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Saving the Sainte-Agathe Railway Station -- Again

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--September 2, 2009The burned-out station. (Photo - Joseph Graham)On the evening of October 14 2008, the day we were all preoccupied with the federal election, kids playing with matches set fire to the Ste. Agathe railroad station.

In 1995, the federal government recognized two heritage railroad stations in the Laurentians, lending the Ste Agathe and St. Jerome stations a certain level of protection and notoriety. It was during this same period that a volunteer bee of some eighty people in Ste Agathe gave up three successive weekends to redo the roof. Aided by professional contractors, who also gave freely of their time, and the local RONA store, which gave materials at cost, the station was secured from the weather. The town, once saved from disappearing by the arrival of the railroad, had rescued this vital link to its past. Today, we are asked to do it again.

Reaching Ste. Agathe in 1892, the railroad was a lifeline thrown out to a threatened pioneer hamlet. A remote mountain village faced with a rapidly declining population after years of failed harvests, Ste. Agathe suddenly became a destination, a place to visit. Through the following decade, inns were expanded, health centres were developed and Montrealers bought farms, building summer residences on the shorelines of the many surrounding lakes. To complement its newfound importance, Canadian Pacific Railway graced the town with a beautiful new station in 1902. Built originally where Préfontaine and Demontigny Streets meet, it was subsequently moved to its current site. That station, with its rotunda, its simple lines and striking cedar shake roof, was the gateway to Ste. Agathe during its Golden Age, from 1902 to 1913.

The two-storey 1913 extension, stretching the building north, was not a part of the original architect’s conception but was essential to accommodate the enormous number of passengers and goods.

Today, one of the obstacles to salvaging the building that burnt last fall has been dealing with the volume of the building, especially given the much lighter traffic on the linear park compared to the heyday of the train. Architects working for the city have shown that the authentic 1902 building can be more easily restored if the 1913 extension is not included. The Heritage Committee has examined this option and has strongly endorsed it. Not only is it more suited to our needs, but from an aesthetic and historic point of view, it is a more important building, and it exists in the remnants of what we see today. The rotunda and the rectangular structure, on one floor instead of two, was the original architect’s vision.

Even so, this building will not be salvaged without public support. The Heritage Committee, the small group of volunteers that organized the construction bee in the 1990s, has found the municipal council to be a cooperative partner with a real interest in saving this historic building. These volunteers will no doubt be busy going forward, working to see the salvaged building become a genuine historic restoration and have strongly encouraged the Town to restore the 1902 station seen in the picture accompanying this article.