Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Park & Interpretive Centre

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Facts About The Project:

The following information has been extracted from the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Park & Interpretive Centre Feasibility Study.

1.1 - Introduction

On November 1, 2002, one of Western Canada’s most historic buildings was nearly lost. A fire, started by arsonists, caused considerable damage to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Station in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

What is the significance of Portage la Prairie’s Canadian Pacific Railway Station? It represents a building block of Canada, Western Canada as we know it today; the people of Portage la Prairie, their history; and the women and men and families who built the railway.

It was in the spirit of preserving a visible symbol of history that events unfolded leading to the formation of the Save the CPR Station Committee (Committee) in Portage la Prairie. Immediate concern for the future of the CPR Station was expressed throughout the community. Within days of the November 1st fire, movement was taking shape for a public initiative. On November 23, 2002, a letter to the editor appeared in the Portage la Prairie Daily Graphic titled, “Saving the historic CPR Station” from former museum curator Vic Edwards. In the letter Edwards’ stated the danger of the building’s loss, ideas for what it could represent and issued an invitation to the community to attend a public meeting.

The public meeting was well attended with more than 50 people present to discuss the Station’s future. The wheels were set in motion that night with the formation of the Save the CPR Station Committee co-chaired by Vic Edwards and local historian Les Green. The group’s desire was to preserve and restore the Station by creating a railway historical centre and park.

The Committee’s first act was to contact the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). On December 5, 2002 a letter was sent to the CPR expressing the Committee’s interest in retaining the CPR Station as a heritage site. The CPR responded on January 14th with a willingness to meet with the group and asked the Committee to submit a business plan outlining their intentions.

In the business plan, the Save the CPR Station Committee requested that the CPR transfer ownership of the Station to the Portage la Prairie community and provide financial support for its restoration. The CPR agreed to transfer responsibility to the Committee in a lease/purchase agreement and to provide financial support conditional upon the funding the Committee would receive from governments and the community. The CPR agreement was significant as it brought about the amalgamation of the Save the CPR Station Committee with Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc.

The unification gave the Committee an organizational entity by which to legally own the CPR Station and status as a non-profit organization with authority to collect tax receiptable donations. With the agreement in place with the CPR the Committee proceeded on four different fronts: (i) a public information program on the restoration project; (ii) a fundraising campaign directed at governments, community foundations and the public; (iii) applications to have the CPR Station designated as a historic site; and (iv) repairs to the Station to keep it from deteriorating.

Public Information

The November 1, 2002 fire at the CPR Station and the subsequent formation of the Save the CPR Station Committee attracted considerable public interest. The Committee holds regular public meetings to report on the progress of the effort to restore the Station. The work of the Committee is reported on regularly by the Portage la Prairie media.

One of the Committee’s most valuable public communication tools is the Canadian Pacific Heritage Park Magazine. The first edition “hit the street” in November, 2003. The publication is a mixture of written and visual history, current events, promotion and information on the CPR Station. The magazine is published monthly and is the central information tool for the Save the CPR Station Committee.

A television program, “Railroad Memories”, is produced and aired weekly on cable television. The conversational style format invites individuals interested in sharing their railroad experiences as an employee, passenger or simply from the perspective of what it means to have the railroad in their midst. The guests’ stories demonstrate the importance of the railway to the everyday life of the communities across Canada.

A highly informational website - - was launched in the spring of 2004. The site provides visitors with historical facts, a pictorial review, up-to-date news, and events planned to promote and support the CPR Station’s restoration.


Beginning in early 2003 the Save the CPR Station Committee launched a fundraising plan to raise funds to meet its commitment in the agreement with the CPR and to provide monies for ongoing expenses. The fundraisers have raised $8,500. The Canadian Pacific Heritage Park magazine has generated $3,400 through advertising revenue.

Applications to various governments and community foundations has produced $12,500 in funding. The City of Portage la Prairie has donated $2,500 and the Community Foundation of Portage la Prairie has approved $10,000 conditional upon the CPR Station project being constructed. The Canadian Pacific Railway has committed $75,000 to the project. In addition, a funding submission has been forwarded to the Thomas Sill Foundation of Manitoba.

A donation program has been established through the Canadian Pacific Heritage Park magazine and the CPR Station website.

Historical Designation

At the time of the fire, the CPR Station was designated as a “Canadian historical railway station” under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. It received that status in 1992. In March 2004, the Station was given a “municipal heritage building” designation by the City of Portage la Prairie. An application is being prepared by Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc. requesting Canadian Heritage designate the CPR Station as a “national historic site”.


Work on the CPR Station has included repairs to the exterior, the roof specifically, and the interior area of the building damaged by the fire. The fire took a vertical path from the basement up through the roof about six metres in width in the centre of the building. The east and west sections of the building were relatively unharmed physically, although the effect of smoke from the fire is prevalent. The repairs completed were necessary as a maintenance measure to keep the building from deteriorating while unoccupied. As part of the transfer agreement with the CPR a fence has been erected on the north perimeter of the property to provide a protective barrier between the Station and the CPR main line.


In February 2004, a meeting was convened in Portage la Prairie of current and potential stakeholders in the CPR Station restoration project, the Government of Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage and Tourism Historic Resources Branch; Thomas Sill Foundation; City of Portage la Prairie, Portage la Prairie Heritage Advisory Committee; and Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc., Save the CPR Station Committee. The meeting was held to bring these groups up-to-date on the project’s progress.

The Manitoba Historic Resources Branch provided an overview of their programs and the criteria required to receive financial and advisory assistance from the department. Their presentation emphasized the importance of planning themes, space utilization, artifacts and collectibles, exhibit designs, public programming and budgeting.

The Thomas Sill Foundation, which has been a strong funder of historical projects in Manitoba, provided very valuable insights on the funding of heritage sites. For some time they had been granting funding to support the capital costs for museum construction. What they had found was that many organizations complete their construction objectives but were unable to successfully operate their facilities due to inadequate operating revenues.

Organizations invested considerable time into planning the construction of a facility without spending the equivalent or more time to prepare an operational plan to determine the long-range viability of the project.

As a result, the Thomas Sill Foundation revamped its funding policy. The emphasis on approving future projects would be weighted more on the operational viability of a facility rather than the capital cost requirements. To support and encourage organizations to determine the long-range possibilities the funding program now includes monies for feasibility studies and business plans.

It became evident, from the information and advice provided at the February 2004 meeting, Portage Heritage would need to engage in a comprehensive review of the restoration project. The initial business plan prepared for the Canadian Pacific Railway had only provided a preliminary estimate on upgrades to the building.

The recommendation of the meeting was that a Feasibility Study/Business Plan Report was necessary to determine:

  • A vision/theme for the CPR Station to determine exactly the type of historical centre the Station would become and the cost involved in developing and constructing the exhibit.
  • A complete architectual review of the building to ascertain the overall condition of the building, how it measured up to accepted structural and mechanical standards, building and fire code regulations, and the costs required to meet these regulations.
  • A business plan to assess the operational viability of the CPR Station project.

The Committee researched the cost of a report involving the services of a management company, building and landscape architects, an exhibit consultant, and an accounting firm. In May, 2004 the Portage Heritage Inc. commissioned a Feasibility Study/Business Plan Report be prepared at a cost of $22,600. The Report is to be completed under the management of BPR Communications with professional services provide by exhibit consultant onebadant, Corbett Cibinel Architects, Ken Rech Landscape Architects, and the Meyers Norris Penny accounting firm.

The Feasibility Study/Business Plan Report serves a number of purposes. It provides a vision and plan for the future use of the CPR Station and the costs required to complete the project. As well, the Report is a tool for Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc. to secure capital and operating funding from a variety of public and private sector sources to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Centre and Park.

1.2 Executive Summary

Portage la Prairie’s Historic CPR Station

The present Canadian Pacific Railway Station in Portage la Prairie was constructed in 1893, replacing the area’s first railway station which was built in 1881. The CPR Station was designed by architect Edward Colonna. The building has many distinctive architectual features, and was designated as a “historical railway station” in 1992 under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. Portage la Prairie’s CPR Station was the point of origin of the western section of Canada’s first transcontinental railway system, the “ribbon of steel” which bound the nation together and fulfilled the promise of Confederation.

The Challenge

On November 1, 2002, a fire caused considerable damage to the CPR Station. At the time, the Canadian Pacific Railway was using the building for offices and storage. With the fire, the future of the building was tenuous and demolition a real possibility. The prospect of losing the building forced the community to consider the importance of this landmark in the history and development of Portage la Prairie and District and Western Canada. As a result, interested citizens formed the Save the CPR Station Committee to work for the preservation of this symbol of local and national history. The Save the CPR Station Committee became part of the Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc. (Portage Heritage) organization in 2003.

Actions of the Save the CPR Station Committee

The Committee:

  1. Determined to preserve the Canadian Pacific Railway Station and create the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Centre and Park.
  2. Negotiated for the transfer of ownership of the CPR Station from the Canadian Pacific Railway to Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc. and for funds to make the most urgent repairs.
  3. Developed a vision for the proposed CPR Heritage Centre.
  4. Conducted an information campaign to garner and maintain public support.
  5. Discussed the proposed CPR Heritage Centre with local and provincial heritage agencies and charitable foundations.
  6. Raised funds for the project through community activities and grants.
  7. Secured the building’s designation as a “municipal heritage site”.
  8. Decided to commission a comprehensive feasibility study/business plan report on the project.

Results of the Feasibility Study/Business Plan Report:

  1. The architectual assessment concluded the building is structurally sound but requires stabilization prior to renovation. Replacement of the finishes on the exterior windows and doors, interior finishes and the mechanical and electrical systems are required. The cost estimate to restore and convert the building is $586,150.
  2. The development of exhibits and displays to bring the vision to life would cost $398,000.
  3. Landscape design and work would cost $395,295.
  4. The total estimated cost for the project including GST is $1,476,005.
  5. The proposed operational/business plan for the Heritage Centre based on projected revenues and expenses showed the project to be economically viable and sustainable.


Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc. intends, given a successful fundraising campaign, to proceed with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Centre and Park to operate as a tourist attraction.

Factors Supporting the Conclusion

  1. The vision for the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Centre and Park represents the heart of a CPR Station operation - the people who provided the local community with passenger, freight and mail service and the workers who built and maintained the railway. Their contribution was critical to the cultural and economic growth of Western Canada. Portage Heritage believes the telling of this story will be a powerful historical attraction and educational experience for Canadians and visitors to Canada alike.
  2. The Portage la Prairie CPR Station is a place of national historic significance. It has earned that status as a symbol of a way of life important to the development of Canada, by virtue of its structural design, as a point of passage for queens, kings and prime ministers and by its explicit association to Confederation, an event of national historic importance! Portage Heritage has requested the CPR Station be designated a “national historic site” by the Canadian Department of Heritage.
  3. The Portage Heritage operational plan represents a balanced, realistic and conservative approach to the operation of the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Centre and Park. It is a workable plan prepared with due diligence to ensure the CPR Heritage Centre has short-term stability and reasonable expectations for future growth in the range of three percent to five percent a year.
  4. Since early 2003 a track record in fundraising for the restoration of the CPR Station has been established with contribution commitments of $85,000 and local fundraising projects earning $12,500. The Canadian Pacific Railway has contributed $75,000, and has transferred ownership of the building and leased the land to Portage Heritage. The Community Foundation of Portage la Prairie and District has committed $10,000, and the City of Portage la Prairie included $2,500 in its 2004 budget.
  5. Portage Heritage has, in its membership, a number of individuals with management and volunteer experience in the day-to-day operation of a facility like the CPR Heritage Centre & Park.
  6. The Feasibility Study/Business Plan Report, in addition to answering the many pertinent questions necessary for funding the project, has firmly established that Portage la Prairie Heritage Inc. has developed a business plan that ensures the long-term operation of the facility and has the spirit, dedication and commitment to its mission: to preserve the Canadian Pacific Railway Station in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba and create the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Centre and Park.

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