The iconic traditional centre of the community of Benalto is getting a face lift, thanks to the Benalto Booster Club and the efforts of many volunteers. The 1920s rail station is in the process of a thorough renovation – one that will eventually transform it into a modernized community centre with a historical flair.
David More, a member of the Benalto Booster Club who acts as a spokesperson for the Benalto Train Station project, said it is his goal to tell the story of both the community and the railway that shaped it.
“Really, Benalto didn’t exist until the railway,” said More.
The Benalto Booster Club is working to create a gathering place – as the building once was back in the days of the booming Canadian railroad. Red Deer County has contributed to getting the project on rails, having awarded a $75,000 grant for the project.
The Benalto Booster Club is also working on getting a matching grant from the provincial government.
More provided the Eckville Echo a thorough tour of the building and an explanation of the assortment renovations and updates the project entails. Updates include the removal of a number of walls, turning the main floor into gathering place for family or group events, like weddings.
More noted the floors in the building will be redone, and what walls remain in place will be refurbished. Bathrooms will be added to the main floor, and the lower floor of the raised building will serve as a changing room and bathroom for the skating rink. The basement level of the station will serve as a walkout story, “and will be a place for kids to gather to warn up, put on their skates and have some hot chocolate,” said More.
There is a connecting stairway that joins the upper and lower floors, and around that More noted the club will be placing historical panels illustrating and telling the story of Benalto and the surrounding area, entailing all the changes and evolutions that have taken place.
One feature of the building that requires little updating is the wiring, which More said is up to code. This is actually due to the storied history of the train station, which has actually done a little travelling all its own, over the years.
More described the history of the station, saying it was originally built in 1928, along the major conduit of trade, transport and Prairie life in general that was the railroad in the 20s.
“It stayed in the community until 1971, at which time it was sold and moved to Red Deer, where it was turned into a residence,” said More. “It stayed on the river for 10 years, was sold again, and move to the Burns Lake Industrial Park. It remained there as a residence for 30 years.”
More said in 2013, the owners offered it back to the Hamlet of Benalto, adding “You can imagine that scenario – walking into the general store and asking ‘Would you like it?’ The answer would have been ‘Does Saskatchewan have a football team?’”
More said the project is a significant one he is looking forward to completing, because “in the community, life has always revolved around the train. The daily train brought the mail, people, livestock and freight. People would come and go by the train.”
Over time, the train’s significance for communities like Benalto lost a lot of its meaning, “but to have it come back is pretty symbolic – it’s like the heart of the community has returned,” said More.
“It’s quite exciting when the moving day came, and we finally got permission to move the station back to Benalto, in April of 2013,” said More. “There were hundreds of people watching, and the station was being led down that winding road through the trees by six mounted riders and a police escort. There were a lot of tears on people’s faces as it came up the main street.”
As far as a timeline for the project is concerned, More said the ideal time would be by December 2017, but said a more realistic expectation for completion of the project would be spring 2018.
“We have to do it right – you can’t rush this for the sake of expediency. When it comes to grants, you don’t always know when funding is going to come through or not,” said More. “Fundraising is an ongoing process – we’re selling cards, posters, prints and fridge magnets with the station’s image on it.”