To this day, it’s still the biggest event in Melville’s proud history.
Seventy-five years ago this spring, 60,000 people crowded into downtown Melville on June 3, 1939 to catch a glimpse of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their month-long cross-Canada tour by train. It was the first visit to Canada by a reigning monarch and the Royal Couple attracted attention wherever they went.
One of the key buildings in the establishment of this prairie town was the train station. Abandoned by CN and now under the ownership of Melville Rail Station Heritage Association (MRSHA), the century-old building is in the midst of a costly restoration that would see it return to its yesteryear glory.
Dine With Their Majesties and relive that exciting period in Canadian history by attending the 75th Anniversary Royal Visit Gala hosted April 12 by the Melville Rail Station Heritage Association.
“The occasion being celebrated is the 75th anniversary of the Royal Visit to Canada and Melville in 1939,” explained association chairman Merv Ozirny. “It was a very salient event for the Melville rail station; it hosted the largest turnout of visitors to see royalty on the train.”
This gala follows two previous fundraising events: in 2012 the gala was held on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the death of Charles Melville Hayes, president of the Grand Trunk Railway and the city’s namesake. In 2013 the evening observed the Roaring Twenties and presented a Speakeasy Ball with patrons dressed up as gangsters and flapper girls
Ozirny assures everyone that the King and Queen will be in attendance at the gala, at which there will be live and silent auctions, and a performance of the Ken Jefferson Trio who will perform songs popular during the Thirties.
Patrons are encouraged to dress in period costume, as they would to meet royalty; ladies in hats and gowns, and gentlemen in suits and ties.
MRSHA members are researching the Royal Visit and will present skits portraying events that occurred before, during and after the visit to Melville.
The gala is a fundraiser for the association’s ongoing restoration work on the historic station. “We’ve done a considerable amount of work,” Ozirny said. “The roof was over 10,000 square feet and cost us just around $100,000 to do.
“Our objective now is to refinish the outside and our intention is to get rid of the stucco to go back to the original shiplap that was on the building originally.”
In the absence of original drawings, society members have relied on old photos to discover architectural details covered by paint, stucco and renovations. Over the years there has been great community support for the restoration project.
“Whenever we have a work bee we always have a good turnout — anywhere from 20 to 50 people,” Ozirny said. Once the gala is held and the receipts totalled, MRSHA will determine what work it can afford to do this summer.
“There should be a noticeable change in the exterior of the building by the end of this coming fall,” Ozirny said.
After the group restores the exterior of the station it will seal up the building from the elements and turn its attention to the interior. “The interior’s going to take a fair amount of time,” Ozirny said.
Once volunteers turn their attention to the inside of the station work could be done year-round, speeding up progress.
A restored, historic train station could feature a restaurant and souvenir sales, giving rail passengers a reason to stop in Melville.
While it takes volunteers to do the work, it takes money to provide the materials. While the City of Melville has supported the group’s efforts, Ozirny said no direct municipal taxation has been levied to fund the restoration.
Tickets for the gala are available from association members and at Pharmasave in Melville.