A plan to save a 103-year-old railway station in Mount Pleasant is gathering steam.
Ken Chrysler, president of the Brant Railway Heritage Society, says the station was built in 1916 for the Lake Erie and Northern Railway.
“It’s the only original LE and N station remaining from that era,” notes Chrysler, adding that the building, based on a Canadian Pacific Railway No. 14 station design, is rare in this part of Canada.
“I’m shocked it made it through last winter,” Chrysler says. “If something is not done immediately, it will not survive.”
A year ago, Chrysler spearheaded the formation of the Brant Railway Heritage Society, with the desire to make the results of his research available to everyone in a local railway museum.
“I’ve been gathering archives for 30 years because I’m a model railroader,” he says. “I’ve studied all the CN and Grand Trunk lines, Burford, Harrisburg and St. George areas.”
Seeing the Mount Pleasant station still standing last spring, Chrysler says he felt recharged, thinking “maybe there’s life in the old girl yet.”
The society is holding a meeting at the Mount Pleasant Community Centre on Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. to introduce its members to the community, and share their vision and plans.
The society received its designation as a not-for-profit corporation on July 27 and is now working towards achieving status as a charitable organization.
Chrysler and other society members have been working with Brant County staff, who have helped put together a proposal that must be presented to council before the end of September.
“We’re working with the County of Brant to have them designate a piece of land to put the station on, and develop our museum,” says Chrysler, adding that the Mount Pleasant Community Park on Burtch Road would be close to the station’s original location. “They’re aware of our intentions but it hasn’t been formalized in a proposal yet.”
The structure has been sitting on private property since 1978. And, while the owners have agreed to donate the building to the society, funds must be raised to cover insurance costs before the transaction can happen.
A key factor in the group’s plans will be an engineering report. A structural designer from Tacoma Engineering, a company that specializes in historical restorations, was on site this week.
“The waiting room is caving in and completely shot,” Chrysler observes. “About 50 to 75 per cent is saveable, but the rest would have to be rebuilt.”
One option is to stabilize, repair and strengthen the structure and move the entire building to a new location.
But Chrysler says it may be easier and cheaper to rebuild it from scratch, using salvageable original materials.
“If we’re going to go the route of building a new structure to the design of this old one, it would have to be really, really perfect,” Chrysler says. “I’m really a historical rivet counter, so I don’t want to do something that doesn’t look original.”
Rob Pottruff, who heads up the society’s heritage inventory committee, agrees that transplanting architectural details to a new structure may be the way to proceed.
“We’re going to go with whatever the engineer recommends is the most intelligent way to do it,” he says.
Chrysler started a Facebook page for the society about a year ago, posting old photographs of railway operations in the region. He says he’s gratified by the response from people in the community, who share memories and history of their family members who worked for the railroad.
Two old baggage carts that were a fixture at the Brantford VIA Rail station for decades have been donated to the society. Photos of the carts, currently under restoration, posted online prompted responses from people, who shared how they would sit on the carts as a child, eat ice cream and watch the trains go by.
Chrysler says people also want to donate their services to the project.
“We’ve also been approached by a roofer, electrician, and HVAC/plumber who are willing to donate their labour, and some materials, toward saving the structure,” Chrysler shares. “If we could get a builder or construction company that would step forward with that kind of thing, it would be most welcome.”
The group also has been in touch with other railway museums and historical associations who have offered support and advice. The Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway Historical Society has given its archives that cover Brant County.
Pottruff notes the museum, once established, could be available for use as a meeting place or to hold functions. And, with a gift shop or snack bar, it could serve as a resting area for cyclists using the rail trail.
“You’re cycling down the path where 100 years ago, people rode a train, and now you’ll have something that existed at that time,” he says.
Chrysler hopes that one day elementary school children will be able to tour the museum to learn about the role railways played in Brant County’s early days.
“Anything that gets kids interested in trains is good in my books.”
Chrysler estimates the cost of the saving the station and establishing a museum at about $250,000.
“We have some big dreams but want to take it one bite at a time.”