The small Saskatchewan town of Biggar made headlines in 2018 when the federal government approved the demolition of their CN Rail Station, which was designated a national heritage site in 1976.
The town took a blow, said D’Shea Bussiere, community development officer for the Town of Biggar, but now, the mayor and town office is excited for the potential transformation of the space thanks to the Brownlee Family Foundation.
The town, as well as former residents Ina Lou and Wayne Brownlee, have been in discussions since 2019 on how a large charitable donation can “revitalize and energize” the community, said Bussiere in a Jan. 18 press release. Updating the downtown core and the former CN Station site became an important goal for the community.
The Brownlee Family Foundation will match up $2.5 million in fundraiser dollars raised by the town and residents, meaning there is upwards of $5 million going towards the project.
Especially with COVID-19 and vaccines dominating the news, communities need to start looking at how they can revitalize their communities, Bussiere said.
“We have the same struggles as any small town. It’s hard to compete with the cities, so anything to try and encourage a beautiful place for our people and other people to come, hang out, and shop is good development.”
Mayor Jim Rickwood said the town has banded together during COVID-19 and when that is over, that need will still be there.
Developing the CNR Grounds into a welcoming community space will bring tight-knit residents even closer, he said.
“(The new development) is going to bring some opportunities for some gatherings, for some reasons to be downtown, and just to tighten us up a little bit more, and to give us more of a spirit of community. Communities are not just where we live, it's who we live with. (The development) is going to be a good step for that.”
Ina Lou and Wayne Brownlee felt it was important to honour their roots with this donation and leave a last legacy that celebrates their families.
“Town leaders have framed a renewal concept that showcases Biggar’s history and speaks to its bright future. If the town is behind it, so are we,” said Ina Lou in the press release.
A Public Open House on Jan. 22 and 23 and an online open house on Jan. 25 will share a concept plan that will turn the “Canadian National Railway grounds into a multi-use park, tourism hub and interpretive center,” said the release.