A private, outdoor rail ‘museum’ won’t likely be derailed, despite coming under fire from the Regional District of Nanaimo.
Peter Roosen, a U.S. businessman and former Dragon’s Den winner, has run afoul of the Regional District of Nanaimo for building a private, fully operational historic railway in Nanaimo without permits. The railroad, built on his parents’ Jingle Pot property, has tunnels, bridges and walls with questionable structural integrity, according to regional district staff members. They are now working with Roosen to address issues on site, but could seek enforcement action if there is no voluntary compliance before January.
Roosen started the garden project four years ago. With the help of history buffs like Vancouver Island author T.W. Paterson, he said he unearthed century-old pieces of railway, coal carts and locomotives in the Nanaimo region and reconstructed the pieces.
No artifact on his site is younger than 100 years old and much of the items have been restored to work. Roosen can now fire up a train that chugs along the old track in front of his parent’s house, near a replica coal mine, bridge and tunnels.
Roosen claims none of the structures on site fall under the district’s requirements for building permits, which is why he didn’t approach the district for permission. He plans to work with the RDN this winter and while he has threatened to disassemble and ship the historic project to the U.S, he said he doesn’t anticipate the project will be derailed.
“I really want to move this onto more positive things, but I don’t want to get buried in silly red tape,” he said. “I think a lot of people are interested in [this project]. It’s not just pieces of something sitting in a museum, you can actually fire this thing up and take it out for a train ride. That doesn’t happen too often.”
The train project reportedly came onto the regional district’s radar in 2011, after it received complaints about a replica mining railway.
District staff members say the property isn’t zoned for a railway and its owner did not get development permits to construct the project. They sent letters to get more information about the project and issued a stop-work order, but staff members say they received no response.
The issue was brought to a district committee of the whole meeting last week, where directors called for the owner and staff to work together on a solution.
Julian Fell, director of Area F, believes the push by staff for permits is a “bureaucratic impediment … complex and burdensome.”
The spread is like a museum and should be maintained, he said, adding that one day the property could become an interpretive centre.
“I have a sense now [staff members] are going to get sensible and Mr. Roosen will make changes on the things of greatest concern,” he said.
Joe Stanhope, district chairman, said there are safety concerns and the district must satisfy complaints, but thinks the property is “outstanding.”
Roosen has slowly collected old pieces of equipment over the years as old mine sites were disturbed by logging and subdivision work.
Twisted pieces of coal carts, iron bits and old railway ties have been found half-buried near South and East Wellington where coal was once king, he said.
He has a 1906 coal cart and a 1905 locomotive, which was found when the new Parkway was being punched through Jingle Pot.
The only rules for his collection: “everything has to be at least 100 years old … relevant to Island history [and] made to operate. I am not collecting a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work.”
Much of the display is already complete. A ‘last spike party’ is expected next year. Roosen said the spread is not anticipated to be a public amusement park and feels the district has been out of bounds with its approach to regulating the building activity on site. He hopes all parties can work out concerns in a friendly way.