Sixty-five years ago, the train station in Waldheim was a busy place. Every Tuesday and Friday, passengers, freight, mail, cream cans and assorted livestock all vied for space on the cars that pulled up to the platform behind the hissing steam locomotives.
The echo of those years can still be heard at the Waldheim Museum, housed in the former train station, one of only three in Canada still on its original foundation and in its original location.
“The building is the biggest artifact in our collection,” said Iona Greene, who along with fellow Waldheim resident Anna Penz, volunteer countless hours keeping the community-owned museum running.
“It was largely restored in the 1980s, and it’s in very good shape, considering its age. It’s the perfect place for showcasing our community’s history.”
The station, built in 1912, is actually Waldheim’s second; the first was a two-room shanty built in 1908 alongside the newly-laid racks. The 36-mile spur line that branched north from Dalmeny was actually built a year before the provincial legislation authorizing its construction was passed, according to the Waldheim community history book. The Carlton branch line which served the community for decades, was abandoned in 1976 and the tracks torn up in 1992, but a 50-meter section of the original steel and rail bed by the museum serves as a reminder of those glory days.
Anna recalled riding the train to the end of the line at Carlton when she was 10 years old.
“There wasn’t a lot of entertainment in those days,” said Anna. “We made our own. It was a great thrill for me, my sister and a friend to have a ride on the train, even if it was only to Carlton. We never went all the way to Saskatoon. It was actually a little scary, with all that smoke and noise. It made a big impression on me, anyway.”
While the four elevators that once dominated the town’s skyline are long gone, their place is now taken by Sam Wendland Park, a beautiful community gathering place with trees, benches and walking paths. The museum is nestled beside the park.
But the real attractions are inside. They range from gramophones to paintings by artists who were early residents of Waldheim, a stuffed moosehead and a typewriter with separate keys for both upper and lower case letters that belonged to John Funk, a town and RM councillor in the early 1900s.
Each room in the former train station, which also served as the home of the station agent’s family, features artifacts in common use in the area during the early days of the community. While most of the items were donated by local people, others found their way into the museum in a more roundabout way.
The museum got its start in the 1970s when former Waldheim town administrator Phil Ratzlaff purchased items at auctions on behalf of the town for the museum, which occupied the four bedrooms on the upper floor. The town’s library took up the main floor. When the library relocated to its own building recently, the museum was finally able to display its artifacts in an uncluttered environment.
One of the exhibits chronicles the Waldheim World Series, a massive snowmobile racing event hosted by the community and the Waldheim Snow Jammers club that ran from 1971 to 1983. At its height in 1982, the event attracted thousands of spectators and pulled in hundreds of competitors from as far as away as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ontario and British Columbia. With over $25,000 in prize money, the stakes were high and a local Saskatoon television station broadcast some of the races live.
“It was a big event,” said Anna. “It took every living, breathing soul in the district to make it happen. One local farmer slaughtered a couple hogs and we served sausage on a bun from a truck. It was a good time.”
Liability issues and safety concerns eventually forced the cancellation of the event, but the glory days live on in a display that includes photos, programs, and a video.
For Anna and Iona, the heart of the museum lies not just in the artifacts, but in the stories of the people who donated a piece of their heritage for the benefit of future generations.
“We have a photo on a wall of an old ball team,” said Iona. “One youngster likes to bring his friends in so he can point to the picture and say proudly: ‘that’s my grandpa!’ We enjoy our young visitors, our older visitors and all in between.”