Mark your calendar — you don’t want to miss this train.
On Sept. 9, BCER 1304, known affectionately by the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society as the Connaught Car, will be available for the public to ride for the first time since its refurbishment began in 2009.
The official unveiling begins at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9 at the FVHRS car barn on 176 Street (located at 5554 176 St). The event will open with a speech by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, and is expected to go until 2 p.m.
A royal history
The ‘Connaught Car’ started its life as BCER 1304, built in New Westminster in June 1911 alongside two identical cars.
But unlike its twins, BCER 1304 had a special fate. In 1912, it was chosen by B.C. Electric Railway as part of a welcome celebration for the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughter Princess Patricia.
B.C. Electric sent BCER 1304 back to the car shops to be transformed. It returned with a fresh coat of paint, bearing the royal coat of arms and the name “Connaught.”
The Duke visited for only one day, but the name stuck. Although the car returned to its everyday working life soon after — it was built to transport cargo, such as milk, to the Lower Mainland — it would continue to carry its royal name.
In 1945, the car caught fire near Cloverdale on a return trip from Chilliwack. It was almost completely destroyed; only the flooring and the wheels remained. But since passenger vehicles were in such high demand, it was soon rebuilt to carry a new cargo, people, up and down the line from Vancouver to Chilliwack.
Less than a decade later, passenger service would end and the Connaught Car would be retired. The car moved to Glenwood, Oregon in 1955 in the care of the Oregon Railway Historical Society.
In 2009, the car returned to Canada, and to the FVHRS, and they began the process of rehabilitation.
In August of this year, the Connaught Car was reunited with its wheels after more than 20,000 hours of restoration work.
Following the opening ceremony on Sept. 9, the car will be made available to the public for passenger rides once more, and community members will be welcome to take a turn about the track on the newly refurbished car.
But first, the inaugural ride will have a very special set of passengers.
Before it was taken out of service, the car’s last official passengers were a group of Grade 3 students who took the train from Chilliwack to Yarrow in 1955.
On Sept. 9, those students will reunite to be the first group to ride the car.
The community is welcome to attend the official unveiling of the Connaught Car on Sept. 9, from 10:45 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the car barn at 5554 176 Street.
-with files from Grace Kennedy