MORRISBURG – Much like the locomotives of old, the landmark Upper Canada Village train located next to the Crysler Park Marina on County Road 2 is warming up, but whether it actually leaves the station is not yet decided.
Built in 1910, locomotive 1008 and its two cars situated on historic track next to the original Aultsville train station, was saved in 2003 by the Save the Train Committee, spearheaded by Glen Cunningham and was subsequently gifted to the St. Lawrence Parks Commission (SLPC). Volunteers worked countless hours and raised thousands of dollars from community efforts to ensure that the train and the station would have a permanent home.
Deputy-Mayor Kirsten Gardner, who was personally involved in the project in 2003 as the municipality’s heritage co-ordinator, met with SLPC chair Bob Runciman. He indicated that the train would be removed, but that South Dundas would get first crack at it.
“It’s sad for me because quite a few of the volunteers that worked on that train are no longer with us. They put their heart and soul into it, but it can bring a community together,” said Gardner. “The folks at the time definitely believed [they] had made a statement and it would be there forever.”
During that meeting, Gardner made it clear that the municipality had little in the way of financial flexibility to fund renovations nor should the residents be expected to foot the bill for a gift given with good intentions that was ultimately allowed to fall into disrepair.
“I made it very clear that if we were to have to renovate it again, that I didn’t feel it was fair that the community pay for the track or the relocation. [Runciman] said that there would be an open discussion and possibly we would not have to pay for that if we decided to take it,” she said.
However, a meeting late last week with Upper Canada Village officials may have opened the door for other possibilities.
There was interest in potentially renovating the train and cars, and opening up the site for greater access to the public, but Gardner pointed out that the situation is “very fluid right now” and that discussions continue to take place.
The situation as a whole is a reversal of the one from 20 years ago. There is communication, there are no deadlines yet and there is the willingness to work together and two residents, Gardner Sage and Jim Beckstead, have already stepped forward to chair an action committee to save the train.
More than a community project to save a landmark train, Gardner sees this as a golden opportunity to strengthen the working relationship with SLPC and create meaningful dialogue with the region’s biggest tourist driver.
Municipal staff, including economic development officer Rob Hunter, have also been active participants in the early discussions and meetings, but will only get further involved if the train is indeed moved from its location.
For now, Gardner urged residents to speak up about the issue and let it be known if they want to get involved.
“We’re all about community partnerships. The five of us can’t do everything. We need our community. If there’s folks that feel passionate about it, that’s what we need to hear,” she said.
Whatever track the train ultimately travels down, it can’t continue to wither at its current location.
“I know the legacy of work that the group that fixed it and how much of an impact that had on the local community,” said Gardner. “Why would anyone want something that’s so beloved to just sit and rot?”