The Brockville Railway Tunnel.
16 March 2011
Railway Tunnel Committee Regains Steam
Brockville Ontario - Efforts to turn Brockville's historic railway tunnel into a tourist
attraction have never left the station and it's time to look at them again, city council's finance committee believes.
Members of the finance, administration, and operations committee on Tuesday recommended the full council back a motion to reinstate the Brockville railway
"Right now, it's a matter of getting it started and seeing how we're going to move forward," said rookie Councillor David LeSueur, who introduced the
motion to revive the committee.
"I think the first thing is just finding out if the tunnel is safe and can be opened."
Reports on the feasibility of making the tunnel a tourist attraction go back all the way to 1974, said LeSueur.
"We have a stack of ideas and a box full of reports," he added.
Brockville has long boasted of having Canada's oldest railway tunnel, a fact that is even the subject of a Wikipedia stub.
In 2009, workers restored the north end of the tunnel, with unexpected snags inflating the price of that work to nearly $400,000.
But efforts to turn the south end of the tunnel, directly behind and under city hall, into a tourist attraction have been stalled for years.
In March 2006, city councillors backed an "anchor attraction report" that called for a focus on the railway tunnel.
Then-councillor Tony Barnes, who sat on the anchor attraction committee, championed what he imagined as "Tunnel Square," a tourist attraction that
would include a state-of-the-art interpretive centre run by Sudbury's Science North, a hotel, conference centre, and new downtown housing units.
It's a vision that was shunted aside when a still more ambitious project rolled into town: the Tall Ships Landing condominium tower, which is now under
construction, and the related Maritime Discovery Centre (MDC) tourist attraction, now in the planning stages.
Councillor Larry Journal, a member of the MDC steering committee, said Tuesday the railway project could be part of a "campus approach" to tourism
attraction that includes the MDC.
Members of the steering committee have speculated, informally, on the desirability of having more MDC parking on the north side of the railway tunnel and an
old-fashioned steam engine to ferry visitors to Blockhouse Island, added Journal.
LeSueur, noting he made the railway project a part of his election campaign last fall, is proposing the railway tunnel committee be reinstated with seven to
nine members, who would be appointed by council after an advertising process and would serve two-year terms.
There would be one council appointee and the mayor would be an ex-officio member.
Its mandate, LeSueur suggested, would include: "To ensure the Brockville Railway Tunnel remains a part of our history and culture."
The committee's mandate would also be to include the tunnel as a tourist destination and attraction and to get estimates of the costs of making the tunnel safe
for the public, lighting the tunnel, and installing a walkway through it.
The committee would also provide "further directives and recommendations" to council about the use and maintenance of the tunnel.
At Tuesday's committee meeting, the questions were mostly administrative, with chairman Councillor Jane Fullarton wondering how much the effort would cost the
city in staff time and other resources.
City manager Bob Casselman noted that, while there is a pile of past research for a railway committee to go through, it would ultimately need a fresh report on
the structural integrity of the tunnel, something that would also cost the city.
Casselman noted the newly formed economic development advisory team includes waterfront development among its own mandates.
"I really see this as intertwined," said Casselman, who stressed the railway committee should not compete with the waterfront development sub-group.
"We're all trying to make things better for the city of Brockville at the end of the day," said Casselman.
City staff noted there is still a reserve tucked away for work on the railway tunnel, set aside years ago in the capital budget. LeSueur believes that reserve
has just under $200,000.
The committee ultimately recommended LeSueur's suggestion unanimously.
Journal and fellow councillor and finance committee member Leigh Bursey both suggested LeSueur be the council representative on the eventual committee.
"You need to have a champion to make these things come together," said Bursey.