CN retirees attend railroader reunion

One of the massive bays of the Hanna Roundhouse was used to serve dinner and for an evening of reminiscing and story telling at the CN Retiree Railroader Reunion on Aug. 8.
ECA Review/Beth Causley

 

Cutline: Hanna’s town councillor Gerald (Brass) Campion speaks to the crowd at the Hanna CN Retiree Railroader Reunion held at the Hanna Roundhouse on Aug 8. Campion was the last engineer to be hired in Hanna.
ECA Review/Beth Causley

 

From the outside the roundhouse in Hanna looks derelict and forgotten and there were many people who thought the building was an eyesore to the town and should be knocked down. Sandra Beaudoin felt differently.

To her the old building, built in 1913 was a piece of history that shouldn’t be forgotten so she decided to do something about it.  Along with many volunteers, they formed the non-profit, Hanna Roadhouse Society and decided to rescue the building.

Due to their efforts, the Roadhouse was named a Provincial Historic Resource in June 2015, giving the group access to matching funds from the Alberta Historic Resource Fund and access to the technical expertise of Heritage Conservation Advisors, amongst other benefits.

The semicircular building was used by railroads to service locomotives. In the back of the building still lies the old turntable that the engine would pull into which would be turned to allow the trains to go into different bays.

While the building was used by the railroad until 1961 and then from 1974 to around 1992 used as a cattle auction market, it has sat unused since then. A group of windows along one side of the building lay open to the elements and birds.

With massive amounts of help from volunteers, the Roundhouse was cleaned up and on Aug. 7 – 9 held the CNR Retiree Reunion.

On Aug. 8 one of the huge bays was strung with small lights and two of the massive doors at one end were left open, flooding the room with light. Tables were laid out  and a dinner was served for the people who used to work on the railroad, their families and the volunteers who made it all happen.

The night was filled with memories from people who had worked on the railroad and in the very building they were in.

Martha Robinson stood on the stage, which was surrounded with signs from the old Hanna line and railroad crossing flashing lights. Robinson spoke of what it was like to be an engineers wife and what the railroad meant to her family.

With her father and brothers working on the railroad she said she never thought she’d marry a railroader but she did.

“It’s been a wonderful life,” she concluded.

While some of the building was torn down, the rest of the building needs work done on it and Beaudoin said that the cost was estimated at $810,000.

There are many different sections to the massive building that Beaudoin says could be used for a variety of different functions.  The room where the dinner was held could be used for weddings and various functions. The doors open wide enough to allow food trucks to enter for an event. A casino could be held.

“Bring in portable seating and you could have any event,” said Beaudoin.

The area where the cattle auctions used to be held has had some interest from a theatre group and Beaudoin says that development potential for the spaces are endless. She hopes that various organizations and businesses get involved to help make the Roundhouse active again.

The society would like to see historical information throughout the building with an interpretive centre showing a video of people sharing their stories of the railroad, the Roundhouse and Hanna.

There are many aspects that the society would like to save in the building, one of them being the scale that was used for the cattle auctions along with the gigantic doors at the back entrance from the turntable, which need to be repaired.

People involved with the restoration of the doors wanted to take them out of province to their shop but Beaudoin will suggest that they bring the equipment they need here and involve local people with the craft. Her thoughts are that the company come here and teach classes on restoring the doors.

It would bring another resource and job potentials to residents of Hanna while doing the job of restoring the doors.

“It’s not just the doors,” Beaudoin says, “there is a lot of work for them to do here.”

All the work will be done in different stages keeping it as original as possible and non of the funds are from tax dollars.

As an avid historian and antique collector, she has, with her own funds, gathered other various pieces of Hanna’s history including church pews from the first church in Hanna and glass bricks and 12 wooden doors from the National Hotel in Hanna which was recently demolished.

“The railroad has gone but those pieces of history that were so vital to building Hanna need to be preserved,” said Beaudoin.

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