Imagine sleeping overnight in a historic train caboose … with your dog! That’s right – head to Smiths Falls, Ontario (about a 60-minute drive from Canada’s capital, Ottawa) and visit the Smiths Falls Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario, a reconstructed 1921 train station at its original location, harkening back in the heydays of luxury rail passenger travel. Dog-friendly glamping with a twist.
The museum is a surprising under-recognized gem in a working-class railway town of Smiths Falls, with some one-of-kind historic artifacts and others some of the best preserved. The 1889 perfectly restored wood-paneled dining car with chandeliers, sample china patterns from famous trains, and functioning kitchen suitable for catering – yes, you can rent the car for historic dinners transporting your guests back in time to what feels like the set of an Agatha Christie mystery.
The museum also has the only remaining intact dental car in North America – before there was a dentist in every town, railcars with a dentist and nurse stopped at rail stations for weeks, providing dental care to town residents.
The oddest piece in the collection is hidden in the garage – a car retrofitted to roll on the rail tracks. The car was once the personal transportation of a Canadian Pacific rail executive, who didn’t like riding the trains, so he retrofitted his own auto to travel along the rails just like a locomotive. An added feature is a working hydraulic lift that raises the car above the tracks to change direction.
Dog-friendly Historic Train Caboose B&Bs
But what about that caboose? Little red caboose cars dangling on the end of trains were iconic during the 19th and 20th centuries, and they served a purpose: a home for the men who repaired the train. The Caboose’s cupola, or crow’s nest, served as a look out point for the rail repairmen to catch both mechanical problems with the train — and un-ticketed riders. Back in the day, cabooses were tripped out with beds, iceboxes, water tanks and even chemical toilets – all this making historic cabooses ideal novelty accommodations for those who love trains, and others looking for some dog-friendly caboose fun.
The Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario has four cabooses lined up long the train station platform built in 1912, that last saw a passenger train pass by in 1979. One caboose is under construction, but two were booked the night we stayed: the 1947 Red CN Wooden Caboose and the 1967 Orange CN Steel Caboose. We stayed in smaller one – the 1947 with one bed, an oil stove (modern for its time), wooden table and simple seat cupola, which my dog didn’t want me climbing into because she couldn’t follow straight up the metal ladder.
The other caboose with more space exemplifies the difference 20 years makes: The 1967 CN Steel Caboose employs a more conscious use of space, looks a bit more space-aged inside, has office-chair-like seating in the cupola, streamline interior, room for two beds and when it was operational had electric windshield wipers. This one is more comfortable for two people and a dog.
Keep in mind, both cars are authentic. There’s only an extension cord running electricity for a small light and a fan. If you want to read – and I recommend immersing yourself in a historic novel to enhance the experience – bring a flash light. Summers are hot. There’s no air conditioning and the windows don’t open. Fall is perfect, especially a seasonally warm fall, like when I visited. Yet, I anticipated being cool, so I brought along a sleeping bag (sheets and towels are provided) and extra cuddle care for my dog in the form of a Tall Tails Sherpa blanket and a crate bed, provided by Tall Tails dog gear.
Tall Tails Travel Gear: Sherpa Blankets and Crate Bed
Our Tall Tails Sherpa dog blanket, given to us by Tall Tails, was remarkably soft (‘baby soft’ according to the company, but I prefer ‘puppy’ soft) and something my dog preferred to sleep on rather than under — though had the temperatures dropped to Fall norms as I expected, she might have changed her mind. Machine washable and easy to pack, and this is going to be our travelling blanket of choice.
The deluxe crate bed currently lives permanently in the back of my car – we don’t use a crate – and the size medium fits perfectly in the back of a Kia Soul car with one back seat up. It’s compact enough to carry from car to room … or in this case, car to caboose.
Victoria adapted to the train caboose with ease, alternating between her Tall Tails floor bed and my (our) train bed. The only alteration to the caboose to accommodate modern sleeping arrangements is an extension cord running electricity into the car and the mattress – original train mattresses were horsehair, remarkably different than the spring mattress there now. Had the sleeping arrangements been that authentic, I might have been slept on the Tall Tails mat too.
Caboose Glamping with a Dog
Both my dog and I slept surprisingly well – the train station is far quieter than it would be back when luxury locomotives shuffled people 100 km between Ottawa, Smiths Falls and Brockville. (One hundred was the magic number because steam trains needed refuel every 100 km and thus Smiths Falls thrived at this midway point in the 19th century).
Plus, Victoria liked the fact her bathroom was right outside the door. Mine was in the train station: The back room of the station is modified with bathroom and shower, open all evening for caboose guests. Much like camping, there’s a short walk to the facilities, but this one across a historic train platform.
Every stay includes a one-hour guided tour of the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in the morning, which is the highlight of the trip. Plus, my dog loved sniffing around the ‘train’ yard filled with the scent of history and careful curation, thanks to a volunteer board of rail enthusiasts.
Tall Tails Sherpa Blanket
Final note, the Tall Tails Sherpa blanket was slung over the back of the couch when we got home. All three cats have since claimed it as theirs – we might need a second blanket for travelling. Note: if you buy a blanket from Tall Tails from September 15 to December 31, 2021, the company will donate a blanket to a dog in need.
Smiths Falls, Ontario Dog-friendly Travel Guide
Smiths Falls was settled by Europeans decedents in 1830 thanks to the development of the Rideau Canal, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By 1850, Smiths Falls had a railroad sealing its fate as a rail town. Today, it’s still a working-class town and transport trains still run through the station at the opposite end of the street from the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario. It’s also a dog town – everyone, it seemed, during my visit had a dog.
Visit and stay at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario, 90 William Street West, Smiths Falls, Ontario home to dog-friendly historic Cabooses available to rent through Airbnb mid-May to mid-October. Check in time is 3 to 5 pm (only) and check out time is 10 am, but you can stay on the property and enjoy the guided tour. The museum is also open daily 10 am to 5 pm, May to October. Admission is $7. Guided tours by appointment.
The park near the Detached Lock Station along Abbott Street near the Bascule Bridge (a rolling-lift bridge built in 1914 new in a permanently raised position) is a scenic spot for dog walkers and a fall picnic.
Drop into Bone Appetit Pet Company, 18 Main Street East, Smiths Falls, Ontario, as you’re strolling downtown. There’s a boutique selection of pet gear and food, and Victoria was able to get a quick pedicure after a romp in the leash-free park.
Visit the Smiths Falls dog park: Gleeson Park Off-leash dog park is located off Old Slys Road behind the baseball diamonds beside the curling club. It’s a little hard to locate, but when you do there are two parks – one for small and one for large dogs, double entrance doors, treed and open area and bone-shaped benches for people. It’s a popular spot with dogs and people anytime of the day everyday.
While technically not in Smith Falls, Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, 2243 Elm Grove Road, Perth, Ontario, is only a 20- to 30-minute drive from Smiths Falls and a good place to stop for lunch after picking up take out lunch. There’s no dog beach or off leash area, but we did walk the trails on leash and searched for the mystery mines that dot the property. More about Murphy’s Point soon.