It’s bad news and good news wrapped up in what looks like a pretty thick layer of bureaucracy.
The bad news? Amherst’s iconic railway station is still sitting patiently beside the tracks as it has ever since its opening in 1905, but it’s not waiting for the next load of passengers to arrive in Busy Amherst. It’s waiting for Ottawa and the Federal government to put the final touches on an agreement that would see this stately piece of Amherst’s built heritage move into the 21st century, as a renovated, repurposed, and functioning restaurant.
The good news? Jeff Bembridge, a successful entrepreneur, although frustrated by the wait, sounds like he’s still on track for transforming it into the new Bambino’s along with a family restaurant, ….at least for the moment. But for how much longer?
But all this begs the question. Why should we be pushing for renovation and re-use of any building? Is our train station, with its peaks and towers, worth preserving and promoting?
It certainly is, and here are three reasons.
1. The railroad and Amherst are firmly intertwined. Without reliable rail access, Amherst probably would never have grown as it did. Talking and appreciating the uniqueness of Amherst also means talking about the railroad.
Although Amherst existed in the early 1800s, it was located two miles west, near the Industrial Park entrance, on a grid plan laid out by the British. The town didn’t even have passable road to Truro/Halifax until the 1840s when local farmers demanded a better way bring their cattle to market than down to River Hebert to the Boars Back; then to Parrsboro and the ferry; and finally to Halifax from Windsor.
In fact, even when Confederation was underway, the population was quite small and thir “cottage” style houses widely separated.
Not until the Truro-Moncton section of the Intercolonial line opened in 1872, did our commerce really move from an agricultural focus to manufacturing. The arrival of a regular, reliable transportation link made all the difference. People and goods could now move easily and efficiently in and out of Amherst. Entrepreneurs were poised to grow their businesses from local to national.
Think about the land beside the track: Hewson Woolen Mill, Amherst Piano, Christie Trunk and Bag, Rhodes Curry, Robb Engineering, Amherst Boot and Shoe, Tenants Beverages,….and so many more. It was the proprietors of businesses like these who chose large elegant designs for their new homes, designs that reflected their importance and success. Thanks to them, we are the inheritors of an amazing inventory of architectural and construction skills. Lucky us. This is just the sort of thing travellers like to drop in and visit.
2. Railroad aficionados live all over the world and they travel extensively. Imagine if we could offer them a great meal in an old station….topped off with the delight of watching a freight train thundering through or passengers climbing aboard.
3. Our station with its turrets, bays, semi-circular windows and double doors, is great architecture. It looks grand and firmly rooted, just the image Busy Amherst wanted to project to travellers. The station’s design said, then, and it says now, “Bring your business here. Amherst Matters; Important things happen here.
We lost the beautiful Bank of Montreal building through dithering and procrastination. What can you and I do to make sure that this important part of Amherst’s history doesn’t slide into the same landfill?
By The Way: Did you know that our old Bank of Montreal building was designed by J.C. Dumaresq? Dumaresq was also designed a huge mansion on Halifax’s Young Avenue recently featured in a front page article in the New York Times, with an asking price of $2.99 million. Dumaresq also designed buildings at Dalhousie, Mount Alison, Acadia as well as the New Brunswick Legislative Building. His grandson, also an architect, volunteered to help refurbish Amherst’s Bank of Montreal had we chosen that direction.
Leslie Childs is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.