People in Biggar have never known the town without its iconic rail station.
The Canadian National Railway station has been a fixture in the central Saskatchewan community since the town was incorporated in 1909. It was designated a national historic site in 1976 and a heritage building in 1995.
A year after that, the station closed and was never used again. Delta Fay Cruickshank, the executive director of the Biggar Museum and Gallery, said efforts to save the building failed and it’s now become an eyesore.
“The railway station at the end of our Main Street has always represented our vibrancy and growth, but unfortunately since ’96, now it just represents neglect and rot,” Cruickshank said.
CN applied in 2014 to have the building torn down after it became structurally unsafe. Recently, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna recommended a federal Order in Council authorizing the dismantling of the building, which Cruikshank described as a pigeon coop.
“It’s a big building — a very big building — full of pigeon poop right now,” she said. “The only thing I wonder is what will happen to the pigeons?”
Despite its appearances, the head of the museum said many in the community are saddened by the station’s end.
“They’re all upset, and think it’s sad to lose a heritage building like that and it is sad — it’s been the anchor of Main Street since 1909,” she said.
“But it is what it is. It’s not going to be a big gaping hole at the end of Main Street, the town is committed to creating a park down there.”
As per the federal order, the Town of Biggar will work with CN to develop a railway-themed commemorative park or monument in the community.
Additionally, CN is ordered to carry out the dismantling in a “manner that will allow it to remove, for preservation and re-use, any character-defining features … that are salvageable.”
Cruickshank said the Biggar Museum and Gallery already has a model of the station on display, and wants to work with the town and CN throughout the process.
“We’re not responsible for what happened in the past that did not get the railway station saved,” she said.
“A lot of the fixing up should have been done a long, long time ago.”
Cruickshank is also a member of a local green space group and would like to see a community garden adjacent to the station site.
“It would be kind of nice to have a whole community thing down there,” she said. “But everything takes time in the way of planning and going through various channels.”
Outside of Biggar, the National Trust for Canada has come out against Ottawa’s approval of the demolition.
National Trust executive director Natalie Bull told The Canadian Press the imminent loss of the nationally significant structure underscores the urgent need for federal leadership and funding for Canada’s historic places.