We’ve visited the former CPR Bassano Alberta Railway Station located in the small town of Beiseker several times before. It’s recently been placed on its foundation after sitting on blocks beside it for some years and we wanted to check this out. We were curious. Why, after a long lull where nothing happened, did it out of the blue, finally get moved? The answer as we’ll find out is not for the reasons one would expect. This is going to be interesting folks.
Before anything else let’s get a little background information on this old building and how it came to call Beiseker home…
The station was constructed just over a century ago along the CPR’s east/west mainline in the community of Bassano, a busy divisional point between Calgary and Medicine Hat. It was built to a fairly standardized design. At some point in the building’s history, the freight section was made longer, which only added to its massive appearance.
After the station closed, it was used by various maintenance-of-way department for offices, lunch rooms and storage.
By the late 2000s the building was in bad repair and not being used. Unwanted by the railway but also historically significance, it was offered it to any group that would be interested in saving it and moving it off railway property. By this time is was one of only a handful of old stations still standing and certainly the largest wooden one extant in the country. I’ve heard that a local Bassano group made an attempt to acquire the building. Instead the Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum in Beiseker got their hands on it, a group with good intentions but no so great management skills (as you’ll soon see).
The move, in 2012, was successful for the most part – a few bumps in getting it done and extra costs incurred, but understand nothing too much. After a couple days in transit and some 150kms of distance, the station was parked next to the foundation that it was to sit atop, which was built in anticipation of its arrival.
Except there was ONE big problem…
The foundation, which had been built and paid for and those who constructed it long gone, was wrong. Horribly wrong. It was too long, too narrow and was so poorly made that it soon after it started buckling. Nothing was right! The Three Stooges concrete company? How did anyone not catch this beforehand? Tape measures and due diligence people!
Now what do you do?
Nothing it seems. The move, even though much of it was provided gratis, and the cost of the foundation sapped much of the group’s money. They could not move. Sure in the meantime a halfhearted attempt was made to fix the buckle, but it was not successful. Outside that it was dead silence.
For the next two years the station sat atop the beams (more on them soon) that had supported it during the move, all boarded up and neglected, while the foundation in front filled with water and bowed more with each passing season. The future looked grim and it appeared as though the station would never move. Later the group’s website went offline which seemed like a death knell. Hopeless comes to mind.
Then recently and with no warning, a building moving company shows up and in no time the job was down. What? Why? They owned the beams and wanted them back! Their valuable beams! They did the work, not to so much to help save the station, but to claim some property, to repatriate it, that had been tied up for the last couple years because of the whole foundation debacle. What a comedy of errors.
But the foundation problems? What about that? You said it was unfit for use?
I would have bet it was a total write-off, but SOMEHOW they hastily modified it to make it work. A thick layer of gravel was placed inside, the weight of which would help stabilize everything. The bowed wall was gently coaxed into alignment, amazingly, without cracking (it’s still less then straight, but workable). A large jury-rigged beam held up by right angle wall extensions was put into place on one side to compensate for the too-narrow foundation. A real Rube Goldberg solution.
A number of ersatz centre supports were put into place underneath the station, placed atop quickly constructed (by how sloppy they are) cement pads. On one end of the building the fountain was built up a bit using nothing but a glob of concrete, to help account for a horizontal-direction bow in either the building or the foundation, or both. The whole job, as can be seen, was quick and dirty. But it worked…I guess.
I understand that some of this work, the graveling and such, was funded by the AB2005 group, or rather what’s left of them using the last of the money they once acquired from various grants and the like.
Now in place, I wonder if the structure will be prone to shifting or sinking? Based on what’s happened so far, I wouldn’t be surprised.
So far I’ve been pretty critical of how the station move was handled. Even in spite of the circumstances that saw the work done for other reasons, it’s now “home” and isn’t that a great? It’s taken time but it’s done! The building is now in place and its future is assured! It’s home and safe? …Right?
I wish I could say yes…
So what’s wrong?
Based on the group’s track record, do you think they can pull it off now? I don’t have the warm and fuzzies. The station is in no better place now, even after being moved, then it was when it sat on blocks. It’s neglected and in need of much work, including the removable what I understand are some hazardous materials, which clearly there are no funds for. The group that owns it are in some sort of strange limbo and are “broken” and unable to function. The building is open to the elements and has been now for two winters – all they’d need to do it put the roof cap on, or at least board up the opening – but even that relatively simple task is not being addressed. Pigeons gave gotten insides via that opening and you know what kind of mess they make.
It can’t go on like this much longer. I don’t think the building can take it. It’ll deteriorate to point, sooner then later I bet, where it’ll simply become to far gone to save.
I’ve spoken with a number of townspeople who are intimate with the whole Bassano Station fiasco. Most, understandably, are critical of the AB2005 group and how they’ve handled things. Dysfunctional is one word that comes up often as does the phrase, an embarrassment to the community. Lots of expletives are heard too. A complaint heard from a town councillor, Warren Wise, who we spoke with on a number occasions the last year on this very subject, is how impossible it is to contact the group to get updates on what’s happening. They’re mysterious, almost like they don’t exist. How frustrating this must be for the town to be kept in the dark.
Myself, I have tried tracking down the AB2005 society many times, but with no luck, at least none of its current members were found. Recently however, and somewhat surprisingly, someone (supposedly) connected with that group called us. He had read an article (link below) we wrote that he took some offence to, and wanted to clarify the group’s position. We spoke for some time, perhaps an hour or more, but he did little to sway my opinion of them. Blame was put on various former members of the group, the town itself, the moving firm, the guys who built the crappy foundation, the website firm they used – anybody and anyone was to blame. Just not the current members. This fellow was nice enough and the sure the society as a whole had good intentions – I get that – but how’s that working? I’ve been pretty vocal in my criticism of the group and this call did little to change how I feel.
Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum – what’s going on?
Upon hearing of the move – too bad I didn’t know beforehand as I’d love to see how it was done – we elected to check out the station with Warren and talk on the subject. Let’s just say he was not happy. He knows, as I had touched on earlier, that the move has done nothing to assure the building’s future.
I took some time to check out how they improvised a solution to the foundation being the wrong size. It’s ugly and it works, for now I guess, but God, what a hack job.
The massive beams that the station sat on were located nearby. Wow, they are huge and no wonder the company wanted them back. Note: as of mid-November, strangely, they have not yet been removed from the property – it’s a bit of a mystery why not, since I understand their motivation was to get them back.
I checkout the museum’s rail car collection. Everything is the same as when we vised last time, save for one important thing. A lock has been placed on the gate. It was wide open before which I’d say was inviting trouble. Nearby I find a section of track I’ve never really noticed before, each tie bearing the name of someone or some group that at one time donated to the cause.
This is a serious subject and I treated is as such. The machinery buff in me however took a bit of time to check out the truck that did the work of moving the station onto the foundation. This beast, if I’ve identified it properly, is a late 1980s era Kenworth C520 6×6 brute of the truck, a machine that’s very up to the task. Now back to business…
The Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Society was founded about a decade ago. Although they amassed a pretty good sized, but rather muddled collection of rail cars, and prepare the grounds to a degree, they never ever opened.
Other railway museums I’ve been in contact with speak of the AB2005 group much as I do, with little positive to say. Something interesting heard in these conversations, many times over in fact and from a couple different sources, is that the museum was a dumping ground for vintage train equipment of dubious value that other museums had otherwise rejected.
“It’s junk…so send it to Beiseker!” (followed by boisterous laughter).
I always thought the collection was poorly thought out and executed and this reflects on their lack of focus.
The land on which the station and “museum” are located is located is a former CPR branchline abandoned in the 1990s. The land is owned by a trail advocacy group, and leased to the AB2005 society and is not managed by the town of Beiseker. Don’t bug them about the train museum. They have zero control over it and know nothing about what’s planned. Sad.
This is one of my longer reports and on wrapping it up, I am left with a hollow feeling. I think of all the people that have passed through the station over the years. I think of the building all fixed up and on display, something I know is doubtful to happen. I worry the station is beyond hope and that it’ll eventually be torn down. A whole mixed bag of emotions cross my mind.
The Bassano Station needs a hero…
Interestingly there is a second train depot in town, a nice one too, and read about it, go here…
Canadian Pacific Railway Station, Beiseker Alberta.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: October, 2014.
Location: Beiseker, AB.