Museum celebrates century of memories
In its early days, it was the place holidaymakers arrived on the ‘Campers’ Special,’ the place children waited to meet fathers commuting from their daily jobs in Vancouver on the ‘Daddy Train.’
In the 1930s, merrymakers would alight from the train and head across the street to the Blue Moon dance hall and, by the end of the decade, the platform became the scene of impassioned farewells as soldiers headed off to war.
The former Great Northern station on Marine Drive, White Rock’s most prominent historic landmark – outside of the pier and the bleached boulder itself – turns 100 this year.
To celebrate the centenary of their historic venue, White Rock Museum and Archives staff are busy preparing a special exhibit which will open to the public May 4, and is scheduled to run through the summer.
The museum’s new Collections and Exhibits co-ordinator, Amanda Sittrop, said she’s been happy with response to requests for photos, artifacts and memories relating to the multiple roles the station has played in the community.
The Burnaby-raised Sittrop said she’s been enjoying putting together her first major show since coming to the museum late last year from the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre in Alberta, where she was collections and digitization manager.
Like Canmore, White Rock’s museum is strongly rooted in its community, Sittrop said.
“I’ve always loved history,” she added, noting she was a frequent volunteer at the equally community and pioneer-oriented Burnaby Village Museum while she was growing up, before taking her bachelors degree in the history of art and religious studies at the University of Victoria, and her masters in museum management and curatorship at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Ontario.
As the exhibition will illustrate, White Rock’s station has been a consistent hub of local life, both in its days as the GN depot, and in its post-railway life as the ‘Station Arts Centre’ headquarters for the Community Arts Council in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the home of the museum since the early 1990s.
Continuing showpiece for the museum is the permanent exhibit recreating the station office in its prime – which will be joined by the station’s original platform cart, piled high with authentic luggage.
“We have 3D cut-outs and text panels including many stories from the community – and photos and artifacts to enliven the stories,” she said.
“We’re celebrating 100 years of a building that helped build the community of White Rock,” she added, noting she is interested in the different ways people experienced the city through the station.
It’s famously recalled that Elvis Presley sat on the train in White Rock Station in 1957 en route to a performance in Vancouver, without venturing onto the platform to meet enthusiastic fans.
But for local residents in the station’s heyday, even ordinary arrivals and departures had become almost the equivalent of theatre, Sittrop said.
“One lady who lives on Victoria Avenue remembers her mother building their cottage in 1926. She would hear the train whistle all the way up at her home.”
Another resident, Sittrop said, remembers that as a child, the curfew was the departure of the last train of the day from the depot.
Even with the growth of opposition to the railway in recent years, there’s still a palpable sense of excitement around the arrival of trains, Sittrop noted.
“There are still people today who go down to Marine Drive to watch the trains go by.”
There’s no doubt the arrival of the railway in 1909 had a huge impact on the growth of the community, which was formalized with the construction of the station building in 1913, Sittrop said.
Even though land was offered very cheaply, real-estate fortunes were made virtually overnight.
“The population jumped from seven permanent residents to 400,” she said. “A lot of the people living here worked on the railway, but once people started settling, they needed stores and restaurants.”
Memories gathered for the upcoming show are not simply railway-oriented, Sittrop said.
“I had one woman who told me she came up here from Idaho during the Second World War – her father had served in the war, and was being treated for injuries at the Shaughnessy Hospital and she was on her way to visit him,” she said.
“She distinctly remembers waves from the bay crashing up onto the tracks. A six- to seven year-old girl being terrified of a big body of water – stories like that, of being a child and being scared of things, help make a connection.”