Little Train Station That Could
Old Michigan Central Station, Essex, Ontario, built
1887, partially blown up August 10, 1907, fully restored
and now operated by Essex Heritage, Inc.
the past decade, the Essex Railway Station has the repository
for historical documentation of the area’s heritage,
and is an ideal location for a cultural centre. The station
was built in 1887 by The Michigan Central Railway, although
it nearly didn’t make it past 1907. On Saturday August
10, 1907, the station just missed being levelled by explosives
which were being shipped by train to Amherstburg for dredging
operations on the Detroit River (see The TIMES, Oct. 2003
for the full story).
to Heritage Essex Inc., which operates the Centre on behalf
of the Town, the station will continue to play a very important
role in Essex and area history. Heritage Essex Inc. is a not-for-profit
organization dedicated to the preservation of the history
of Essex and area.
group fundraises 80 percent its budget required to operate
the building and for its activities, while the town funds
the rest. The group’s major fundraiser is the annual
Great Train Lottery, with four vacations valued at $8600 as
prizes. First prize was a Rocky Mountain rail trip. The draw
was held January 31st.
other big event is the “Toy Trains Show” at Essex
District High School, February 28-29. This is one of the most
popular train shows in southwestern Ontario. In past years,
attendance has reached 2,500 over the weekend.
operate on a budget of $80,000 and have to raise $60,000,”
explains Bill Gay, secretary for the group. “It’s
not a problem.” As a result, this not-for-profit organization
has its own building, and a staff, which includes station
co-ordinator Larry Kirk, promotion/events manager Cheryl Skilton,
and site manager John Andary.
summer, the group advances the cause of heritage with audiovisual
interviews with long-time citizens, or anyone who can contribute.
The Centre now has 10 years of interviews feeding a growing
historical archive for the benefit of any researcher. Heritage
Essex has also catalogued the artifact collection from Essex
District High School, the oldest operating secondary school
in Windsor and Essex County. In 1985 part of the school’s
100th anniversary celebrations included gathering a collection
of artifacts.“They collected a lot of things at that
time; at least they know what they’ve got now,”
Essex Inc. is starting its own collection – cabooses.
“We restored the historic Essex Terminal Railway caboose,”
explains Bill, “which we bought from the Town of LaSalle.”
They also have a 1942 CN caboose donated by MacDonald’s
restaurant in Chatham, valued at $50,000.
Heritage Inc. also looks to the future, while preserving the
past, and would like to see that future make good use of train
ripped up 85 miles of railway that could have been used to
alleviate cross-border traffic,” says Bill. He feels
that the line running past the Essex Station – the only
one that connects to the rail tunnel under the Detroit River
– could have been used to alleviate cross-border traffic.
“We went to Essex council and got a resolution in favour
of maintenance of the line, and were supported only by Tecumseh
and St. Thomas,” he adds. “History is showing
us the future, but we refuse to listen.”
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