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Impatient with the City of Red Deer’s timelines to redevelop its Riverlands District, the Forth Junction Heritage Society is now targeting up to nine sites in Red Deer County for the main location of its ambitious dream to transfor the region into a worldclass heritage tourism destination point.

The plan now is to secure a site of at least 40 acres within 20 kilometres of the City of Red Deer and the CPR main line, the latter being essential to the railway and ground transportation themes of its proposed tourism park.

The park concept includes two components – the first being a Western Canada Transpo Centre with a “grand” central gathering place, a multi-level retail centre, a tower and restaurant up to 10 storeys high, amusement park, heritage plaza and a historical model rail museum.

The second part of the concept is a Railway Station and Transit Heritage Resort, which could include a Railway Station Village, a replica of the Jubilee 3001 “Chinook” steam locomotive, Retro Bus Depot, nature park and observation tower. The goal behind the Railway Station Village is to have full-scale replicas of pioneer stations representing 25 Central Alberta communities.

The initial plan was for the Transpo Centre to be located in Red Deer’s downtown area Riverlands District while the resort would be in the county.

“Now that the Riverlands is not available we’re thinking of combining the two,” said society founder Paul Pettypiece. “We have semiabandoned the (Riverlands) idea,” added Pettypiece, noting the city’s immediate priorities with the Riverlands District are infrastructure redevelopment and planning. “The city was not willing to commit themselves to anything for seven years.”

Having the entire project close to the railway in the county would enable the society and its project to establish marketing links with rural communities along Central Alberta’s railway corridor, especially those with ongoing railway heritage tourism amenities, including Innisfail with its historical village and Didsbury with its preserved pioneer train station and model railway club.

“We haven’t contacted all the people (landowners) yet,” said Pettypiece of the new nine proposed sites in the county. He said the preferred sites are near Penhold and Springbrook.“None are specific. We are still in the preliminary stages. I don’t want to get specific until I get more of a relationship with the county.”

Pettypiece admits his group’s dream of seeing the project at full build-out is at least 20 to 25 years away. However, he said it is possible that within three years a site can finally be secured featuring at least a few attractions.

But first the society, now composed of about 30 members, is focusing on getting letters of support from both the city and the county to secure a $40,000 provincial grant to conduct a feasibility study. The society has already received a letter of support from Tourism Red Deer.

Pettypiece said he has talked to some county officials but they were waiting for a letter, which was delivered Dec. 19.

“Everybody I talk to really likes the idea and concept and hope we proceed, but nobody is willing to commit funds,” said Pettypiece, adding his group has had preliminary discussions with some corporations and Canadian Pacific. “They liked the idea but they are not committing until it is certain it is going ahead.”

Meanwhile, Tyler Harke, the county’s economicdevelopment coordinator, said he has had preliminary discussions with Pettypiece but it would be premature to comment on the project without having received something in writing from the society.

“It is nice to see some people come forward with new ideas,” said Harke. “The process would be for the group to come up with something in writing and it would be presented to council.”

In the meantime, the society has been granted charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency. This permits the society to issue tax-deductible receipts. However, the society is limited to activities that educate and preserve the evolution of trails, trains and transit in Central Alberta. As well, Forth Junction has plans to establish itself as a not-forprofit corporation.

For more information on Forth Junction visit its website at www.forthjunction.com.

—Johnnie Bachusky is an Alberta journalist and ghoster
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