The fight to save Hope’s historic train station

An 'extremely significant, rare, and valuable site' gets a second lease on life thanks to the persistence of community activists.

By Grace Kennedy | June 21, 2021 |11:21 pm

Christian Ward and his wife Erica married one another in a 1,000-year-old church, an experience not uncommon for the UK, where centuries-old brick and stone buildings abound. But moving to Hope in 2016 meant they would experience an entirely different kind of history—one where most historic buildings are just over 100 years old, if they are around at all.

“It takes buildings, really, as the fabric of our environment to actually serve as reminders of [history],” Ward said. In Hope, he said, a lot of that built heritage has already been lost.

So when Ward read in December 2020 that the Hope Station House, currently sitting at the corner of Highways 1 and 3, was set to be demolished, he decided to take action. “We talked to lots of people around Hope who had said, ‘It’s a done deal, it’s happening. There’s nothing that can be done,’” he remembered. “But we thought, ‘Well, we might as well try.’”

Ward and others would spend hundreds of hours advocating for the Station House—creating online petitions, speaking at council meetings, and holding rallies. Nearly 100 people, many bearing hand-lettered signs, attended a rally in March to support the Station House. All came from different backgrounds and experiences of the Station House. All knew the significance of the Hope Station House.

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Now, that significance has been confirmed by unequivocal declarations by the BC Heritage Branch and an independent assessor that the Hope Station House “is an extremely significant, rare, and valuable site” for Hope, the Fraser Valley, and the province.

The release of those documents was a “cathartic experience” for Ward and a turning point for those working to save the Station House. The night those documents were tabled in council, Hope had been set to officially repeal the Hope Station House’s heritage designation. The district had already given 3 readings to the repeal bylaw, and only needed 1 more vote to set it in stone. When the motion came up, the discussion lasted half an hour. Council ultimately voted unanimously to delay the decision until a meeting in August.

The station house, provincial heritage branch director Richard Linzey wrote: “remains an iconic part of Hope’s heritage for Hope and BC citizens; indeed it seems that it has grown in significance in peoples’ minds as representative of the transforming impulses that build Hope and Hope’s linkages to the story of Canada through connections with war, social injustice and industry.

“I don’t envy the work of a municipal council member, and I appreciate… that you are all likely tired of the push and pull over this building,” he continued. “Please know it is very rare for the Heritage Branch to weigh in on a municipal matter but the general public’s voice has certainly been strong enough and cognizant of contemporary heritage policy to warrant such action in this case.”

That action included reminding Hope council about the long and varied history of the Station House, which is now the only remaining Canadian Northern Railway special Second Class station in Canada. The station witnessed BC’s Lower Mainland finally connected to the rest of Canada with a second rail line; it saw teenagers waiting for trains to take them to high school in Chilliwack in the 1920s; in the Great Depression, it saw desperate men hopping off the train to join homeless camps or government relief camps in Hope; in wartime it saw more than 8,000 Japanese-Canadians trucked to internment camps.

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Linzey’s letter also reminded council they were the ones who designated the Hope Station House a significant heritage building 4 decades earlier. “I don’t believe that Hope District council has had an opportunity to meaningfully consider the significance of this municipal heritage site nor how its loss… would erode community memory and Hope’s unique identity,” Linzey wrote. “I do hope that the new information I have provided gives pause for thought.”

It did. Now Ward and other advocates for the Station House will meet with council before the end of July to discuss the Station House’s future. Ward hopes the discussions will help the Station House continue to be part of Hope’s community history. How that will happen is still up in the air. A 2020 agreement between Hope and the Transportation Ministry requires the removal of the station from its current location by November. Mayor Peter Robb noted that there is a third party interested in the Station House, although that option would see the station end up at Othello Road, outside of Hope. For now, though, Ward is just happy to see the Station House still standing.

“It’s good to see all the work of hundreds and hundreds of hours that we’ve put in since December of last year have finally started to come to fruition, and get into the hands of people who can actually help,” he said. “I think we’re going to get there. I’m feeling quite positive.”

Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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