(Photo from Searchmont Historical Society)
This week, I wanted to do something a little different to showcase some of the different ways that the Bear Train could work in conjunction with other organizations to increase tourism and preserve the history in the Algoma region. Below is an interview between myself and Nathan Brown, who is the Lead Director for the Searchmont Historical Society, in efforts to restore and renew the station.
R: Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
N: I am Nathan Brown. Originally born in England, I have always been around trains, from my first layout, and this continued on when I moved to Canada. Trains have always been a fascination, and have always had my interest. Prior to taking on the station project, I had picked up a book, authored by Ron Brown – “The train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” Ron has done various books on ghost stations, railways through ontario, and even backroads of Ontario. After reading that book, it brought me on the path where I am today, working on the Searchmont Station.
R: Tell me about the history of the station.
N: Searchmont Station (named after T.C. Search) was built in 1902, long before most of the other stations on the Algoma Central Railway. This station was to be named Goulais Station, but it was changed to honour T.C. Search, treasurer of the Lake Superior Pulp and Paper Company. The station at the time, boasted a circular waiting room – other wise know then as the ‘smoking room.’ The waiting room was one of a kind, which was later adapted by Canadian Pacific Railway into their stations as the Witches Hat. The station had living quarters for the station master and their family, as well as a freight shed. In 1929, the circular waiting room burned down – leaving only the main portion and freight shed. This would once again change in the late 40’s when a modern (for its time), update was done. This would see the station quarters upgraded, and the freight shed brought down, leaving just the middle portion of the station. Additionally, this would mean that the woman’s waiting room become the freight shed, and a common waiting room was created.
Today, the station is run down, and has been destroyed inside as a result of vandalism in 2008, as well as on going broken windows due to extreme weather conditions.
R: What efforts have been made so far to restore the station?
An effort to secure land for the station was top concern. The Searchmont Historical Society would receive a donation of part of the land from the Algoma Central Corporation, and a deal was struck with the railway to purchase the other property, which would make a complete station property as it was when first built. Some partnerships have been created with Tulloch Engineering, Home Depot, the ACC, and Great Lakes Honda, as well as other groups in the Soo who want to be a part of this initiative to maintain an aspect of Northern Ontario’s history. Drawings have been and are being worked on by David Ellis, and once we in a position with funds, work will begin.
R: In terms of funding and planning, what are the next steps for this initiative?
N: Next, now we have a working date, is to get funding in place, get incorporated, and get our paper work, which will be going in very shortly, to become an official charitable group. Once some technical details are worked out, we can start moving forward with on-site storage, and buildings, so we have a secure location to hold items, and equipment. Land will be cleared likely in early 2018 as we work towards our official start date.
R: What can the public do to help?
N: We really need donations in the form of funds or material items. Either would be greatly appreciated. We will be able to provide gift receipts as well shortly. Funding will come from only a few sources… and the public is half of that. We appeal to anyone, if you can, donate, or buy items in our gift shop, that will hopefully have a store front in 2018. We do have a couple of fundraisers that will be planned for 2018, and we hope these will bring in a lot of revenue. Any support is welcome. We are seeking sponsors, and partners who would like to have the station back up and running, saving part of our railway heritage.
R: How does the Bear Train fit into the picture for this project?
N: Once the Bear Train begins its run, we anticipate people utilizing Searchmont Station to catch the train heading north. The ability of the Bear Train, operated by the Missanabie Cree First Nation, to have special runs of the train, such as the snow train or theatre events, will help bring people to Searchmont, in addition to helping them access their property and land. With renewed train service, it will open up more doors to not only the station, but the town, and the ski hill as well. I really think it will help to boost historical and event tourism in the North and for the Searchmont region as well.
R: What are some of the potential events and fundraising opportunities you have looked into?
N: We hope to have some events in 2018, like a fundraiser dinner, as well as a few other events that are currently in the early planning stages. Once the station is up and running, the station will feature seasonal lodgings, rental of not only the circular waiting room, but the outside for events like picture taking, weddings, etc. There is even the possibility of movie productions. The station will offer a learning centre to house some of the history of the area, as well as its relation to the railway.
R: Anything else you’d like to share?
N: We need everyone’s help. Railways are what opened Canada, to one and all, which is all the more reason to save what we have left and keep it for future generations. Learn about stations, railway history, and how much of an impact railways have always had. The station will be rebuilt, back to how it was in 1902, to preserve that element of our history. Better to save and help now before its gone. Once it is gone, its gone forever.
Financial donations can be done in person at our temporary location, and at our storefront in 2018 – amounts over $25.00 will be provided a receipt for tax purposes.
For material donations, please email us @ [email protected]
You can also check out our Gift Shop.