A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has given a boost to a local group’s dream of a building a Central Alberta transportation park.
Forth Junction Heritage Society has been working behind the scenes since 2009 to get a project rolling to build an interpretive heritage, facility activity and nature park built around a rail, trail and transit theme.
Then they got word that Saskatchewan railway collector Gary Southgate was looking for a centrally located showcase and restoration area for his nearly three dozen pieces of railway heritage including steam and diesel engines, passenger and baggage cars and a caboose. He even has a station sitting on blocks waiting for the right home.
“For any kind of railway museum starting off with that kind of collection is very, very unusual,” says Forth Junction president Paul Pettypiece.
Southgate has not committed his collection yet, but he is interested in the local society’s plans and is coming to Central Alberta early next year to check out proposed sites.
Pettypiece said the society has been working with the City of Red Deer to nail down a 40-acre site close to the CP and CN rail lines. A location at the north edge of Red Deer is being seriously considered for what is being called a Transpo Park.
For the city, the attraction represents a significant economic development opportunity. The same pitch is being made to the province, which would hopefully provide some financial support.
To get the project really rolling, a feasibility study is needed. The province has been approached to provide funding help for the study, likely to cost around $80,000.
Project supporters believe the timing is right despite the province’s economic struggles. Premier Rachel Notley wants to improve the province’s economic diversity, and new tourism attractions fit that bill.
Pettypiece said the idea is to create a unique attraction.
“For us, we don’t want to be just a railway museum. There’s plenty of those around.
“We want to be something that’s much, much bigger and would draw people from across Canada. So we’re thinking fairly big.
“We might have to start off somewhat small, but ultimately were looking at a world-class destination.”
It is meant to be a year-round, family-oriented facility with a variety of outdoor and indoor displays, children’s theme park, natural and picnic areas, , restaurant, shops, railway station, space for conferences and events, and a railway heritage centre and model railway museum.
A large site is needed to build a railway loop to offer rides.
The goal is to create an iconic structure to draw attention. A railway roundhouse and grain elevator mashup of sorts is one idea.