Locomotive #17: preserve now or pay later

(Newswatch Group/File)

The following Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 article by Sara Lauzon has been reprinted with permission.

On November 14, 2016, City Council began discussing budgets for 2017. In this discussion, I noticed commentary about Locomotive #17, situated on Brookdale Avenue. (It is located on the South East corner of Brookdale and Ninth Streets.)

Among the discussion was the comment about the Locomotive being an “eyesore.” As much as I admire the person who said this, I did not admire their comment.

Cornwall’s Locomotive #17 was built in August of 1930 by Baldwin-Westinghouse, in Philadelphia. It was purchased by Cornwall’s Street Railway Light and Power Company in 1962. Cornwall used this Electric Motor to move freight cars along the city streets. This Locomotive is one of four to still exist in Canada.

On April 1, 1977, the Canadian National Railway donated Locomotive #17 to the City of Cornwall in memory of Cornwall’s railway operations.

Designated in 2006, Cornwall’s Heritage committee, Heritage Cornwall, believed this Locomotive was important to designate. Designation in the province of Ontario “allows municipalities and the provincial government to designate individual properties and districts in the Province of Ontario, as being of cultural heritage value or interest.” When a property is designated, it means that “the municipal council has the responsibility to protect buildings and properties that are of cultural significance.”

When the Locomotive was designated in 2006 both Cornwall’s Heritage Committee and City Council had to pass the designation. By passing the designation through, both of these committee’s felt the need to protect and continue to express the importance and significance of Cornwall’s Locomotive #17.

When any community decides to designate a property, in my opinion, they are making a vow to protect it. Both Heritage Cornwall and City Council felt the need to protect Locomotive #17 in 2006, and I believe that vow should still be kept today.

When I saw the budget needed in order to repair the Locomotive (estimated around $100,000), I shook my head. Some Councillors were unhappy with the number, but in the moment I read it, I said to myself, “If you don’t want heritage matters to be expensive, fix them as they become an issue, not decades after the fact.”

I believe this situation needs to be viewed as an example. In my eyes, this Locomotive represents the exact issue Cornwall has faced for many years. Cornwall has lost many of it’s heritage properties to fires and other unpredictable tragedies, but it has lost a lot of it’s properties to neglect, lack of care, and lack of vision. I can list countless examples of properties I believe should still be standing in this city, but aren’t: Cornwall’s beautiful Post Office (at Pitt and Second), the Cornwallis Hotel, and many will argue that the Capitol Theatre could be on this list.

When I see a piece of history like Locomotive #17 that has been sitting in the same area of town for the last twenty years, and learn that it may be used as scrap metal, my mind shifts to everything Cornwall has lost. We do not need to lose more historic properties or artifacts. We need to learn how to save them.

Some before and after pictures of the condition of Locomotive #17 here.