Choo choo to Chelsea, Quebec

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by Nikki Mantell on December 16, 2009

A train station in New Chelsea, Quebec could be really good for this municipality – if it is done right.

Residents, business owners and council should feel pretty excited about the recent announcement that an extensive study of a third stop along the HCW Steam Train rail line. At $275,000, it shouldn’t be some rinky-dink, pie-in-the sky consultation that serves to stir the pot rather deliver useful information.

It promises to be comprehensive, taking into serious consideration its financial viability, its ability for recreation and tourism spinoffs, as well as impact on the neighbours, on the environment, on the water table, and the community itself. As to why it’s so expensive: “Chelsea”. The backers knew that when trying to bring anything new into this municipality all angles need to be considered, answers to all the tough questions answered – up front.

This could breathe new life into New Chelsea, which is currently an unattractive hodge-podge of mechanic’s garages, mini-malls, run down buildings, lovely heritage homes and a nearby, though unseen, river shoreline.

Imagine, instead, a train stop with an attractive building reminiscent of Chelsea’s original train stations. In it is a train museum to take grandpa and the kids to. Perhaps the area’s miniature train club (it exists and apparently needs a meeting place) gathers there.

Nearby is a brewpub where cyclists who load their bikes on the train grab lunch and a cold one before hitting a trail into Gatineau Park or to the river shore. Or better yet there’s an inn where visitors can actually spend the night in Chelsea and then poke around the shops that inevitably pop up with increased visitor traffic.

Many Chelsea residents have often complained of their tax dollars going towards maintaining the railway while never seeing the benefits of a tourist train (although, there are arguably significant indirect benefits).

A train station, with its associated spinoffs, could change that – if it is done right.

Does that mean more development for Chelsea? Of course it does. While this may send shivers up Chelsea spines following the Chelsea Creek and Meredith debacle, by now many understand that development is coming to their centre village one way or another.

And it’s a good idea to study, and encourage, good development over bad.

Warren Major, the brainchild behind the station stop idea, and a co-owner of Innovation Chelsea and the 52 acres of developable land on and around the proposed site has thought a long time about what could go on his slice of Chelsea’s few and precious undeveloped tracks of land. His Innovation building is an attractive nod to the architecture of the nearby heritage homes that filled the gap to provide space for well-needed professional services. He and his wife Marilyn lobbied hard to get, and keep, the CLSC clinic in their building, and she is working now to bring a community health co-operative to Chelsea. For years Major and partners have been working with Oasis Chelsea to develop affordable seniors housing on their land. He still sees the seniors housing, the clinic and health co-op all functioning side-by-side with the busy train station and tourist destination to mix visitors and locals together the way Wakefield successfully does.

Do Major and partners stand to make a buck if this train station venture works? Sure, and why not?

But at this stage the project is a study only – a study which has not cost a dime of Chelsea taxpayers’ money, whose data and reports will benefit the community either way.

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Choo choo to Chelsea, Quebec | Lowdown Online
12.16.09 at 3:22 pm

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