You may have heard whispers of a gem of a museum tucked underground in the foothills outside Cochrane, Alta.

But getting there is a bit of a mystery, and so is getting in. 

One does not simply pull up to the family ranch of Ian MacGregor and ask to view the comprehensive collection of more than 500 impeccably maintained and restored treasures proudly displayed in his basement.

Though to call it a basement is a bit of an injustice.

See what's inside the Canadian Museum of Making4:38

MacGregor established the Canadian Museum of Making underneath his home in 2001. He provides exact directions to the gallery after private tours, like the sold-out Beakerhead event, are arranged.

Once there, visitors meander through the underground bunker's network of concrete tunnels, inlaid with lighted displays of carefully selected artifacts that span African metal work, steam engine machinery and machine tools.

Jenny Museum of Making

The CBC's Jenny Howe follows museum owner and creator Ian MacGregor through the first of many tunnels in the Museum of Making. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Some of the oldest objects in the galleries date back to the 1750s.

At the heart of the private collection is "Mary," a tandem-cylinder, horizontal steam engine built in the 1890s. The compound mill engine powered a weaving mill in Yorkshire, England, for more than 70 years. 

Mary the steam engine

Almost all of the machinery exhibits in the collection have been restored to near new, working condition. Many having been in everyday use until acquired by the museum. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

The first gallery of the private collection highlights African metal work in bronze, brass, copper and iron.

African metal work

The Museum’s African collection provides examples of the many ways metal was used by cultures across the continent, including as currency, tools and weapons and ornamental or ceremonial objects. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Head down a level or two and you'll find the history of machinery from the 1840s through to the end of the First World War.

There's also a linotype machine, a Cleveland Twist Drill prototype — which MacGregor deems the rarest item in his collection — and a few select automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, steam tractors and horse-drawn vehicles, as well as one of the first electric cars.

Vehicle Museum of Making

An example of one of the vehicles housed inside Ian MacGregor's underground bunker. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

MacGregor said obtaining the prototype twist drill involved a bit of a race against the Americans, who moved to block him from extricating the machine from the U.S. after they caught wind that MacGregor, a foreigner, had designs on the rare object.

Cleveland Drill

'Cleveland invented the twist drill about the time of the Civil War. And so this is the prototype machine that they figured out how to make twist drills. And if you go to Home Depot today, they'll still be — if you buy good drills — they'll still be Cleveland,' says MacGregor. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

"It's really an important object and it really should be in the Smithsonian. I'll give it to them some day, but not yet," he said.

linotype machine

The linotype machine inside the Canadian Museum of Making. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)


With files from The Homestretch and Julie Debeljak