A group of Renfrew residents is hoping to raise money to restore the CP caboose that has been the main attraction in Haramis Park for several years.Eganville Leader, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Winter has given way to spring and in this season of renewal, a group of community volunteers have been meeting behind the scenes to find creative ways to raise about $30,000 to restore the once pristine and attractive Canadian Pacific (CP) Caboose in Haramis Park.

Since the historic rail car first arrived in 1994, it has been a fixture at the park named after the late mayor who was able to wrangle a deal to have the caboose on permanent display at the site. 

He wanted to remind both residents and visitors of the importance of not only the historic CP line, but other railway companies that made their way through Renfrew and other parts of the Ottawa Valley. Mayor Haramis and other train enthusiasts and regular folks felt it was a great way to promote Renfrew as the small town that gained a reputation as one of the leading lumber towns from the mid-1800s until the early 20th century.

However,  as the lumber industry fell on hard times, so too did the caboose. Mr. Haramis passed away in 1998 and his successor, former mayor Sandi Heins (1998-2010) became head of council. Although she and others supported the caboose as a tourist attraction, it never had a dedicated line in any part of the town’s budget for ongoing operational repairs and money dedicated towards necessary upkeep of the artifact.

None of the successive councils-of-the-day realized this oversight until the 2012-2022 council directed former Recreational Director Kevin Hill to conduct an overall assessment of the caboose and detail any outstanding repairs or upkeep needed to repair it. 

The caboose was closed to the public sometime around 2010 as it was deemed a safety hazard. By 2019 its roof had collapsed resulting in extensive interior water damage. Exterior wood sections were falling off; there was the potential of toxic exposure because the original paint was lead based. Built in the early 20th century, it had a total lack of accessibility features and remained ordered closed to the public due to its failure to meet the minimal standards of the province’s Accessibility Act.

When Mr. Hill presented an evaluation of the caboose, estimates ranged to a high of nearly $600,000 and then-council held a public debate on its future. Ideas included renting it out as overnight accommodation and use the profits to help pay for repairs. Some councillors did not want any town money used on what was now considered a wasteful money pit. 

One of the most controversial ideas was to move it off the property, strip it down, sell off any remaining steel and walk away with less than $5,000.

Ms. Heins was returned as a councillor for the 2018-2022 term and successfully lobbied then-Mayor Don Eady and a majority of council to work with a community group dedicated to fundraising in order to strip the paint and restore the caboose as an attractive tourist attraction.

Doug Sidock, who has quietly taken the lead role among the core group of volunteers that make up the Save Our Caboose committee, said this time of year is the traditional spring-cleaning ritual and all volunteers are working in some way to make the project a success.

“We have raised about $8,080 and this amount has been forwarded to the Town of Renfrew as agreed upon in the Memorandum of Understanding that was drafted during the previous term of council,” he said. “We are all working hard and there are other committed dollars to be collected as work begins. Fundraisers are in the planning stage and will be commencing as soon as possible.”

He said the group of nine committed volunteers have stepped up as needed and some members have had significant health challenges, but they are on the mend and anxious to get to work on the project. 

“Weather is improving and we are striving to save a part of our local history,” Mr. Sidock said. “Our caboose has been stripped of all lead and one of our members, Dave Bennett, informed us that his company, Marshalls, has begun sanding the caboose to prepare for priming and painting.”

He said there are no plans to move the caboose out of Haramis Park because the caboose is a big aspect  of the park just as it was in 1994 when it opened for locals and tourists to be welcomed by a part of Renfrew’s history and early development.

By Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 19, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
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