The train station that almost didn’t come to be isn’t going anywhere.
The E&N railway builder planned to put their station north of Duncan in 1887 but the locals rallied and convinced E&N and Prime Minister John A. MacDonald to build the train station in its current location.
Now, 137 years later, the locals have saved the day once again. And, once again when you put in the work to make your voices loud, sometimes you get exactly what you were asking for.
Staff and volunteers of the Cowichan Valley Museum and the Duncan Historical Society are over the moon upon hearing the news they — and the community that’s been instrumental in supporting them — have won the grand prize of $50,000 in National Trust for Canada’s “Next Great Save” competition sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance.
“It’s pretty exciting,” says Penny Meyer, an educational programmer at the museum. “The support has been amazing.”
The Duncan Train station project team didn’t just win, they beat their competition handily, with 76,526 votes overall, compared to 52,762 votes for the second-place team at La Vieille Masion in Meteghan, N.S.
“The people in this Valley are amazing,” Meyer says. “For all the support, everyone here is so grateful. We’re humbled. We want to send a big thank you to everybody. Just wow.”
The community played a large role in getting the Duncan Train Station project the attention it needed, but so did the Historical Society. They were able to capture the eye of news media of all platforms: television, print, online, and others; they were also able to lean on the region’s business community and non-profit groups and through social media, the word spread far and wide.
With two of the three top winners hailing from B.C. — the third place entry being the historic 1916 CNR Hope Station — and with the winners all selected based on community votes, Meyer agreed that many in the province seem to recognize the value the jewels B.C.’s history provides and the need to preserve what’s left of them.
“Also I think something that’s really good about this whole competition is that it’s really raised the profile at all those heritage sites across Canada,” Meyer says, of the top 10 finalists in the competition. “Every one of them is deserving and every one of them has been working so hard.”
Second prize was $10,000 and the Hope project, in third, will receive $5,000.
The station was built in 1912 and the train was a vital asset in the region, transporting both goods and people to centres in Nanaimo and Victoria. Now, the 3,000-square-foot structure that currently houses the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives needs some preservation work on its exterior, among other deficiencies, according to Sheila Kitson, vice president of the historical society.
The $50,000 will allow staff and volunteers to give the train station the TLC it deserves. Phase 1 projects include: upgrading the building’s old heating and cooling systems with new heat pumps, better insulation and new storm windows which will help save the building, the museum contents, and will reduce electricity use by 73 per cent and cut its carbon footprint by 74 per cent, Kitson says.
“That’s just the start,” Kitson adds. “The second phase of our project will address the deterioration to the exterior of the building. We already have a detailed plan to restore the train station to its former glory. That includes the repair and painting of the original wood siding, rebuilding the brick chimneys, the repair and painting of doors, the repair of gutters and downspouts, and last but not least the roof needs to be replaced.”
To visit the Cowichan Valley Museum:
The museum is currently open Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as of Feb. 2, 2023, but check back at cowichanvalleymuseum.bc.ca or call
Visit the museum at 130 Canada Ave. in Duncan.
Admission to the museum is by cash donation or cheques payable to the Cowichan Historical Society. Charitable tax receipts are issued for amounts over $25.
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