What the heck is going on at the Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum in Beiseker Alberta? Their website is gone and the grounds appear as though abandoned. The old train station, what was to be the organization’s centrepiece, sits on blocks, as it has for a couple years now. In front is the foundation that it was to be placed upon, but it’s shifting and buckling and is in no shape to be used. The fenced-in compound where the rail cars are stored was open allowing anyone to enter freely. It’s as thought they simply up and walked away.
There are a lot of questions to be asked. Is the museum doomed? Is the dream dead? What will happen to the collection?
Let’s get some backstory…
The Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum Society, the group that managed the museum, was established in the early years of this century. Their goal was simple, collect and preserve railway equipment and put it on display in Beiseker. Things started off well – they had a location and they quickly accumulated a collection of rail cars that they could put on display. The future looked good.
Then, almost as fast as it started, it stalled. Outside of the couple boxcars being repainted little work was done to the collection as the years passed. The cars languished in a compound that was never really open to the public. It was museum, of sorts, I guess. You could view things through the fence, but no one got to go in. And for the next few years, that’s how it remained. Someone mowed the lawns around the site, but no work was done otherwise. Things moved at a snail’s pace – no, that’s wrong and there was no progress at all.
After years of inactivity, the organization surprisingly managed to acquire the old Bassano Station. It was an out of the blue, Hail-Mary move on the organization’s part – things had been deathly quiet for a long time and now this – maybe it would be the catalyst that would get the work happening again. A kick start.
The station was moved to Beiseker in 2012, not an easy task I bet, and a foundation was built, which, as planned, would become its final resting place. That trip was, by the way, was 150km long and took two days. Constructed over a century ago, the station was to become the centrepiece of the museum. It would house offices, a gift shop, exhibits, a library and archives. But nothing happened, and it has not moved since. In front, the foundation that was to support it has buckled and is basically useless (it was also full of water on our visit).
So what’s going on today?
Well, first the organization’s website went down then it vanished completely a few weeks back. I was alerted to this by a reader of this blog. With that we decided that it was a good idea to visit the place to see what’s up. And what do we find? Nothing much really, the station is sitting exactly where it did when we visited it a year ago and the foundation is falling apart much as it was. One thing changed however, and the gate to rail car compound was now minus a lock and was wide open – we walked right in. I’d say it’s been abandoned. Not really all that surprising I guess.
So was it bad management, inexperience, corruption or just bad circumstances that brought it down? Was it ever up? We can only speculate. We do know one thing, the group has been the recipient of grants, so at one time they had money. But clearly it was not enough.
In defence of the museum group, I understand they faced some obstacles. Cancellation of funding, contractor problems being two that come to mind. Maybe they had good hearts but it seems like they were in over their heads and have little to show for their work.
The station right now is locked up fairly tight but a small section of the roof is open to the elements (and the cap sits nearby). Birds are getting inside and that’s bad. The building is already beat up, and this means it will only deteriorate further. If not fixed up soon, will it be too late? I understand some people in Bassano tried to keep the station in its hometown, unsuccessfully of course. They must be fuming now.
I don’t even want to think what could happen if someone gets hurt playing around the station or rail cars. We closed up the compound gate when we left – not much help, but it looks better than if it’s wide open like when we arrived. Interestingly it does not look like many people have entered the site. There was still some snow on the ground and there were no footprints in them. Vandals have yet to make their mark. That’s good. Time is ticking though.
If it has folded, can others railway museums pick up the remains? My understanding, speaking with some in the business, is yes. But it’s not always easy. The person I spoke with in regards to this, had some knowledge of the Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum Society and had few good things to say about them. In fact anyone I have contacted that knows them has been very critical of how things have been handled.
Let’s take a look at the collection…
The CPR Bassano Station dates from 1911 and is a monster, one of the largest of it type still extant. It’s last job prior to being moved here was as a storage shed and a base for maintenance crews – we saw an old sign saying it belonged to the signals and communications department. Looking at the building it’s amazing how many layers of paint are on it.
Outside the fenced-in compound and sitting on a short section of track is an old hopper car converted to ballast service. It was built in 1952 by the Eastern Car Company (aka ECC) of Trenton Nova Scotia. That factory closed down in 2007 and by then was known as TrentonWorks. Sitting nearby are various track components and some signal-light poles.
Inside the enclosure is CPR #51997, a fairly run of he mill 40 foot boxcar (no metric in the old days). It was built by National Steel Car (aka NSC) in Hamilton Ontario in 1956. This company today is the last freight car maker in the country. Beside it is an old railway shed and a second boxcar sans wheels and bogies. For some reason, it did not get photographed, nor was its number taken down.
Next up are two rows of cars. In the first line, we see flat car, another whose number I did not record (admittedly I was a bit distracted this adventure). Beside it is a tank car dating from the early 1920s. It was used to provide potable water to mobile crew camps. Continuing on, we see an ore car, CPR #377208, and a second hopper/ballast car, CPR #420880, built by ECC in 1953 and NSC in 1941, respectively. Adjacent we find an auto box car, CPR #296186, built by NSC in 1953. It would be used to transport, you guessed it, automobiles. Today, they use long bi-level and tril-evel auto racks. Last in that line is an ex-CPR Burro locomotive crane. It’s self propelled and can even pull a few cars. It’s from 1956.
In line two, we see a caboose, CPR #434430, built by in the company shops in the early 1970s. Check out the report (Canadian Pacific Railway Station, Beiseker Alberta) to read about another similar caboose a block or two away, and a second train station used as the town offices.
Up next are two grain box cars, CPR #401222 and #252797, built by ECC in 1956 and Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F) of Montreal PQ in 1947. CC&F back then was one of the “big three” rail car makers in Canada – they closed in the early 1960s. These cars were repainted at some point – the wheat symbol tells us the car was for grain loading only. On the sunny side, the paint has faded badly.
Beside it is an a former CPR baggage car painted up with a number of murals (Artwork by Jan Kruger, Feb 1990) showing various working-on-the-railways scenes. It was last used as a storage and equipment car for maintenance of way crews. Its lineage has not been established by this author (speak up in if you know). Note how faded and peeled the paint is on the sun-facing side. Next is a Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) model S13 switcher, built for the CNR in 1959. Lastly, we see a snow plow. It’s a special one used for double track lines and throws snow only to one side. It was built by the CPR shops in 1930.
In the southwest corner of the fenced enclosure is a collection of speeders and small maintenance cars.
This author believes the collection is a bit disjointed. There is no theme and some of the cars seems out of place. Don’t get me wrong, any vintage rail car saved is a positive, it’s just that certain elements have a dubious value in some respects (IMO). Grain boxes are good but an ore car and an MLW switcher (neither of which would be seen out west), don’t really represent the prairie railway experience. Neither does a double track plow (the first I have seen BTW) – it’s meant for busy double track lines back east and not a sleepy branch. Coal boxes, stock cars, a creaky old combine, a suitably small steamer or early model GM diesel, that’s what they should have searched out. That is prairie railroading.
It looks like they simply picked up what they could, when they could with no set direction. I realize the scarcity of suitable cars and the like makes it hard to be a purist. You sometimes have to settle for what’s out there to a degree. None the less, these guys just seemed rudderless.
Also, I have one complaint, not that it really matters now, but the cars are, side to side, too close together. This make photographing things difficult. I guess since the museum appears disbanded, it’s a moot point anyway.
The location where the museum sits is along the CPR’s former Langdon Subdivision. At one time a grain elevator, served by the railway once sat roughly at this location. This line closed in the 1990s. Interestingly, on the other side of town is a second (active) rail line, the CNR’s secondary mainline from Edmonton to Calgary. The two railways paralleled each other here for a few kilometres, making Beiseker one of a handful of small towns served by two railways.
We visited the museum under gorgeous blue skies. None the less, our mood was a bit somber.
I expect this post will be subject to further updates and I have not doubt many people will chime in on what they think.
Update: May 2014. We’ve heard from a lot of people on this subject and all have voiced their displeasure at what’s happening, or rather what’s not happening, at the museum. We stirred up a hornet’s nest!
One, who’s had some contact with the museum group, and wishes to remain anonymous, had this to say…
“In around late September, early October (of 2013), Mammoet, (the company which performed the move at their own expense) were on site to slide the station onto the foundation. It appeared as though all was a go. They had the steel beams laid out and the machinery in place to move the unit. For some reason, the next day they packed up all their gear and left. The station has now sat another winter with the centre portion open to the sky while Beiseker has experienced record snowfalls. I was inside the station when it arrived in Beiseker and have been inside a couple of times since it arrived here. The damage to the interior, not to mention the amount of pigeon droppings, is very disappointing.”
The Bassano station was recently moved onto its (ahem) foundation…
Bassano Railway Station.
Check out this post…
Genealogists don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2014.
Location: Beiseker, AB.