Thursday, 18 April 2013 09:14

Empress train station gets much-needed makeover

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The Empress train station prior to its renovation is pictured above. Below is the finished product on the outside. There is still work to be done on the inside. The Empress train station prior to its renovation is pictured above. Below is the finished product on the outside. There is still work to be done on the inside. Photo submitted

For almost a decade volunteers have been diligently working on restoring the Empress train station with a goal of completion by the village’s centennial celebrations in 2014.


The Empress Historical Society received a federal grant of $20,000 last fall to put toward the work being done, but Pat Donaldson, society president, says the restoration will likely cost more than $100,000 when all the bills are tallied. A lot of that funding has come from Alberta Historical Resources and has been matched by the society itself through fundraising and working at casinos.
“We’re hoping after the construction work is done, we will be able to raise more money to find items that would have been in the station,” she says.
The CPR train station was opened in Empress in 1913. It was though at the time that Empress could be a hub for railway activity with more than just an east/west running rail line. After all, in its heyday, the community boasted a population of about 1,500 people — as compared to today’s approximate numbers at about 150.
Work began to eventually cross the Red Deer River, but the start of the First World War threw a monkey wrench into those plans.
The idea of adding a north/south line was again attempted in the late 1930s, but the start of the Second World War again halted activity, explains Donaldson.
By the time the war ended, the number of vehicles being built increased as did their affordability. The use of horses and wagons in the rural area became a thing of the past, as did the need to ride a passenger train.
“These small-town stations closed down one after another,” says Donaldson.
Empress’s station was still used for accommodation for rail workers in the 1960s, but it too was eventually closed up. As the need for rail travel lessened, CPR eventually pulled out the tracks in the early 1990s and the members of the Historical Society pursued the idea of purchasing the train station to restore.
It took about 10 years before CPR officials agreed to sell the building, so in about 2000, the restoration work began.
“It was in terrible repair,” adds Donaldson, about the state of the building.
After a lot of hard work, the building is open to interested individuals on an appointment basis who would like to see the improvements.
“We will hopefully formally be opened in 2014, when Empress celebrates its 100th anniversary.”
Most people are familiar with the red colour of these train stations across the prairies, but the Empress station has been painted its original creamy yellow colour.
“It was a big surprise when we scraped the paint down and found this yellow (colour),” says Donaldson. Members of the historical society wrote to CPR headquarters to inquire about the original paint colour of the Empress train station. They learned five stations were painted that creamy yellow colour, including the one in Empress.
This year, the small group of volunteers working on the station have a number of improvements in mind to return the building to its original state. The floors will be refinished and the restored window and door casings added, as well as the kickboards.
It is also hoped a bathroom facility can be added as well as a small kitchenette. While the original station didn’t have kitchen facilities, society members feel its addition would be beneficial if they decide to host events in the building in the future.
“We also hope to put up the station platform this year around the building,” says Donaldson.
The platform will be able to be used as a summer stage area for future events in the community.
The Empress Historical Society is always looking for donations to help with its restoration work. Anyone who is interested in donating money or seeing the train station or the group’s previous project, the restored St. Mary’s Anglican Church, can phone 403-565-0009.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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