Presentation to Council (April 27, 2015)

The Future of the Stratford Railway Shops    

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. 

I hope all of you had the opportunity to read the email I sent to the mayor over the weekend. Before I sent it I  took a close look at Dean Robinson’s book Railway Stratford.    

After I sent the email I found and read Chris Borgal’s report on this structure. I do not know how many of you  have read it, but it is definitely worth reading again before any decision to demolish all or part of this building is  made.    

The point I want to make is any decision made about this building should not consider what it is, but what it  could be.    

This building as it stands is the story of Stratford as told by Dean Robinson in his book, Railway Stratford, from  which the images behind me are taken from.      

Let’s look back to when the Shops were closed. Locomotives that were not scraped were given to various  communities to commemorate the railway activities that took place in those cities, Guelph, London,  Palmerston, Fort Erie and many others but not . . . Stratford.    

Now, let’s look into the future, after this Council has voted to demolish the building in its entirety. A blue  heritage plaque will be erected with the following inscription, “On this site once stood what was considered  the most important factor in the early development of Stratford, the railways not only fostered growth of key  industries, such as agriculture, farm implements, furniture manufacturing and iron works, but also, with much  of the local population being employed by the railways, they were instrumental in the economic and cultural  maturity of this southwestern Ontario town.”    

Is that how we remember and reflect on the lives of the people shown on the slides?  The people that shaped  this City into what it is today, the City with people who believe they can do anything they imagine, if they are  given the challenge and set their minds to it. The challenge to repair these great machines called locomotives;  we were at the leading edge of transportation technology in the day. If it broke, we could fix it, whatever it  was. They had ingenuity. Where do you think we get our ingenuity? It comes from the Shops, it’s in Stratford’s  DNA.    

Is the best way to commemorate the significance of this building, the lives of the citizens and the development  and economy of Stratford in the past with a plaque and a book? We can do more . . . we’re Stratford!    

We don’t have a locomotive but we have something better, the building where those locomotives were  repaired and refurbished, The Stratford Railway Shops.      

Tonight Council could vote on a future that respects and commemorates the past and the people of Stratford.    

Should Council choose to demolish, leaving the concrete floor and the intact portions of the concrete walls of  the building in place, can save the greatest cost of the demolition. With the all the walls in place along with a  few sections of roof framing, the massive three dimensional scale of the structure is retained. Cutting out the  spandrel panel below the lower window sills to the floor would create a colonnade effect, our Parthenon, with  the columns illuminated in the evening.  In addition to increasing the property value of the neighbourhood  south of St. David Street, the openings through the walls would allow people from this area to see and walk  through the site to downtown. With the reduced cost of demolition the funds required for restitution of the  site are available so it can be used as an urban park until the day when one or more entity develops all or parts  of the site over time.    

What do we do with it in the mean time? We could follow the lead of visionary R. Thomas Orr in the  development of Shakespeare gardens. There, after he acquired species of plants that were in the  Shakespearean plays, developed a garden on the ruins of a woolen mill site with a chimney that was easier and  less costly to keep up than to tear down. A site that is now a tourist attraction with the bird house chimney  now part of the City’s corporate logo.    

On this site, maybe the plants are us, the people of Stratford both past and present in picture form. Maybe, the  walls become the display panels for the pictures that remind us and tell our visitors of what we were and what  we are all about?  Maybe it becomes an outdoor gallery of photographs displayed on the walls from Dean’s  book as well as the great library of photos taken by the newspaper photographers such as Lloyd Dark and Scott  Wishhart over the years. This is just an idea. But who knows, maybe it or another idea for this site may also be  a tourist attraction.    

Tearing the building down in its entirety would be like burning the family photo album, because all that would  be left are just the memories.    

I suggest that Council consider appointing a commission of both Councillors and citizens at large to manage the  commemoration and use of this building as part of a master plan for the development of the entire site.    

So let’s at least keep the walls up, because if the walls could talk, and these walls still can, you have the  opportunity to tell the great story of Stratford for generations to come.  

Thank you.