery business was being pushed into a corner until, one day, it was completely gone.

 "We started off small and we thought that was the way it was going to be," said Vern in a 1999 interview. "But people kept asking, so we kept providing."

The store in its glory days.

The store was always a little ramshackle, and the building was old. And Hilt was "character"--he had his quirks, mannerisms, opinions and ways of doing things that not everyone appreciated. But I got along with him just fine.

Vern left the partnership a number of years ago, and Hilt died unexpectedly in 2008. Ownership of the store passed to his widow and daughter, neither of whom had any significant interest in model railroading or in running a hobby shop. 

Slowly, like a patient with a chronic illness, the store began to wither away. Shelves and cabinets became emptier and emptier and customers fewer and fewer.

The store in the last week of August: Empty shelves . . .

Then, the week of August 26-30, the official e-mail went out: The store is closing. No final date has been set, but many people stopped by August 29 for what felt like a wake (even if the patient wasn't quite dead yet).

Even if Hilt's family had an interest in the hobby, they would have had a tough go of it--the Internet is killing many retailers, including many hobby shops. (A list of Canadian hobby shops in a 1995 issue of Canadian Railway Modeller shows 86 shops; in 2013 there are 51.)

Winnipeg is down to four, only one of which is all trains. That aspect of the hobby--the local hobby shop--is going away, and it likely isn't coming back.

The joint HO & N scale layout in the front window.

For me, the loss of Elmwood Hobby Works will be more immediate and personal; no longer will I have a hobby shop near my home to visit. No more bumping into model railroad friends on a Saturday morning or a Thursday night. No more checking out the treasures in the used bin, buying that tube of glue or track joiners or even a new loco (I bought a few there).

R.I.P., Elmwood Hobby Works. You will be missed.


  1. Before I lived in Winnipeg, I would always visit Elmwood Hobby Works when I visited Winnipeg. It was my favourite hobby store, at least until Hilt passed. RIP indeed.

  2. Chuck Huard, mgr. Elmwood Hobby WorksSeptember 3, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    I have worked at EHW since the summer of 2000 when I was hired to build the 'N'scale layout for the store. In May of 2002 I took over running the store from Vern and have been at it for over 11 years. The last 5 were not a joy dealing with Hilt's daughter & son in law but I gave it my all. To no avail it is going under and it hurts nobody more than me as it was my life, pride & joy. Buts it's ok to be missed in the eulogy as I believe a piece of me has died with the store also.

    1. I was on here today at 4:30 am after finishing up some graveyard OT. Something made me want to take a look at pictures of Winnipeg. And then I remembered all the good times we had having coffee talking over model railroading with Chuck and the others. I never knew Hilt or Vern, but I was still very happy with EHW when I was in Winnipeg. I was but a young student then, and EHW was a home away from home. Those memories will last forever.

      And in case anyone was wondering, Winnipeg beats anywhere in Alberta, hands down. I have not been to a city where there are nicer people.

      Chuck, if you are reading this, you should be able to remember a bright, young student who was always spending more money than he had in that store, always drinking coffee and even helping put up Christmas decorations during our favourite season!

    2. Rip Elmwood Hobbyworks!

  3. I have never been to Winnipeg but this is sad. I am in Vancouver, and for a city of almost 3 million people, we are down to ONE store for model train stuff. One ! The place is great and I support it whenever I can, but one store ?? For 3 million people ? I wont get into the fact its 3 million people, but not 3 million of the type that would model trains. Or used to model trains. Out here its yoga mats and latte drinkers. Oh and potheads and "bong" shops. If you live near a shop that sells train stuff anywhere in Canada, go and support it !
    Before its too late.

  4. Reinhold Kittelberger, New Zealand.
    Not sure if my previous comment went through as I had to set up a google account first.

    I was in Winnipeg in 2004 just for a weekend and visited the Elmwood Hobby Works (and other shops). I even bought a few items, such as the Rocky Poing Light House. I liked this shop and the layout in the window.

    Now, 9 years later, I will be in Winnipeg again, this time for 5 weeks. Sad to hear the the shop is closed. It is always exciting to go to Model Train Shops and see what things are around. Especially in winter.

    As a child, in Germany, we had a toy shop around the corner and the owner would dress up as Santa during Christmas time and run Marklin trains. Sure enough, I got a Marklin train for Christmas.

    I hopw to see lots of Christmas things in Winnipeg in November/December and hopefully some model trains.

  5. Reinhold: Let me know when you are in town--happy to have you over to visit the layout. Contact me at jdl562000 at

  6. oh no! this was the best one in the city. i was in there just after the sale, wondered if they where going out of business. i had a couple items on consignment, wonder what the chances of recovering them are...