As Brockville officially joined the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame Tuesday, locals were looking down the line to a revamped railway tunnel and greater tourism success.
“Let’s get on board,” Brian Porter, a local historian and member of the railway tunnel advisory committee said in front of the historic railway tunnel’s south end.
Porter joined other rail tunnel enthusiasts and politicians at a ceremony Tuesday marking Brockville’s induction into the hall of fame, which honours Canadian achievement in the railway industry.
They used the event to boost the railway tunnel advisory committee’s efforts to see the tunnel refurbished and made a tourism attraction.
“We soon hope to see people walking, cycling and riding a train through the tunnel,” said city councillor and committee chairman David LeSueur.
He was referring to the small, rubber-wheeled train the committee would like to see taking tourists through the tunnel and to other downtown attractions.
Brockville has long proclaimed itself home of Canada’s oldest railway tunnel, an underground stretch that runs under city hall from a point three blocks north of the building to Armagh S. Price Park south of it.
Council this year committed $300,000 toward the railway tunnel project, over four years starting in 2014, and to include it on its list of capital priorities. That will go toward an estimated $1.5 million required to get the tunnel fixed, illuminated and ready for tours. The city is expected to have a feasibility study done this year.
The railway tunnel opened in 1860 and the first train passed through on December 31 that year, said Porter, who gave the crowd a history lesson about the tunnel and Brockville’s railway past.
Mayor David Henderson commended previous councils for committing funds to keep the tunnel from collapsing.
“We’re going to be all long gone in dust, but it’s going to be here,” said the mayor.
Henderson read a letter from Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark, who was unable to attend. It was Clark who, as mayor of Brockville, presided over the public opening of the southern portion of the tunnel.
Perhaps cementing the decision, last year, to induct Brockville into the hall of fame was Doug Smith, who is a member of the tunnel committee and the national hall of fame selection committee.
“I think it was time that the tunnel was officially recognized in the highest way possible,” Smith said. Smith also commended councillors willing to commit money to the project. “History certainly comes at a cost,” said Smith.
So did the railway tunnel itself. When first conceived in 1853, the tunnel cost a projected 900,000 British pounds, a whopping sum at the time, said Porter.
“Heated debates were held within town council about the costs,” he said.
“Some things don’t change.”
FACT BOX: IN GOOD COMPANY
Brockville joins such communities as Craigellachie, B.C., where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven, and larger cities that played a historic role in Canada’s rail industry, such as Montreal and Winnipeg, in the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. The hall of fame committee notes: “Few Canadian communities have a richer rail history than … one of the country’s oldest railway centres: Brockville.”
Republisehd from the Recorder and Times
By Ronald Zajac, Tuesday, May 14, 2013