At the edge of downtown Castlegar, nestled among lovely gardens and engaging sculptures, stands the oldest public structure, and perhaps the oldest building, within the city of Castlegar.
The structure that has become known by locals simply as the Station or the Station Museum has been around for about 110 years.
In 1902, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) completed a train bridge spanning the Columbia River at Sproat’s Landing. As soon as the first train rolled across those tracks, CPR made plans to build a train station at Castlegar — the soon-to-become growing town at the end of the bridge. Up to that point, Castlegar existed only on paper and in plans, and a water tank was about all there was on the ground.
The new station and boarding house for crews was built and Castlegar began to become a reality. That first station burned to the ground in 1907 with its residents barely escaping, but a new station was quickly rebuilt — the same building that exists today.
The new station would serve as the town centre for years to come. During its peak, passenger trains passed through the station daily with connections not just to Trail and Nelson, but to the West Coast and the east. Businessmen set off to gain or lose money, families said goodbye and sometimes hello, adventurers looked for new things to conquer, telegraphs were relayed and, during war, servicemen headed off to serve their country. The Castlegar Station even saw royalty pass through its doors when HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, visited Castlegar in 1926.
The last daily passenger train stopped in Castlegar in 1958. Twice a week service would continue for six more years before it too would stop. These days, the only train that comes to a rest at the station is the CPR Holiday Train when Castlegar is one of the lucky cities to be featured as a stop.
The upstairs living quarters also ceased to be used as housing by railroad employees sometime in the 1960s.
In 1980, CPR removed the station agent and telegraph service from the station and for the next seven years the building would be used as a maintenance office. Towards the end of that period, CPR built a new maintenance building, the one that is still used today. This led up to the final closing of the station in 1987.
As the Castlegar Station continued to sit unused year after year, a group of Castlegar citizens had the vision of preserving the station and turning it into a museum. The Castlegar Heritage Society had already taken on the task of preserving Zuckerberg Island, but were not satisfied with leaving off there and watching as a historic building was slated to be torn down.
The group worked tirelessly with CPR and the City of Castlegar until a means of saving the building was reached in 1987. The City of Castlegar would purchase the building for one dollar. The building then had to be moved from its long-time home in the middle of a wye of tracks on CPR property to city property. This would mean lifting the station 40 to 50 feet over the track centre to the present site where it sits today.
The arduous task of renovating and restoring the station to look like it did in the 1930s began. Mayor Audrey Moore and the council of the day were hugely supportive of the efforts and with heritage grants obtained by the society, renovations were completed and the Castlegar Station Museum opened to the public in 1990.The Station Museum is considered one of the best preserved rail stations in the province.
After you walk through the doors of the station you can stroll through the baggage room, ticket room, waiting room and station masters quarters all the while browsing the numerous pieces of history on display in every corner.
Outdoor sits a caboose, a gentle reminder of those bygone days when travel by train was the primary mode of distance travel.
Next to the station is another historic building, the original BC Provincial Police station and jail that was used in Castlegar until the 1950s. This building was also relocated from its original site to the museum grounds. Visitors can walk through the building and have their photos taken behind the bars of the jail.
The museum gift shop features creations made by local artisans, including pottery, paintings and carved wooden spoons and other serving utensils. It is a favourite with locals who want to send something made in Castlegar to loved ones as gifts and with visitors who want to take home a piece of the Kootenays with them.
The Station Museum hosts weekly farmer’s markets in the summer and fall and many community events throughout the year. It is open daily from April through October and by special request during the off-season. More information can be found at stationmuseum.ca.