I am writing this letter in support of the retention and conservation of the 1916 Hope CN Train Station that has been the subject of so much attention over the last year. As a historian and heritage person, I have been following the story closely, and have lent my time and expertise to local people and groups who have committed their time and efforts to keeping the Station up, and in Hope, and to finding uses for it so it will be around for another 100 years, still serving the community.
Train stations are valued assets in communities across British Columbia. Those communities lucky enough to have inherited buildings like this are increasingly seeing the value in them. In the Boundary (where I live), we had railways everywhere. Sadly, across the province, much of our rail history and heritage have been lost, and we are left with only traces of our past. Most of that legacy in the Boundary, for instance, is long gone. Greenwood’s station burned down in the 1960s. Grand Forks lost stations as well. Phoenix, Eholt, Rock Creek, Cascade…..all gone. But we did manage to keep a couple train stations – one in Midway, one in Grand Forks – and those buildings are cherished assets that our region values – and uses. Hope had more than one station as well, and the CN Station exists as the only survivor of the rail history of the community.
Heritage buildings must be supported by the community. To succeed, they have to be valued, and USED. Its not good enough anymore to save heritage just because its heritage. It has to have a use. There are many examples across BC of similar buildings in service. In Grand Forks, the CPR station was converted for use as a pub and restaurant, and it is an iconic piece of the Boundary’s heritage. The Midway Station is part of the Kettle River Museum. Fernie’s station was converted for use a community Arts and Cultural Centre, and is a central part of that community’s arts & cultural scene. In Nelson, the CPR station has been completely renovated and adapted to serve as a multi use facility, housing such things as their Visitor’s Info Centre, the Chamber of Commerce (which owns the building and has been the steward of the building through its rehabilitation.
This is one of only TWO public heritage buildings in your community, and the one with the most potential for community use. Losing that building would be a huge loss, not only a loss of authentic and significant heritage, but also for the loss of potential uses that a building of that type could provide. Heritage isn’t about saving old stuff for the sake of saving old stuff anymore. There has to be a business case. It has to make sense. And there have to be uses for it, at the end of the day. Local governments and their taxpayers want to see proposals and projects that are going to be self supporting, or even better – generators of revenue. And that’s what makes this loss so particularly troubling.
The Hope Station is a well built, large building that should be serving the community by being useful – which it can do if given the chance, and the right treatment. A look around the province shows clearly that train stations are valued assets for a wide variety of community and private sector uses – from Nelson’s CPR Station that is owned by their Chamber of Commerce and is a multi use facility that houses their Visitor’s Centre, offices and businesses, to Grand Forks’ Station Pub & Restaurant, a successful private operation. In Port Alberni their train station has been used as an active station for their heritage railway operation, serves as a meeting place for community groups, and has been the recipient of $400,000 in grant funding for upgrades. The owner, the City of Port Alberni, clearly considers the building to be valuable and worth maintaining. These are successful projects that have been largely rehabilitated through grants and private investment – and they now generate revenue and add to their communities in tangible and intangible ways. Other communities with far less of a population and tax bases are working on conserving their stations as well. In Boston Bar they were recently successful in securing millions in grants to conserve theirs, for example. The point is – Train Stations are valuable, valued, and useful.
Your community is and has been the gateway to the rest of the province from the very beginning. That station saw a province pass through it, and people from all over BC are connected to it in some way. People across the province are interested in it – and as the heritage and history tourism sector continues to grow, the building will draw in tourists and tourist dollars to the community. Hope already has the Othello Tunnels – a train station is a natural complement to an attraction that pulls thousands of people off the highway for a visit. Its also why provincial funding/granting is appropriate. It’s part of the heritage of the province.
There hasn’t been a better time to be working on a heritage project in this province than right now. The province has made millions of dollars available over the last year through targeted grants. In the next months, millions more will be granted out, through the Time Immemorial Program, which is focused on BC heritage assets and projects. It’s money that could be going into moving and restoring the Hope Station, creating a usable asset for your community.
I know the council of the District of Hope has spent considerable time and effort on this issue – and as a former local elected official myself, I have some understanding about the situation they are in . Balancing the community’s wishes and needs against budgetary considerations and constraints is no easy task, and when it comes to a question of infrastructure needs like water and sewer vs things like heritage…..its a tough position to be in. I don’t see this as an either-or proposition though. I wish we had had the granting opportunities available from the province when I was on council. There haven’t been resources like this offered to local governments for heritage – for DECADES. And the province has shown its willingness to support the retention of the Hope Station – all it would take is a show of support and commitment from the District of Hope to relocate the building and retain it as a community asset. Would be a real shame to lose out on granting opportunities that could have supported that station with no financial impact to the taxpayers of Hope.
My hope is that your council can find a way to work with those in the community who have been working on raising awareness and support for retaining the building, to work on options and solutions that will see the building conserved and utilized. In Hope.
Grand Forks, BC.