Falher council gives final approval for NAR station move

Falher’s historic Northern Alberta Railway (NAR) Station will have a new location to help boost the area’s economy and profile.
Tourisme Smoky River Tourism Association (TSRTA) is celebrating the news that Falher council has officially donated the 72-year-old building and leased property beside the municipal campground.
“This is a big step forward for the development of regional tourism,” said TSRTA President Richard Primeau. “This will become the platform for economic (development) and tourism of the area.”
At its regular meeting Jan. 21, Falher council gave final approval to donate the NAR Station to the association for the purpose of developing a regional interpretive and tourist information centre.
Council also agreed to lease 8.35 acres of property on Highway 49 at the Falher south entrance adjacent to the municipal campground – all for $1 a year.
Under the lifetime lease, the structure and aesthetic integrity of the historic building must be maintained, and should the tourism association dissolve, council has also stipulated that ownership of the building would be reverted to the Town of Falher.
Mayor Margaret Tardif was somewhat reluctant to move the station out of downtown, preferring to keep in within walking distance. However, she is delighted that the building will help promote the area.
“The Town of Falher does need something to attract tourists to the downtown,” Tardif told the Express. “I’m hoping the building will lure people into Falher.”
Currently located near Memorial Arena, the NAR Station will be moved this spring, said Primeau.
“We have a few more steps,” he said. “We’re looking at a lot of participation and more to come.”
Project coordinator Laura Noel echoes Primeau’s excitement.
“I’m very happy that council has donated the building because of its historic value,” said Noel. “It’s one of the best buildings to serve as a tourist information centre.”
Now that the station has been turned over to the tourism association, she expects the project to move forward quickly, projecting to open in time for the start of the summer tourist season on the May long weekend.
She added that this is the key stage to proceed with the project, noting that securing further grants have been pending on the acquisition of the building.
As a result, a $26,000 grant from the provincial Community Facility Enhancement Program for cost of moving the building and some site work can now be finalized, said Dan Dibbelt, Falher and Area Economic Development and Tourism Officer.
Encompassing the costs of the building, land, and work, he estimates the project at about one half million dollars, and he’s calling on for generous community support.
“It should be viewed as a huge community project and we hope to see lots of support,” said Dibbelt. “We’re also asking our contractors to contribute to the project, being we are non-profit and funds are limited.”
Under the plans, the exterior will be totally restored to its original integrity and totally renovated inside.
Although no original blueprint or color photos are available, Dibbelt said local longtime residents and photos would be consulted to help return the NAR Station to as close to its original design and colors.
Meanwhile, a provincial grant of $65,000 for the project must be spent by this March 31, said Noel. She acknowledged that this grant was in large part due to the application made by ACFA, the French-Canadian association for Peace River, in cooperation with TSRTA.
To meet that deadline, she hopes that groundwork and site preparation will start by the end of February.
“That would be the latest we could start,” said Noel.
TSRTA will soon be tendering for contractors and trades for the project. Site work includes infilling the low-lying property, and constructing a foundation and driveway and parking area to accommodate large vehicles.
Relocating the station to a highly-visible location by the highway is vital to the project to help draw tourists to all parts of the region, promoting what is offered in Falher, Donnelly, Girouxville, and McLennan, she explained.
“It’s kind of an appetizer for tourists to see what’s in our area,” said Noel.
Promoting tourism, the centre will also feature information about business, agriculture, forestry, communities, and English and French heritage.
As a second phase, an annex will feature apiculture to feature and explain the importance of the bee and honey industry – promoting Falher as the Honey Capital of Canada and the world’s largest bee statue.
Dibbelt noted that this adding this annex would likely begin by this summer.