The community’s history as a railway centre was celebrated in Palmerston last month. Restored to its former glory for its 100th birthday, Engine 81, received an official heritage designation for the occasion, held in the Palmerston Lions Heritage Park.
The park itself is part of an on-going enhancement project spearheaded by the Palmerston Lions Club, and the designation ceremony was held in conjunction with the third annual “Splash Pad Bash” to recognize the service club’s contribution of a splash pad set-up adjacent to the local swimming pool.
Provincial Revenue Minister and Perth Wellington MPP John Wilkinson said the maintenance and improvement efforts at the park on the former railway yards give Palmerston a distinctive look.
“I go to a lot of places in Ontario where you never know where you are because they’ve torn down their downtown and built a strip mall. But people in our community know how important our heritage is. It’s that vision of preserving our history and then expanding on that that makes the difference,” Wilkinson stated.
Wilkinson also added that the Palmerston Lions Club “makes a difference every day in this community,” and urged local residents to support and get involved with the group.
Minto Deputy Mayor Judy Dirksen said the town is “very proud of all the accomplishments on this property,” and commended the Lions and other volunteers who have worked on the project.
The dedication ceremony included a christening of the restored engine, with Wilkinson smashing a bottle of champagne across the front of the machine.
Lions President Tim Meyers urged everyone to enjoy the day and utilize the park.
“Have fun with your families and use the park. That’s what we built it for.”
About Old 81
The historic steam engine which now faces the Main Street from a pedestal within the park has long been dubbed “Old 81” by Palmerston area residents. It was kept as a memorial to the days when Palmerston was a booming railway hub.
Old 81 was presented to the Town in 1959, by the Canadian National Railway, as she had become an obsolete coal-burner, in comparison to the CNR’s
new diesel trains.
Originally built in 1910 for the Grand Trunk Railway by the Canadian Locomotion Company in Kingston, she had been one of a series of 24 engines. The engine began service on a 230 mile passenger run between Windsor and Fort Erie.
She eventually came to Palmerston in 1952, and was used for branch line service. She was retired after seven years of service in Palmerston.
During the steam era, from the 1870’s to the 1850’s, Palmerston was a focal point for area railway activity, with daily trains to Owen Sound, Stratford, Goderich, Guelph, Hamilton and Toronto.
The former train station on the parklands has been converted to the Palmerston Railway Heritage Museum. The other landmark on the property is the sole remaining pedestrian railway bridge in Ontario. For many years the massive bridge allowed the passage of children to school across the 12 tracks of the busy rail yard.