By RYAN KING
PORT AUX BASQUES — In an act of utter disrespect, the train that sits outside the Railway Heritage Museum has been broken into and defaced. Sadly, this has been an ongoing problem in our town according to Nadine Osmond, who sits on the Southwest Coast Historical Society.
“Since I have been involved with the Historical Society in 2012, we usually have about one incident a year involving vandalism or break-in on the train cars and they have been mostly related to travellers. However, between the fall of 2020 to present we have had several break-ins with vandalism and graphic graffiti,” said Osmond.
Osmond noted that there have been more kids than usual spending time around the museum. This, she believes, may be due to the pandemic, which has limited the usual after school activities.
“We have seen many kids dropped off at the site by their parents. There is a lot of garbage around the site almost daily and kids have been there during business hours making lots of noise. The Chamber of Commerce rents office space at the Museum and the building is also used by the Historical Society and other groups to have meetings. This is a place of business that is open year-round,” said Osmond.
However, the Historical Society is not taking this sitting down and are planning to increase security measures.
“We are currently looking into installing cameras in a few locations on site. We need to make sure to buy the cameras that will work best for us, which will probably be a camera that we can access through our phones. There is no full-time staff working specifically for the museum. The majority of hours put toward keeping the museum functioning are from the volunteer board of the Southwest Coast Historical Society. The Town owns the building and they take care of issues specifically associated with upkeep of the building and grounds, but the Historical Society manages the artifact collection, hosts events and generally is in the building throughout the year to keep the museum functioning. The Chamber of Commerce, as a yearly tenant, uses the building for meetings, presentations, workshops etc. and informs the Town of any issues on site,” explained Osmond.
The damage itself usually occurs over the weekend or during the evening when the museum is closed, and damage has been extensive.
“All of the locks on the train cars have been taken off by beating the latches of the door frames. This has caused water to get in the entrance areas, since some of the doors have been opened for a weekend, before we saw the damage. There has been some glass broken inside some of the cars as well. The snowplow car has had a wooden door facing the water ripped off to get access inside, which is not an easy feat. I doubt these damages are being done by young kids as there has been a lot of effort to these break-ins. I suspect it is older teenagers,” said Osmond.
In light of these damages, the Historical Society has had to buy several new locks and latches, including two locks on some of the doors.
“Over the winter some doors were covered over completely in plywood, so the doors with the locks were behind the plywood. But even some of the plywood covers were partially ripped off by Spring. The more recent event with the door being removed from the snowplow was fixed by the Town workers. The cost of installing the cameras throughout the site is going to be the bigger cost,” noted Osmond.
The RCMP have investigated the vandalism at the site, though bringing charges against anyone has been a challenge.
“The RCMP has been informed a few times and they have visited the site. Since most of the damages seem to happen after hours it has been difficult to catch anyone,” said Osmond.
Nevertheless, the RCMP in Port aux Basques are taking the issue seriously and have increased their presence in the area around the museum, especially at night.
“They’ve been having some issues in the past, and some stuff recently again,” said Constable White of the Port aux Basques detachment. “We’ve included it on our nightly patrols, as well as during the day. I don’t think there’s ever been an issue during the day, there’s so much traffic down there, but definitely during the nights we’ve upped our frequency of that area.”
Town Council has taken a strong stance on the damages being done to an important landmark like the Railway Museum, stated Mayor John Spencer.
“I have witnessed firsthand the willful damage and litter that have become all too common around Town’s property at the train site location. On a late Spring evening, three young gentlemen were observed leaping from the western exit of the snowplow that anchors the exhibit. The exterior door had been smashed in.”
Spencer is also frustrated with the litterbugs, locals and tourists alike.
“The garbage that I have personally picked up was a glowing representation of our many fast-food outlets. Walkers using the route to access the T’Railway have spoken about how unsightly this looks and cannot figure for any reason why tossing it out of a car window for others to pick up when garbage containers are close by is acceptable. This area has become an all-too-common gathering place,” said Spencer.
While he fully supports the installation of a camera system to combat the issue, Spencer believes that this just represents another expense on Town residents regarding an issue that can be easily taken care of if people would just show some respect for public property.
“These matters are serious and the Town will look to the RCMP for support. However, given the loss of another police position in our Town, it has become increasingly more difficult to have a greater police presence on our streets conducting regular proactive patrols,” Spencer pointed out.
While solutions are being offered to alleviate the issue, the damage has already been done.
“It is very frustrating as a volunteer, especially since the vandalism has been pretty steady these past several months. I don’t think many people are aware of the damages that have been done. The train site, which is what most people call it, is a tourist attraction and a place of business. We are trying to keep it as an attractive area for tourist and locals to visit,” said Osmond.