August 7, 2017 8:37 pm
Updated: August 7, 2017 8:50 pm

New functioning railway park south of Calgary brings Alberta’s history to life

WATCH: Some people collect model trains and then there are people who love trains so much they collect the real thing. One Calgary man’s passion and generosity has been turned into a fascinating railway museum. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports.

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It’s a collection of engines, rail cars and cabooses that has been growing over the years — now, it’s soon to be drawing a crowd.

The town of Okotoks and the MD of Foothills hosted an open house Saturday at Champion Park, just east of Okotoks near Highway 2.

It’s the first time the railway museum has been open to the public, thanks to the generosity of a Calgary man.

READ MORE: Southern Alberta museum takes visitors on train ride through history


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Gerald Knowlton grew up in Standard, Alta. His father was a station agent at the Standard station, so trains were a big part of Knowlton’s life.

Over the years, he collected many rail cars, tracks and even the old train station from Champion, Alta., which was moved in 1980 to the land now called Champion Park.

Knowlton and his wife have donated the 21 hectares of land, the rail cars and the train station to the Town of Okotoks and the MD of Foothills, which now jointly own the park.

“This is absolutely phenomenal,” Okotoks mayor Bill Robertson said. “Gerald Knowlton and his wife have been so generous, I’ve been blown away.”

On Saturday, volunteers offered tours of the restored train station and the elegant executive car. There’s also a mail car which once functioned as a post office on wheels.

“Trains represented huge adventure,” said Mike Westren, who grew up with a love for trains in the U.K. He now has his dream job volunteering as a tour guide and doing manual labour at Champion Park.

“That’s why this place here, to me, is very important. It’s an emotional attachment,” Western said.

Railway cars that have long been a mystery to those who drive Highway 2 south of Calgary are being transformed into a museum.

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“This is a perfect example of what a rural railway scene would’ve been like in the ’50s [and] ’60s. It’s all perfect for the setting that is here and it’s a wonderful depiction of the business that went on there.

“The collection has been lovingly assembled and all the track was hand laid and we still do the repairs here.”

Families lucky enough to go to the sneak preview were thrilled to see that pieces of Alberta’s history have been saved.

”You look around at all the history. This is the way people used to live,” said Lana Lafoy, who went to see Champion Park with her husband and daughter.

READ MORE: Model train club maintains Summerland’s past

“It’s cool and it’s very fortunate that we have all of this still around.”

The railway cars have long been a mystery to those who drive Highway 2 south of Calgary.

“You always drive by and you wonder what’s in here, so I was really excited to come to something like this,” Adam Robertson said.

“The lake here is stocked with trout. There’s a soccer field over there. The memorial over here to the students who passed away on the skiing accident at Strathcona Tweedsmere a number of years ago. The whole place is a gem.”

The town of Okotoks and the MD of Foothills are still working out details on who will run Champion Park. It’s expected to fully open to the public in the summer of 2018.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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