More than 40 years after leaving, the Benalto Train Station finally returned home last Wednesday.
“It’s been a while coming, but now it’s a reality,” said Benalto resident Betty Nielsen, who remembers watching the station leave the hamlet in 1971.
Nielsen was one of dozens of people who lined the streets of Benalto to witness the station’s homecoming, which took place following its slow drive along Hwy. 11 from Red Deer.
A number of setbacks meant the station’s arrival was delayed several times throughout the day, but excited residents and visitors stuck around to experience the momentous occasion.
“It’s a big thing, and it’s very exciting because it’s a positive story,” said Benalto Centennial Committee chair Dave More, adding that the crew transporting the station took no chances when it came to safety.
Power lines needed to be raised each time they were encountered during the station’s trip from just outside of Red Deer.
“It’s a good crew moving it, and every time they come to a line, they have to bring all the traffic to a complete halt,” said More. “If something was wrong with the line, they don’t want to endanger anybody, so they’re being very careful.”
The train station was given a police escort into Benalto, where members of the Shadow Riders 4-H Club on their horses led it the rest of the way to its original home.
The train station was moved by Taber-based Wade’s House Moving and Heavy Hauling.
Food and refreshments were served to those eagerly awaiting the station’s arrival.
“I think it’s amazing, because it’s all about the community,” said Carole Verrault, who, on behalf of ATB Financial in Red Deer, cooked hot dogs.
Benalto resident John Moorhouse felt the station’s return was a fitting way to mark the hamlet’s centennial year in 2014.
“It’s good to see it coming back and it couldn’t happen at a much better time,” he said.
After leaving Benalto, the train station was bought by Jack and Joan Donald of Red Deer. It was then transformed into a house and moved to the east side of Red Deer River near Penhold. It eventually made its way to Red Deer County west of Red Deer, where it was situated until its return to Benalto.
When members of Benalto Centennial Committee heard that its owners, Garett and Brenda Cupples, were willing to donate it back to Benalto, they quickly began raising money to fund its return.
“The fundraising has been absolutely awesome,” said Benalto Centennial Committee’s Karen Turner-Padley. “We’ve heard from people from all over Alberta, and we’ve had lots of companies that have been really behind us.”
Turner-Padley admitted that members of the committee had been “having heart attacks” at the thought of not being able to fund the move.
Generosity from community members and businesses, however, helped the dream of bringing the station home become a reality.
“It’s a lot of money to bring it here,” said Turner-Padley. “Once the word got out, it did come quick. We were basically more than half way there less than a month after starting the fundraising, and it’s been just steadily coming ever since.
“Even kids have been putting their candy money and stuff in the donation box.”
The Cupples, who donated the station, were unable to attend the its homecoming, but were happy to hear that it had arrived safely.
When they made the decision to donate the station, they were unaware that Benalto would be celebrating its centennial next year.
“Everything kind of worked out the way it was supposed to work out,” said Garett Cupples. “It was really neat to see everybody put their heads together and say, ‘let’s make this happen.’”
Fundraising for the train station is ongoing, according to More. Further donations will help in the next phases of development. Donors will be recognized by having their names appear on railway-related fixtures inside, he said.
The train station will act as a community centre, museum and gathering area for Benalto residents and visitors.
“We want to make it an all-year place where people can come and gather and maybe have meetings, small weddings, social gatherings and family gatherings,” said More. “Our next step will be to make it into a place not just for Benalto, but for the whole community.”
Donations may be sent to Benalto Booster Club Centennial Project, Box 135, Benalto, Alberta, T0M 0H0.