By Day Roberts, South Peace Historical Society
The Canadian Heritage Foundation announced on July 31, 1984 that the Northern Alberta Railway Park, train station, and grain elevator had been awarded a National Award of Honor. Dawson Creek Mayor Bob Trail attended the awards banquet in Edmonton October 19, 1984 and accepted the award.
NAR PARK AND STATION MUSEUM OFFICIALLY OPENED
On June 17, 1983 hundreds of area residents attended the official opening of NAR Park and the Dawson Creek Station Museum. Senator Jack Austin, Minister of State for Social Development, represented the Federal Government, and the Honourable Don Phillips, B.C. Minister of Industry and Small Business Development and South Peace MLA shared in unveiling the plaque from TIDSA which is located at the entrance to the Park. Dorthea Calverley, a founding member of the South Peace Historical Society was introduced by society president Day Roberts, and was assisted by Mayor Bob Trail, in unveiling a plaque, to commemorate the official opening of the Dawson Creek Station Museum.
ART GALLERY OPENED IN ELEVATOR ANNEX
Official opening ceremony of the Dawson Creek Art Gallery, operated by the South Peace Arts Society, was held October 21, 1983. Art Society president Edna McPhail welcomed the guests and dignitaries which included two charter members of the South Peace Arts Society, Betty Mundy of Vancouver, and Mary Wanka of Pouce Coupe; and member Ellis Gislason, designer of the world-famous Mile ‘O’ Post, along with Mayor Bob Trail and members of City Council. Mayor Trail gave a special commendation to the construction crew and project supervisor John Marion and praised the work done by Jim Rose, architect with Killick, Metz, Bowen and Rose.
HISTORY OF NAR PARK
In January 1930, the Northern Alberta Railways purchased one-half section of land from Duncan McKellar on which to locate its yards and reservoir. As well, the railway land surveyor Olav Aaberg laid out the first 12 blocks of the village of Dawson Creek and the new town site went on the open market in September of 1930. The old village of Dawson Creek moved, about two miles, to the new town site in the late fall. The final spike was driven on December 29, 1930 and the first passenger trains arrived on January 15, 193 1. A new museum-art gallery building was opened in 1965 at the corner of 13th Street and Alaska Avenue, in the City Hall Complex, which contained the Dawson Creek Museum, Tourist Information and the Art Gallery. The Tourist Information Bureau was operated by the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce, the museum was managed by the South Peace Historical Society, and the art gallery was under the management of the South Peace Arts Society. The Historical Society, led by President Walter Wright, was successful in purchasing the railway station building from the Northern Alberta Railways as of November 30, 1977 for $ 1.00. Through the efforts of Walter Wright and MLA Don Phillips, along with support from Dawson Creek City Council, a B.C. Lottery Fund grant for $250,000 was approved in April 1979.
A plan was formulated to develop a park complex using the railway station, purchase four acres of land from the CNR and to apply for additional funding. All funding for the NAR Park project was channeled through the City of Dawson Creek, with City Administrator Harald Hansen, Parks & Recreation Director Sam Barber and other city officials overseeing the project. The City of Dawson Creek contributed the amount of $200,000 to the NAR Park project from Land Sales revenue that had been set aside for downtown parking. The $250,000 lottery fund grant and City contribution of $200,000, totaling $450,000 was invested in term deposits in the late’70s and carty’80s at rates of up to 18% which earned an additional $188,000 in bank interest. Negotiations were also underway with the NAR to purchase four acres of land, on which the railway station was located. A verbal agreement for sale of the property was obtained by the Historical Society from the NAR. Effective January 1, 1981 the Canadian National Railways, which held joint ownership of the NAR along with Canadian Pacific Railways, purchased sole ownership of the NAR which became known as CN Rail, Peace River Division. City of Dawson Creek officials, Mayors Arnold Dahlen and Sid Cooper, continued to negotiate with the CN, which was reluctant to sell the property, but because of the previous verbal agreement, the CN finally demanded the price of $315,000 for the 4.3 acres. The deed for the property was finally received by the City from the CNR in July 198 1. Following negotiations by Mayor Sid Cooper, the City of Dawson Creek obtained from the CN Railways a coach-caboose rail car also known as a “comboose,” which had been owned by the NAR and was delivered to Dawson Creek on September 12, 198 1. The comboose NAR #305 was built for the Boston & Albany Railroad in 1899. The comboose was later spotted on a portion of the team track. It was almost completely rebuilt, leased by Joe Delawsky and named the “Blue Goose Caboose.” In August of 1982 the South Peace Historical Society received a grant of $50,000 from B.C. Heritage Trust to assist with restoration of the exterior of the station. The grant money was turned over to the City of Dawson Creek and work began in the early fall. Restoration work was already underway to the interior of the station building. A “downtown revitalization project” on 10th Street, funded by the Devonian Foundation, was near completion and the amount of $70,000, left over from the face-lift program, was used for landscaping in front of the station.
GRAIN ELEVATOR SAVED AND MOVED
In September 1982, a group called “Save the Elevator Committee” represented by local artist Edna McPhail and Historical Society vice-president Court Wright, attended a city council meeting to gain support to save and move a 1949 Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator to NAR Park. The city purchased the grain elevator for $1 and then the elevator and annex were moved from 15th Street and Alaska Avenue to NAR Park in November 1982 by Mix Brothers of Edmonton. The grain bins in the annex were removed and a ramp was built, circling the interior of the structure, which resulted in a unique art gallery display area around the interior walls. Because of the excellent location of the NAR Park and the renovated 1931 railway station, the City of Dawson Creek awarded the tourism function to the South Peace Historical Society, effective January 1, 1983. A video was commissioned by the City in 1983 and was produced by Northeast Productions entitled “Century of Grain.” The video gives a brief history of the storing of grain in elevators and the transportation of grain by rail car from Dawson Creek in the 1930s to early 1980s as well as the establishing of NAR Park. Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce President Blaine Nicholson and chamber manager Elaine Wolf, held the ribbon which was cut by Mayor Bob Trail to officially open the chamber business offices in the small elevator building in NAR Park on October 5, 1983. A number of years later the chamber moved out of the park to locate in a building, more suitable to its needs.
TIDSA GRANT OF $250,000 APPROVED
The Travel Industry Development Subsidiary Agreement (TIDSA) was set up in about 1978 between the federal and provincial governments creating a fund of $50 million to be used to develop tourism projects across Canada. Back in 1978 the late Walter Wright submitted an application to obtain a TIDSA grant to construct a building for museum purposes. In December 1982 TIDSA officials contacted the City concerning the previous application for funding, indicating the program would be winding down by the end of March 1983. City officials immediately contacted the South Peace Historical Society and a new application for funding was submitted by Sam Barber of the City Parks and Recreation Department. In late March 1983, MLA Don Phillips announced that a TIDSA grant in the amount of $250,000 was approved as a forgivable loan to the South Peace Historical Society. The funding was to be used to complete renovations to the Dawson Creek Station Museum, to convert the recently moved Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator Annex into an art gallery, and to completely pave the adjoining parking lot. The Historical Society, along with the City of Dawson Creek and the Arts Society, unveiled a special plague on October 11, 1984 at a ceremony in the Station Museum, in appreciation for the restoration work and contributions made by Katimavik during a period of five years. The Katimavik program was created to aid young people in learning life skills, which involved exchanging young people from Eastern Canada, with young people from Western Canada and was funded by the Federal Government. The Roots Group, a genealogy committee of the South Peace Historical Society, officially opened its offices in the west elevator building in NAR Park on October 17, 1999, attended by Mayor Blair Lekstrom.
MANY EVENTS HELD IN PARK
Over the ensuing years, as well as playing host to upwards of 35,000 visitors each year, NAR Park has been the focal point for many, many historic events. For example: flame lighting ceremonies were held in NAR Park for: the 1988 B.C. Winter Games; the 1992 B.C. Senior Summer Games; and the 1998 Northern B.C. Winter Games. The park also played a key role in the Rendezvous’92 Celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway. As part of the celebrations, a vintage Military Vehicle Convoy arrived in the park in June 1992. For a number of years the annual Terry Fox Run originated in the Park. Antique car tours, snowmobile rallies and other events have also used the park. The Farmer’s Market and many art shows are held annually in NAR Park.
Copyright 1999 by Day Roberts