Historic Elko Station the last of its kind

Repairs and restorations on an East Kootenay jewel moving forward

  • Nov. 5, 2015 3:00 p.m.
many volunteers have been working to repair and restore the historic Elko Station

many volunteers have been working to repair and restore the historic Elko Station

Barry Coulter

An architectural and heritage gem of the East Kootenay has been through some tough times, but is proving to be tough in its own right.

The venerable Elko Station, sitting at the corner of Van Horne Street and King Street in Cranbrook, has a new lease of life and is moving towards rejuvenation, thanks to the efforts of the Cranbrook Archives Museums and Landmarks Foundation (CAMAL).

Mike Balfour, on the board of CAMAL, said the Elko station — a Crowsnest B type — is the only one of its kind left in North America. It was assembled in 1901, from a kit shipped to Elko, and moved to Cranbrook in 1987.

“The CPR surveyed its towns along the way to determine what kind of station was needed,” Balfour said. “They said Elko needed a Class B — each piece was numbered and sent out, and assembled there in 1901.”

The 2,000 square foot building was moved the 54 miles Cranbrook 86 years later, by road, itself quite an operation. Balfour said the highway was closed to traffic at the time, and power lines had to be removed to make room. The station was set on the existing foundation of another ancient building at its current location.

Once in Cranbrook, it served as the first headquarters for the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel (now the Canadian History Centre), and subsequently as office space. It sat empty since 2001.

The low point for the building came in 2012, when it was set on fire. “What saved the building was the insulation,” Balfour said. Still, extensive fire damage occurred to the outdoor siding and windows, and the smoke damage was also quite severe, especially on the second floor. Pigeons were able to occupy the premises after the fire, and the guano was thick.

CAMAL started its extensive repair operation shortly after the fire. The damaged fir siding had to be replaced — a sawmill in Gold Creek made it — and repainted. Sixteen windows were replaced.

“It’s been a challenge, because the infrastructure is very old,” Balfour said.“We’re trying to restore to as close to the original as possible, not just repair.” The hardwood floors and the trim in the original freight room and waiting area must all be matched up when restored — but the wood has changed colour with age, for example. The building has had to be rewired, the fixtures checked and changed.

Upstairs, where the original living quarters and office were, the smoke damaged carpet must be ripped out the walls repaired. New security and telephones systems are due to be installed.

But the restoration and repair of the station is just part of a flourishing of the area around it. A new boardwalk beside the station was installed, with the City of Cranbrook providing landscaping and the Cranbrook Rotary Club providing boards and labour (the Rotary Club as installed the interpretive signage beside the newly repainted vintage locomotive by the station). And the Cranbrook Garden Club recently planted a tulip garden next door.

And the plan is to install 10 floodlights around the outside of the station, for security purposes, to help prevent incidents like the 2012 fire.

“Some of the work has been done by local contractors, who gave us a good deal,” Balfour said. But most of the work has been done by volunteers and museum staff.”

Private donations to help with the work have also come in from all over the region.

Balfour said the longterm goal is to finish the work — April is the target date — and lease the space out to a client who will use the building and respect its important heritage status.

Charlotte Murray, Executive Director of the Canadian History Centre, said the station is an important aspect of local history — Elko, Cranbrook and the whole region.”We want to find someone who will treat it like the jewel it is,” she added.

“We’d love to see the community continue to be involved, and to come out and volunteer,” Balfour said. “And we’d love to talk about the station to anybody who wants more information.”