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Freeman Station, closed during the pandemic has re-opened - lots of painting and upgrading done to the station

By DENIS GIBBONS

May 2nd, 2022

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Freeman Station, Burlington’s historical gem, was celebrated Saturday at a Grand Reopening following a lengthy restoration by volunteers with the help of an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, resulting in a sparkling new edifice.

New panels were installed, as well as new flooring, painting was done, the ceiling restored and the original windows, including the distinctive Jane Irwin oval window at the end of the room, reconstructed.

Ed Keenleyside, president of the Friends of Freeman Station,

Ed Keenleyside, president of the Friends of Freeman Station, said the Grand Trunk Railway Station is 100 per cent operated by volunteers. He outlined a three-way, five-year legal agreement which has made the project possible.

“Solenis Chemicals (an adjacent plant) has been very good to allow us to use this land,” he said. “The building is owned by the City and all artifacts by the Friends of Freeman Station.”

The wooden station, named after Freeman village founder Joshua Freeman, was originally located on the CN rail line near the corner of Brant Street and Plains Road. In 2005, it was moved, in order to save it from demolition, when a third track was installed.

Lifted off the blocks it had perched on for a couple of years the station got hoisted by a crane and lowered into it new home that had a full basement.

It’s the only building in the city whose historical and architectural significance has been recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Culture and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

This station was built in 1906 to replace a previous one destroyed by fire.

While it looked like a taxi – it was a full time inspection vehicle that could use railway tracks to inspect the condition of the rail bed,

Motorists driving by might have noticed a bright yellow old-time car in the front of the station. It’s a Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo rail inspection car. Currently, it’s in a shed but will be brought out again as soon as necessary adjustments are made.

Roger Ryan, whose wife is the niece of Stan Roskovich, the last person to work as station agent before it closed in 1988, showed up with a bag of memorabilia.

VIA Rail and GO Transit trains still were using the station up until then.

R. Paul Johnson, 88, plays the role of station agent. Photo by DENIS GIBBONS

Eighty-eight-year-old R. Paul Johnson, whose grandfather Alfred Johnson once operated the swing bridge for the railway over the Burlington Canal, posed as station agent for the day.

There are 12 tour stops at the Freeman Station. Among them are the station master’s office, baggage room, waiting room, a giant caboose and boxcar and a memorial to Burlington’s fallen military heroes who left from the station to defend their country in war. Some never returned and are buried in European cemeteries.

The waiting room will be available as meeting space for use by small groups.

Sitting on some “cribbing” with a sign badly in need of several coats of paint, the Freeman Station gets ready for its big move.

Before the location beside Burlington Fire Department headquarters on Fairview Street, between Brant and Maple Avenue, was settled on, Burlingtonians listed Beachway Park directly across from the Joseph Brant Museum as their first choice.

It has a significant historical context because the Hamilton Radial Railway and Hamilton & Northern Railway used to run right past it parallel to Burlington Beach.

Passengers from Toronto used to disembark at a nearby station for dinner and dancing at the old Brant Inn.

The Freeman station got moved around a number of times while the city figured out what it wanted to do with the thing. When city council failed to come up with a solution citizens did.

Central Park and Maple Park also were considered and Aldershot resident Bill Fasullo recommended Hidden Valley Park where it could be rented by the local model railroad club and second to move it close to the Aldershot GO train station, which is on the same rail line it used to service.

The Burlington Sports Hall of Fame had earlier indicated an interest in using the building. The City of Toronto also had asked about using the old station as a gift shop at its Toronto Rail Heritage Centre.

Future open house dates include May 21, June 11, July 1 (Canada Day), August 8, September 10 and October 1 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

 

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