There were a few people who knew the province was presenting the West Coast Railway Association with a cash gift last Friday. But after executive director Don Evans received the $2 million cheque from MLA Ted Nebbeling he announced that the funds had been matched by a WCRA member.
The funds will go toward the construction of a new roundhouse and conference centre. It will become the home of the 2860 Royal Hudson steam locomotive at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish.
It will also be home to the most precious pieces of rolling stock in the WCRAs collection: its passenger diesels and the wooden passenger cars. These important heritage items will then be protected in a climate controlled building for the best preservation conditions possible.
Evans stated that construction on the project would begin this September and be completed by December 2006. In the words of their joint WCRA and District of Squamish grant proposal, the 20,000 square feet "building design is intended to emulate railway heritage, but with a modern and bright appearance, and is to be equipped with current technology construction features. A key part of the design is the glass wall facing the waterway and road access, making the facility naturally bright and open as well as a visual eye catcher as you arrive at the Heritage Park."
Of the conference centre Evans said: "It should be able to take between 250 to 300 people in a round table dinner setting at its largest size. Theatre settings, of course, would be larger than that. The concept is that it's expandable space. We'll have the heritage artifacts inside we can pull out one, we can pull out two, we can pull out three and the space develops. Just imagine having a conference with the Royal Hudson as your backdrop beside you it's really a unique venue."
The roundhouse complex has been planned for the park since it opened in 1991. With the pending 2010 Winter Games, the WCRA board formed a project team to establish a plan to make the roundhouse a reality.
"It sort of came into its own here about two years ago as we started to look for opportunities to work with the Olympics and the kind of venues that we might have the idea of doubling it up to make it a conference centre as well as a heritage round house emerged," Evans explains.
The provincial grant, through John Les, Minister of Small Business, is the result of the co-operative application between the WCRHP and the District of Squamish. As Nebbeling observed, "This museum has always, in my opinion, been a catalyst for a lot of people to actually stop in Squamish, instead of just going on to Whistler-Pemberton. They stop here and look around The highway is very busy. The more we can take advantage of that traffic to stop here and to look around, enjoy themselves and spend some money, the better the town will fare.
"As important, it develops economic opportunities, it develops some jobs and that is the strategy that we are looking to so this donation of $2 million fits totally in making this park even more of an attraction. There's a return for the provincial government in having a tourist attraction, there's a return to the community."
In 2004 the park hosted 45,503 visitors generating $1.2 million for the local economy. The roundhouse and conference proposal projects an annual increase of 25,000 visitors per year, generating $1.08 million additional per year. It also estimates that $10.5 million will be generated for the local economy during the 2005-06 construction phase.