MRC urges municipalities to declare threatened rail line a heritage site

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Track removal equipment was in Litchfield this past August.

Nancy Hunt



Track removal equipment was in Litchfield this past August.

Nancy Hunt

CAMPBELL’S BAY – The MRC Pontiac continued to receive support in its recent stand to save the railway tracks in four of its municipalities from being removed by the Canadian National Railway Company. All 18 mayors were present for the regular MRC council meeting at the Community Learning Centre, August 27, at which time they passed two resolutions to further protect the rail line.
Following an August 20 hearing in a Gatineau court, CN ceased its attempt to contravene the MRC’s bylaw, which forbids “any new use or new construction, including the dismantling of the track and the alienation of the railway section crossing the municipalities of Bristol, Clarendon, Litchfield and Portage-du-Fort”. The suspension will be maintained until the next court hearings on October 10 and 11.
According to Director General Rémi Bertrand, railway aficionados across Canada have offered the MRC free advice on building its legal case based on the resolutions presented at council. One resolution is to have the Quebec government recognize the railway corridor serving the Pontiac Regional Industrial Park as a ‘special intervention zone’.
Émilie Chazelas, MRC Pontiac cultural agent, explained the other resolution of support: that each of the four municipalities pass a bylaw to protect its section of the railway as a heritage site under the Heritage Act of Canada. Shawn Graham, a local historian in Bristol, suggested this option, noting the rail was built in 1915 and that important archaeological remains have been identified along its route.
According to Chazelas, heritage designation of railway tracks still allows for industrial and commercial freight operation on the rails. “There’s no cost to the municipality in applying, nor is provincial government authorization needed, only paperwork and possible modifications to a municipal development plan to integrate a bylaw for heritage status,” she said, claiming that the Heritage Act places restrictions on the rail owner and that the municipality is not required to buy the rail at any time. The laws were tightened in late 2012 and now fines of up to one million dollars can be levied against a rail owner if the municipal bylaw is not respected.
At their September meetings, Bristol and Portage-du-Fort councils agreed to change their land use plans to accommodate the creation of a special heritage committee, the first step towards recommending a bylaw to council. The Litchfield and Clarendon council meetings’ minutes were not available as of press time.
McCrank emphasized that the councils must pass the heritage status bylaws no later than October 4, the last possible date councils can meet prior to the elections. “Whether with a land use bylaw, or with the cultural act, our aim is to keep the rail corridor for the future growth of the area and the development of businesses,” he said.