Nanaimo train station back on track

From the ashes of disaster rose a key component in the return of passenger rail service on Vancouver Island.

The Nanaimo Train Station on Selby Street was badly damaged by fire in 2007, but a community desire to restore the building put a $2.4-million fundraising campaign in motion.

VIA Rail’s fire insurance kicked in $869,000, the Young Professionals of Nanaimo raised $410,000 through a series of campaigns and the former Downtown Nanaimo Partnership Society contributed $40,000.

On the strength of a lease for Fibber Magee’s Station Irish pub, the Island Corridor Foundation, owners of the railway corridor, were able to secure a $1.1-million commercial mortgage.

The hard work has paid off with the station officially opening July 25.

Graham Bruce, Island Corridor Foundation CEO, had doubts the building could be saved after his first tour of the site.

“It was pretty sad. It was determined there was enough left to save it, but I couldn’t believe the reconstruct that was being suggested,” he said. “The crews have done a remarkable job of restoring the building. I’m really blown away.”

Darren Moss, a director of Tectonica Management and the construction manager, called it a challenging project, but rewarding to work on.

“We ended up lifting the building, blasting underneath, reconstructing a new foundation and then giving it structural upgrades and seismic improvements,” he said. “Then we had to conceal all the modern-day mechanical systems within the fabric of a 100-year-old building.”

Moss said the finished project was exactly as he hoped it would be.

“The outside reflects the original building and certainly respects the heritage conservation techniques that were recommended,” he said. “I’m happy with it. It was really the community response that decided to see the station restored.”

Andre Sullivan was president of the Young Professionals of Nanaimo when the group took up the challenge to raise $400,000 for the project and admits the undertaking was huge.

“We had a lot of energy, not a lot of money, but we knew the community would back the project,” he said. “At the beginning of any campaign the belief may not be there that this is something that could happen, but once momentum started to roll, it definitely got easier.”

Despite making just $300 at its first barbecue, the group raised the $410,000 in six months.

Sullivan said the future of rail on the Island was an important reason for taking on the project, as was the restoration of heritage building to continue the rejuvenation of Nanaimo’s downtown core.

Bruce said the station is not only a tremendous asset for Nanaimo, but for the Island as well.

“The objective of the foundation is to see each station on the Island have a unique quality and characteristic about it. We want them to be alive and open and not just for the moment the train comes in,” he said.

“The Nanaimo station sets the bar high. It is the grand opening of this station, but in a greater sense, it’s the affirmation of rail on Vancouver Island.”

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