A $2.77-million federal grant for the North America Railway Hall of Fame in St. Thomas is a huge boost for the city and the boosters who have been cobbling together money for years to save the historic Canada Southern Railway Station, says the head of the operation.
Paul Corriveau, president of the board of the hall of fame, who has been fighting to save the massive Italianate structure on Talbot St. since 1994, said yesterday the grant "gives a sense of confidence to our donors and shows this work does matter."
It's the largest single contribution toward saving the station.
Individual donors have contributed $500,000 so far, a third of the public fundraising goal.
"This is a significant investment by the federal government," he said, noting the project has been the recipient of countless hours of "sweat equity" from volunteers and has provided work for the unemployed.
The donation from Ottawa was announced by MP Joe Preston, MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, under the community adjustment fund to assist smaller centres hit by a downturn in manufacturing and natural resources.
Corriveau said the money will help restore a dining room that can become a conference centre and meeting room. It will also provide electrical, heating and cooling, an elevator and washrooms. He said in about a year the hall of fame expects to move its offices into the building.
It's expected to cost $8 million to $10 million to turn the station into a self-sustaining venture saluting the contribution of the railways to St. Thomas.
"That's the key, we want to cover our costs," Corriveau said. "We want this to be a self-sustaining heritage legacy."
The hall of fame, an interpretive centre, is next door to the St. Thomas railway museum but not connected to it. Corriveau said the two operations cooperate as they showcase the history of the iron rail that built the city.
Other Elgin County grants announced under the community adjustment fund to which Ottawa has allocated $102 million overall:
- $1.6 million to St. Thomas for reconstruction of Wellington St.
- $265,622 to the Arts and Cookery Bank to restore and equip a heritage building.
- $257,450 to Elgin Community Futures Development Corp. to develop a marketing strategy and plan to promote locally grown crops.
- $245,738 to Elgin County and St. Thomas to hire two community development officers.
- $92,000 to Bayham for a feasibility study of a ferry service between Port Burwell and Fairport Harbor, Ohio.
Canada Southern Railway Station in St. Thomas
- Built by American railway promoters between 1871 and 1873 to link New York and Chicago.
- St. Thomas, midway between the two U. S. metropolises, was billed as "The Railway Capital of Canada."
- The building has 400,000 bricks, is 24,000 square feet and has 160 windows, each divided into eight panes measuring about three metres by one metre.
- The last train through the station was in the 1990s. The rail line is no longer in operation.