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This article first appeared in the April 17, 2019 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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Race on to save historic rail station

By Hunter Cresswell

Sentier Chelsea Trails President Alain Piché wants to kickstart a volunteer community effort to save an historic local rail station from being levelled on a site where plans are underway to build a McDonald's restaurant and Ultramar gas station.

Cascades Railway Station
Sentiers Chelsea Trails' president Alain Piché wants to start a volunteer community fundraising effort to turn the old Cascades Railway Station into a trailhead building. Hunter Cresswell photo.

Tucked between the old barn and a garage at 17 Cross Loop Rd. sits the red, one-storey structure that used to serve as the Cascades railway station. It's visible from the highway and the northbound Cross Loop exit. Piché would like to see the structure moved and used for Chelsea's community trail project.

The property on which the former station sits is in the process of being handed over for a McDonald's and gas station, pending approval from Chelsea municipal council and an agreement with the corporation. Last week, a representative of McDonald's told The Low Down that they couldn't confirm that the restaurant in Farm Point will go ahead because no lease had been signed.

Piché's idea is to use the old station as a trailhead building, possibly in Farm Point, which would fit right in with the rail to trail conversion concept the Chelsea community trail is based on.

"The whole thought with the trail is to do it with railway history," he said, mentioning the interpretive signs placed along the trail that teach trail-goers about local rail history. "It's history standing right there."

In the 1930s, Homer Cross moved the building to where it stands now, Piché said. According to 'A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words' written by Lillian Walton in 'Up the Gatineau', Volume 12, the original station sat near 'Gully Hill' in the Cascades community which is now a part of the Municipality of Chelsea. In 1926, Gatineau Power expropriated the properties near the station and raised the water level. The road and railway, which the station sat along, were rebuilt on higher land.

Cascades Railway Station
The Cascades Railway Station circa 1920. Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

"[Cross] used that [station] to store oats for decades," Piché said, adding that he's discussed his idea with the current owners of the building. "We would be prepared to make him an offer of a tax receipt."

But Sentiers Chelsea Trails is a nonprofit and doesn't have the money to pay for the building to be moved, so Piché is trying to get a community effort started to rally the manpower and equipment needed to relocate it to the trail.

"I think it's a great opportunity for the community," Piché said.

But, if successful, Sentiers Chelsea Trails' new trailhead building wouldn't actually be the original Cascades railway station. According to 'Architecture of the Gatineau Valley Railway Stations' by Bruce Ballantyne in 'Up the Gatineau', Volume 43, the original was lost in a fire in March, 1910. Canadian Pacific Railway, which took over the rail line from Ottawa and Gatineau Valley Railway in 1902, then rebuilt the station using their standard station design.

According to 'Stations of the Gatineau Valley Railway', also by Ballantyne, in 'Up the Gatineau', Volume 24, the Cascades station was smaller than other stations in nearby, larger communities that served as living quarters for station employees.

"The Gatineau railway eased the rigours of travel and also provided the valley with some interesting station designs," Ballantyne wrote. "The method of travel has come full circle, albeit with much greater speed, as roads have replaced the railway. Nonetheless, part of the Gatineau railway survives, giving us a picture of what it was once like to travel up the valley by train. The few remaining stations add to this and provide a hint of how important the railway was to the local economy and the small communities it served."