Chugging along with money in the bank. The Freeman station is just not going to go away.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON October 18, 2011   This should have been written  on Thanksgiving Day – for the citizens of Burlington indeed should be thankful for that band of hardy people who are fighting the good fight to keep the dream of restoring the Freeman Railway Station alive.  It has not been an easy task.

The organization has new leadership, James Smith is the chair and there is something in the order of $20,000. in the bank, perhaps more.  Les Armstrong was the chair previously.  Les is a member of the Waterfront Advisory Committee where he did better than yeoman`s work on the gathering of data on waterfront locations where public access to the lake is blocked by private citizens who sort of assumed they could get away with letting people believe that access to the lake that was close to their property could be treated as if it was their property.  Les hasn’t finished with that battle but he has stepped away from leadership at the Freeman Station.  He served very well and very faithfully while he was there.

The Freeman Station could - and should be placed on a site just beyond the trees in this picture - in Spencer Smith Park where it would be yards from where the railway line used to come into the city. It would have public washrooms that are badly needed in the Park.

The Station has a colourful history.  Council, both the current and the one prior to that, were completely irresponsible to the community when they let federal Stimulus funding get away because they seemed unable to find a place to put the station.

No need to go through all that dirty laundry now – there is only one place for the structure and that is right alongside where the railway line into Burlington used to run.   Kind of across Lakeshore Road from the Joseph Brant Museum.  With the Burlington Arts Centre across the street the city would have a small cluster of cultural, historical structures and it is that kind of clustering that draws traffic – which the Joseph Brant Museum could clearly use.

Once the station is in place – what are we going to do with it?  Have the city move the Tourism office into the building – yes, there will be concerns over plumbing and electricity – just find a way to do it and get on with it.  No more excuses please.

The structure sits beside the Fire Hall on Plains Road where rot has begun to take hold.  Something is going to have to be done to wrap the structure and make some basic fixes so it doesn’t  fall apart and have to be sold for poor quality fire wood.

There are two locations that top the list; one in Spencer Smith Park, the only really logical one, and another in Central Park tucked away in the back where it can`t be seen and sitting beside the planned location for the public market gardens that we will see in place early in 2012.  If it goes to Central Park it could end up being a tool shed for the gardeners.  Shudder

During the period of time when the city was trying – haphazardly it must be said, to find a home for the structure, there was talk of putting it in the parking lot behind the Arts Centre – but they didn’t  want anything to do with the structure.

The Freeman Station currently sits in the parking lot of the Fire Station on Plains Road where the weather isn't doing any good to the structure - which is still basically sound..

The city ran advertisements looking for expressions of interest – no takers there either.  There were all kinds of rumours but no takers.   It was when Councillors Marianne Meed Ward and Blair Lancaster asked council for some time to create a committee that would find a way to raise the money needed and to restore the building and find a permanent place for it.  It is that hardy band of people who toil away with fund raising events that got us to where we are today.  Time now to take the next brave step and get council back into the game.

There should be enough support on Council to make this happen.  Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison is a right off; he’d float the Joseph Brant Museum out into the lake and let it sink.  There might be a small chance of getting Dennison support if you put ina bicycle rack or better still set up a bicycle rental service – that would keep Dennison happy.

Councillor Paul Sharman was sympathetic to what the community wanted to do but his perspective at the time was that the community should be given a chance to see what they could do – and if they weren’t able to raise the funds needed – then they should just let it go.  Sharman has enough pluckiness in his character to see what the citizens have done and while he is not part of the Meed Ward fan club he and councillor Lancaster have a good working relationship – there’s your four votes.  And, the Mayor – he should be with them.

The station is on the border of Wards 1 and 2 – but even though Meed Ward and Craven sit beside each other – they don’t exactly hold hands.  Craven could see the larger picture and perhaps be brought on side.  That leaves good old John Taylor of Ward 3 who cares passionately about the rural part of the city and could be brought to appreciate that during the days when the railway ran through part of town it was those box cars that carried all the produce into the city.

Councillor Craven could make amends and spearhead a drive to get the Freeman Station located in Spencer Smith Park where it belongs. That would mean getting along with Councillor Meed Ward. Can Craven get beyond his problems with Meed Ward and see the greater good for the city?

During the phase of this structure`s history mention of Spencer Smith park came up as a location for the train station and at the time Councillors Peter Thoem and Rick Craven voted against the building being located in the park.  There were apparently some people with more money than they know how to count and more influence than most people on the voters list – who convinced – bullied would be a better word – the two Councillors to back off the Spencer Park site.  Something about it creating traffic that would not be welcome and noise – can you imagine – the Sound of Music Festival has a band stage less than 25 feet from the proposed site.

It is going to take a significant chunk of money to get the station out of “storage” and into a public place but with some effort and focus – this city could have the thing opened at about the same time the Pier gets opened.  There will have to be a lot of creative thinking and the city is going to have to loosen up the purse strings quite a bit – but given that they failed to use the money the city actually had in hand – they should come up with much of the cash.

One obvious source for perhaps as much as $100,000. is the Mayor’s planned Cabarets that are going to be held at the Performing Arts Centre.  The proceeds from the first event are already committed to the Centre – the Freeman Station people should begin cozying up to the Mayor and lobbying him for whatever can be generated in 2013.  Don’t be shy people.

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