‘We’re thrilled’: Duncan train station rolls into first place as voting winds down for $50K makeover

'We're thrilled': Duncan train station rolls into first place as voting winds down for $50K makeover
The little landmark that could: The Duncan Train Station on Canada Avenue is one of 10 heritage places across the country vying to win cash prizes totalling $65,000.

It’s full steam ahead for a historic train station-turned-museum on Vancouver Island that could get some needed TLC thanks to a Canada-wide contest. 

Less than 24 hours remain to vote for the Duncan Train Station in the “Next Great Save,” an annual competition from the National Trust for Canada (NTC) that sees 10 heritage places across the country vie to win cash prizes totalling $65,000.

First place will walk away $50,000 richer, while second and third place gets $10,000 and $5,000, respectively, in the competition that wraps up Feb. 22 and looks to renew and improve heritage sites, states a post on the NTC website.

The rivalry launched on Jan. 20 and since then, the train station has rolled into the lead with more than 72,000 votes, ahead of its nearest competitor La Vieille Maison in Meteghan, N.S., which has around 51,000 votes, results showed Tuesday.

The station is the only facility on the Island competing, though historical sites in other areas of British Columbia are also in the running, including the Historic 1916 CNR Hope Station in Hope, the Rossland Drill Hall in Rossland, and Turner House in Abbotsford — all of which are trailing in votes by the thousands.

“The competing groups have plans to adapt, retrofit, renew, or improve a heritage place in a way that extends its useful life, and meets community needs,” according to the NTC.

Shelia Kitson, vice president of the Cowichan History Society, which operates the Cowichan Valley Museum inside the station, laughed in an interview with CHEK News when she called it a “nerve-wracking” experience. 

“It’s exciting and we’re thrilled,” said Kitson.

Organizers at the museum, who plan to use the funds to upgrade the deteriorating station with a new heating system, say winning the competition would help get things back on track while reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

“This would be phase one of our business plan,” explained Kitson.

“It will be for the purchase of an HVAC unit to replace existing heating and cooling systems in the museum building. And then, if there’s any money left over, we would be working on windows and insulation.”

The 111-year-old station on Canada Avenue opened in 1912 and has evolved through the years, first serving as a transportation hub before being transitioned in 1989 into the Cowichan Valley Museum, which still operates in the space today.

“It’s served some very useful purposes in its life, and it’s continuing to do so,” said Kitson.

But its century of history is evident, not only by the artifacts on display inside but the weathered exterior. Paint is flaking away, and moisture is seeping through the roof joints, according to the society in its plea for votes.

“We hope with the plan that we have, it’s a lot of work and it probably won’t be finished for five years or more. Now we have to raise the money over and above the $50,000. The $50,000 is seed money, and that will get us started. We’ll consult with our heritage consultant,” explained Kitson. “It’s all good.”

And the likely incoming influx of cash comes as more people visit the museum, like last summer when people flocked from across the globe to learn about Duncan’s history, recalls Kitson.

“Summer 2022 was the first summer we could welcome visitors post-pandemic,” she said. “It was really great to see them from Czechoslovakia to Puru. We missed them. Last year, we had over 8,000 visitors to the museum, mostly in the summertime.”

Penny Meyer does education programming at the museum and, in a previous interview with CHEK News, said the project was tugging at locals’ heartstrings.

“People continue to urge their friends, family, and the larger community to vote for the Duncan Train Station,” said Meyer. 

Kitson says while the station is leading by more than 20,000 votes, she and her colleagues won’t rest until the official results are announced. In the meantime, she’s thanking those who cast a vote, or votes, in their favour. 

“We can’t thank people enough for the support they’ve given us. It’s very humbling, and it’s given a lot of visual to the museum,” she added. “We’re very grateful for that.”

People can still vote here. The deadline to do so is 11 a.m. PST on Feb. 22.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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