Tiny trains zip through Montreal-inspired city that was handcrafted with ‘artistic flair’


Alex Montagano, a Montreal-born boy, loved model trains as a child, but he was too busy building his family and a career.

Then about a year before the pandemic struck, he rediscovered his old passion and realized that no matter how hectic life can get — how out of control it may seem — he is in complete control of his environment when constructing a cityscape for miniature trains to race through.

In his basement, working away at models for hours on end, he can give residents of his west end neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) that outdoor basketball court they’ve been asking for, or sufficient trash receptacles.

He can bring an aging, dilapidated theatre — once known as the Empress — back to life and portray the reality of Montreal life from orange traffic cones and street-clogging protests to the iconic Saint Joseph’s Oratory.

Montagano is active in municipal politics and has run for office in the Côte-des-Neiges–NDG borough.

He said that he has found model building a way to learn history, explore his love of trains, and create his political vision for the borough.

Montagano stated, “It’s also great for me to express myself artistically building like-models Montreal landmark buildings,” and he has opened his home to community events such the NDG Art Hop so everyone can see his creation.

WATCH | Montreal model train cruises tracks: 

Model train enthusiast makes awe-inspiring homage to Montreal

Alex Montagano shares his inspirations and motivations for his intricate model of the city, and some of its landmarks.

Montagano almost exclusively works in N scale. This is a format that can range from 1:148 to 1:60. That means the trains, tracks, buildings, cars, trucks and everything in between are so small that he sometimes needs a magnifying glass to construct and paint them.

He explained that you have to reduce everything and sometimes it is not to scale. 

“If I treat this as a science, it doesn’t look right.” It is important to have artistic flair and discretion.

Hours of work

To create his models, he uses a mix of methods that can range from carving plastic and shaping metal wires to printing out intricate building facades, people, signs and statues with his 3D printer.

His most recent addition, the Empress Theatre took 60 hours. He spent about half an hour studying Sherbrooke Street to design the model on his laptop. He then printed, assembled, painted, and wired the Empress Theatre for lighting.

Alex Montagano has a model train set in N scale. This means that everything is trimmed to the point where he can use a magnifying glasses to add details. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

He actually wired the entire train’s structure with tiny LED light bulbs. The structure is covered in a web of wires that runs through it. This creates an unsolvable maze of mild electric current, which illuminates all street lamps, traffic lights and windows.

Montagano, a contractor that restores old houses, said “It’s a complicated process.”

He admits that his hobby of model trains can be costly, but he believes it is beneficial for him. For my mental well-being. It’s a little bit of escapism.”

Thomas the Tank Engine revives interest

Ivan Dow, the organizer of the Montreal Model Train Exposition said that Thomas the Tank Engine’s popularity has revived the hobby among younger generations.

It is multifaceted, and people are drawn to it for many reasons. He said that they may be fascinated by architecture or love electronics. 

He stated that there has been a decline of hobby shops over time, but models and trains can be ordered online.

However, hobbyists who are just starting out might be put off by the high price. Dow suggests that people purchase used. He said that used model trains can be purchased for as low as 20 to 50% of their original cost.

Dow stated, “A lot the older generation just wants their trains to go when they are 80 or 90.” “You can get really great deals with that age group.”

Have a look at the photos of the model train.

It includes the Guaranteed Purified Milk Bottle Water Tower, Leonard Cohen’s mural, and considerably more public transportation than the actual Montreal. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

The extensive lighting in the model’s model lights up signs, streets and businesses as well as prominent features like St. Joseph’s Oratory. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Gibeau Orange Julep, found on Décarie Boulevard in Montreal, is actually a painted Styrofoam ball in Alex Montagano’s model. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

The whole model is approximately 4.6 metres in size. There are tunnels and bridges to allow the electric trains to pass through. The set is fully automated. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

You will find many well-known or popular sights from NDG in the model, including the Monkland Tavern Sign and the Meldrum Sign. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

This model has locks and draw bridges running along the Lachine Canal. Alex Montagano said that he would eventually add a bicycle path to the model so it looks more like the real thing. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Alex Montagano spent hours designing the Empress Theatre model, which he then printed using his 3D printer. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

The Empress Theatre, an Egyptian-style theatre built on Sherbrooke Street, dates back to 1927. The building has been largely unoccupied since 1992. However, Alex Montagano restored it in his own model. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

In real life, Boucherie Tranzo, Deli Snowdon and Nettoyeur Écologique Royal are scattered across different locations in Côte-Des-Neiges—NDG, but in the model world, they are neighbours. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Alex Montagano’s Model has features that have a Canadian feel but still retain a train set feel. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Montreal’s light-rail network will have a station named Griffintown–Bernard-Landry. This name has sparked debate so Alex Montagano changed it in his model. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Alex Montagano included a protest in his model, saying the group is opposed to the underfunding of Côte-Des-Neiges—NDG. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Alex Montagano reimagined many features that were inspired by Montreal landmarks. The layout is an L-shaped. It is approximately six meters long and one meter across. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Montreal’s most popular theme is orange traffic cones. The cones 3D printed in N scale are approximately the same size as a pencil eraser. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Alex Montagano installed a court next to the Chalet Bar-B-Q, after residents in Westhaven requested one. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

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