Renfrew—It may be the end of the line and the train may be off the tracks for the beleaguered yellow CP Caboose in Renfrew as a special Committee of the Whole was held last night (Tuesday) for a third and final review on the future of the tourist attraction located beside the tourist booth on O’Brien Road. The committee will likely decide once and for all whether council will vote to sell the centerpiece of Howard Haramis Park for scrap metal or assist a group of community volunteers restore it so that it can remain in a safe manner.
The decision to hold a special meeting was forwarded by Reeve Peter Emon during council’s June 14th meeting. A resolution was brought forward to sell the town asset following a year-long debate on its future after a group of residents who came forward in May 2021 with an offer to form a committee charged with restoring the faded caboose.
The town’s recreation director presented a report to council in early 2021 outlining all the required restorations with an estimated cost of more than $500,000 for it to meet current environmental and accessibility standards. The report recommended removal of the rail car either by sale as town surplus or be dismantled and sold for scrap metal.
The report noted the major concern in the restoration included the removal of exterior lead paint as it was deemed dangerous for those who come in direct contact with it or the chance of soil contamination.
News of the caboose report quickly spread through the town and caused a grassroots movement to preserve what some residents say is a vital link to the town’s cultural heritage that symbolizes the growth of the early lumber town to a competitive Valley town with its strong ties to the late 1900s railway boom of Canada’s early railway system.
The small adhoc committee was made up of about 10 residents, including former Mayor Sandi Heins (1998-2010) who was elected as a councillor in the 2016 municipal election. As the major spokesperson for the committee, she has twice convinced a majority of her council members to allow the caboose to remain at the park while the committee raised funds and was able to find a qualified company to remove the lead paint and dispose of it in a safe manner.
During last week’s meeting, Coun. Heins explained the reason for the delay was the sudden departure of a qualified individual who agreed to remove the paint.
“As the spokesperson for the committee, I wanted to let council know that the person tasked with removing the paint had to pull back from this project,” she said. “We sent a notice out to tender and we have received four separate quotes, and I believe the lowest bid was around $36,000.”
Although the caboose is a sentimental aspect of the town’s identity, there are also residents who are tired of the ongoing debate and argue the money could be better spent. Councillor Mike Coulas was quite explicit in explaining his frustration with the ongoing debate.
“This has been going on for a year and it really comes down to one simple factor and that is the ability to get some type of insurance to cover environmental concerns,” he said. “We have been hearing now for a year about this environmental liability insurance certificate and it all hinges on that. We do or we don’t have it.”
It was obvious Coun. Coulas was exasperated with the whole issue when he appeared to become incredibly frustrated and let his fellow councillors know his feelings.
“I am sick and tired of being ambushed so many times by people who are angry at me because of this caboose. I am done with taking these accusations and I am tired with being verbally abused by the public. Let’s get on with it. Either it is insured or it isn’t. Either get it done or move it.”
When the vote was taken to hold a special meeting on June 21, Reeve Emon reminded everyone that Coun. Heins would be presenting a 40-page report in support of the railway car remaining and the timeline proposed by the adhoc committee.
Council was also informed a second report would be brought forward with options for the caboose if council voted on its removal from the park where it has sat since former Mayor Howard Haramis swung a deal to have the caboose moved to the park that bears the late mayor’s name.
Bruce McImtyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader