RIVERS — Just as Manitoba’s lieutenant-governor was about to be ushered into a celebration of 100 years of Rivers’ train station, she heard the unmistakable blare of a train’s horn.
Taken aback, Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon and her husband Gary turned to their east and waved; the train operator, travelling through Rivers, had already chugged past them.
"I’m a great believer that things happen for a reason," Donna Morken, chair of the Rivers Train Station Restoration Committee, shared afterwards.
In honour of 100 years of the train station credited with developing Rivers from the ground up, the community held a celebration at Riverdale Community Centre Friday morning, unveiling a bronze plaque to commemorate the occasion.
On hand for the ceremony were the Filmons and more than 50 community members.
"I’ve looked at it, I want to go inside it," Filmon said of the train station, in describing how the derelict building enticed settlers to come to Rivers decades ago.
To move forward on plans to reopen the station is worthwhile, Filmon believes.
"It’s people like you who are building a country we are so proud to call home."
Pushing west of Winnipeg, Grand Trunk Pacific Railway chose to build a station in Rivers in 1907, replacing one that burned down. It was established as the first repair centre west of Winnipeg because it was deemed crucial to the transcontinental railway system.
The community of Rivers — named after the board chairman of Grand Trunk Pacific Railway — existed because of the railway. Immigrants, especially of Ukrainian descent, moved to the region and started families.
"If only the walls could talk, they would tell of the days when the steam engines stopped here, the roundhouse repaired the engines, the immigrants came west looking for work," Morken told the crowd at the unveiling.
At the station’s height, shops were vibrant and a restaurant inside the station ran 24/7 to feed railway workers, the community at large and those at the British Commonwealth Air Training Base.
The train station closed in the early 1990s due to declining use. The building received heritage status in 1992 because of its significance.
Currently, the rail line through Rivers is the only stop heading west-east from Portage la Prairie to Melville, Sask., as well as the lone point between Dauphin and the U.S. border. Thirty to 35 freight trains pass through the CN mainline route daily.
Morken is behind the volunteer-run campaign to refurbish the train station. Inside, the committee hopes to one day have a tourist information booth, community museum, headquarters for the Rivers and Area Community Foundation and an office for Via Rail.
Efforts are focused on the exterior before interior renovations begin. The process will take a few years, Morken said.
In the meantime, it was necessary to celebrate this, 100 years of the train station on Canada’s 150th birthday.
"The railway united Canada from sea-to-sea, so why wouldn’t we do it? Why wouldn’t we celebrate with Canada?"
The work of the Rivers Train Station Restoration Committee doesn’t end with an historical building.
Plans are in motion to accommodate a circular maze, styled after a steam locomotive, and a RV park, across the street. They hope for a monument acknowledging the contributions of hometown railroaders and washrooms fashioned out of an old shipping container.
Before then, descriptive signs on the importance of the rail line will be placed along the Aspen Walking Trail, and a mural is planned for the station.
The restoration committee isn’t focused solely commemorating the past, but looking to the future, too.
In addition to providing recreational activities, she hopes to install electric charging stations outside the station.
"It was the train station that gave the community electricity the first time around, and now we want to lead it in the second century with an electric vehicle charger."
Later on Friday, a plaque was presented to North American Lumber, in recognition of the company’s origination in Rivers in 1906.
At Rivers Collegiate, Filmon helped officially mark the opening of the Rivers Wetland Centre of Excellence, developed over a couple years on the east end of Rivers. The site was once a gravel pit railroaders used to serve their maintenance needs and has since become a habitat for animals and vegetation.
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