Beaver Creek work crew helps complete early work on Huntsville’s CN Rail station

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Huntsville’s train station is almost open for business thanks in part to a volunteer work crew from the Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst.

The men were at the historic building for the day on Monday, July 30 to help clear out garbage, paint the interior with heritage colours, and clean up the exterior. (Pictures of the work in progress weren’t permitted by the institution.)

Partners Adam Caswell, John Pantaleo and Scott Richardson purchased the heritage building from the Town of Huntsville via an RFP process last year and created a not-for-profit entity to manage its use. It had been closed in 2016 due to air quality concerns; the Town was responsible for dealing with drainage issues related to the storm sewer system, while the new owners repaired the HVAC system. “The air quality is good now,” said Richardson.

That work was done earlier in the year, with inmates from Beaver Creek’s volunteer program finishing up the process of making it presentable for the time being. As a not-for-profit and with the heritage status of the building, the new Huntsville Community Initiative Centre qualified to receive help from the volunteers. “It’s a good fit,” said Richardson. “I’m really happy. They just rolled in here and got to work.” Little Caesars owner Chris Hays donated a pizza lunch for the men.

The new owners have assumed the remainder of the lease between the Town and the Huntsville Suzuki School of Music, which has moved back into part of the building. And they’ve had several inquiries about weddings and wedding photos, as well as interest in longer term rentals. If those fall through, they’ll rent the space for small functions like meetings, birthday parties, and reunions for now, although they would have to be catered as there are no kitchen facilities in the building yet.

“If you need some space it’s available,” said Richardson. “The lights are on. It’s climate controlled. There’s lots of parking.” He added that they will eventually have someone available in the building for questions and bookings, but in the meantime people can reach out to any of the partners.

Eventually, the group will start the project that they bought the property for: a community hub with commercial kitchen space that can be used for larger events and business incubator activities. They’ll open up the interior wall, said Pantaleo, where there is purportedly an archway though historical photos of the original interior of the station are hard to come by. “It will be one big open space for whatever people want to do,” he said, adding that they’d welcome a decision by the Ontario government to return passenger train service to Huntsville as Premier Doug Ford said he would during the election campaign.

Huntsville's CNR station ca. 1930. It was built in 1924. (Image: Muskoka Digital Archives)

Huntsville’s CNR station ca. 1930. It was built in 1924. (Image: Muskoka Digital Archives)

Renovations to the building are bound by its heritage designation.

“We are confident in the expertise, competence and resources of the Ontario Heritage Trust and the new owners to work together under the terms of the Heritage Conservation Easement to repair, maintain and protect the heritage attributes and cultural value of the Huntsville Train Station far into the future,” said Teri Souter, the Town’s Manager of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

The Huntsville Community Initiative Centre will hold an open house in September during Culture Days festivities, where people can tour the space, meet the new owners, and learn more about their plans for the future.

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6 Comments

  1. A number of years ago, we were given free tickets to a “fall colours train ride” and (boxed) fried chicken lunch, aboard a tourism train that left from Orangeville, in S. Ontario. We stopped along the way at a few train stations which had been converted to stores of one sort or another. A favorite was one which made one feel as though one had returned to a decades-earlier (and much simpler) time. We did the whole circuit which took about six hours, if I remember correctly. We ended up at the point where we had left our cars. What a fun and leisurely day it was. Something like that should be done with the Northlander train when it starts running again.

    • Erin, I’m sorry to say that it is “verboten” to call any future train the Northlander. It is important to keep the past where it belongs: any new rolling stock would have vastly different schedules and a more passenger-friendly appearance.
      .
      I’m so happy to see inmates from Beaver Creek being eager to help with this community project. It’s definitely win-win for their self-esteem; and the non-profit’s renovation.

  2. Karen Wehrstein on

    Shout-out to Little Caesar’s. They also donated a meal to the Muskoka Novel Marathon back in July. A generous business (and great pizza!). THANKS!!

  3. Roger Poirier on

    It’s good to see your interest in revitalizing this beautiful historic train station as we are currently doing with the Buffalo Central Terminal. I was disappointed to see the station fall into disrepair recently and wish municipalities would take a great interest in their heritage properties and pleased to see your group taking on this project. There are many stories from people who have used the train to get to Huntsville in the past and it would make a wonderful collection.
    As cottagers, hopefully we’ll be able to ride the train up from Niagara again one of these days. Keep up the good work.

    • Roger Poirier, how did you handle the logistics of transportation from the train station to the cottage? How did you (would you) get around once you rode the train up here? Did you use local rent-a-car services? Or do you leave a car up here with your cottage for the summer?

  4. Great news that the Train Station is getting the promised repairs. It’s a great old building, I have many memories of my Dad, Uncle and others, working in the station. You could still see the marks in the floor where the secure office was when the rail carried all your valuables, mail and parcels. Here’s hoping Politicians keep their word and deliver us good efficient passenger rail transportation; and correct, not the old Northlander, but a new service for Northern Ontario.

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