The dust is settled on a lawsuit pressed by a local volunteer group over the ownership of Princeton’s iconic caboose.
While an agreement between the Vermilion Trail Society (VTS) and the municipality was reached behind closed court doors last fall, details of the settlement were released just this week.
The caboose has pulled into the municipality’s station, for good.
“I’m relieved,” said Mayor Spencer Coyne. “I think the taxpayers of Princeton were unfairly treated over this caboose issue and I’m glad to see it come to a resolution.”
The conflict arose in May 2017, when the VTS accused a previous town council and administration of train robbery, lodged a complaint with the RCMP and filed a lawsuit against the town asking for damages as well as ownership of the rail car.
A year earlier town staff moved the caboose from its home along the KVR trail at the intersection of Bridge Street and Highway 3 — where it was placed by VTS — to its present location near Subway off Highway 3.
The municipality then placed newspaper ads, seeking a partner who might use it to host a tourism-based enterprise.
Both the town and the VTS said they could prove ownership of the artifact, which has been located at various places in Princeton over many decades including at the fairgrounds, downtown and at the museum.
According to Coyne, during a pre-trial conference late in 2020, the municipality offered to gift the caboose to the VTS, provided the society could remove it from town property before April 1, 2021.
“Council came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to just give them the caboose…They have abandoned their claim to ownership of the caboose, and it’s still there,” said Coyne. “We are happy to put this behind us.”
The Spotlight reached out to the VTS for comment and has not yet received a response.
Coyne said he senses no appetite from council to repurpose the caboose for a commercial venture.
“It’s been neglected for a number of years because of this legal battle. Number one is just preserving it. We have to get some paint on it and protect it from the weather,” he said.
No one is sure of the caboose’s monetary value.
The original VTS claim estimated the car’s worth at $60,000, but the group sued for only $35,000 in order to keep the matter before provincial small claims court.
The settlement agreement was made during a pre-trial conference, which predicted a five-day civil trial if matters were not resolved.
Coyne said, based on research, the caboose might be worth about $12,000.
According to director of finance James Graham the town had already spent $20,000 in legal fees defending its right to the caboose, and was facing a bill “in the six figures” if the matter went to trial.
History is a bit murky, admitted Coyne. “There is a lot of myth about the caboose.”
According to editions of The Spotlight, the caboose was purchased from the Lower Mainland and transported to Princeton by a resident about 50 years ago.
“It was the visitors centre when I was a kid,” said Coyne. “For me, as a longtime resident, the caboose has always been there. But it’s also, from my observation, something that has bounced around. If we can give it a permanent home and fix it up, I think that’s what it deserves at this point.”
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