The Haldimand Press
A look at the work done by Caledonia’s Special Projects Committee
CALEDONIA—Back in 1996, local business owner Ron Clark decided to purchase the old train station in Caledonia from CN Rail with a dream to restore it to its former glory. It was a big dream, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone, so he called in some help from friends to form a team that would use their combined skills to see Ron’s dream come to fruition. This team came to be known as the Special Projects Committee (SPC).
“I’m the only original member that’s still active,” said Larry Fay, reminiscing on the group’s first project together. “Every Saturday morning there was about 10 of us that would show up at the train station and we worked through the wintertime with no heat in there. It was quite the adventure. It took about two years to finish it.”
He continued, “We stripped the inside and we put new siding on the outside to match the original. Everything inside was redone and we started collecting artifacts for it and turned it into a bit of a museum.”
When the project was finished, the group of friends decided that they’d had so much fun working together, so why not carry on?
“Originally it was called the Grand Trunk Society. We continued meeting on Saturday mornings at the train station and we would take on projects that we thought would enhance the beauty of the town,” said Fay.
Ron Clark gifted the group access to the barn on his personal residence, where they still meet to this day, using the lower level of the barn as their workshop and the upper level for storage. While Clark has since passed away, he ensured that the group would continue to be supported. Fay explained, “The Clark Companies owned a house that they rented out. Clark had it set up that the rent that came from that house, instead of going to the company, went to the Special Projects Committee.”
In the years since, the group has taken on a wide variety of improvement projects around Caledonia, including the Patterson walkway on the south bank of the river, the little bridge and pavilion at Kinsmen Park, and they have built numerous benches that can be found along the main streets and throughout the parks of Caledonia.
Christmas is a big time for the group: “At Christmastime we build and install the nativity scene at Edinburgh Square, and we built the decorations that are down in Kinsmen Park. We put those up, take them down,” said Fay, also noting the snowflakes hung on hydro poles around Caledonia in the holiday season were handmade by the group. “One of the things we did years ago was we built a steam engine and we put it on the chassis of an old GMC Blazer. We put that in the parade. It has sounds to it; it has smoke that comes out the chimney of it. We also built a ‘Thomas’ train for the parades. It was somebody’s idea, and we all chipped in. It’s been quite interesting.”
There is one project that Fay is perhaps most proud of: “We were the driving force and organizers of the redoing of the cenotaph in Caledonia…. It was starting to get gungy looking. It needed to be cleaned. It just sat there in the middle of a field. When you go there now, it invites you from the street to actually want to come to the cenotaph and read those names. I think we got a lot of recognition when we did that. It’s only one day a year that people gather there, but it’s an important gathering.”
The SPC isn’t your typical organized committee: “It’s not like there’s a membership; it was just a case of someone would show up on a Saturday morning because they’d heard from a friend that we were doing something…. Somebody will come in with an idea. Out of the 18 of us somebody knows how to weld, and somebody knows how to do this, and somebody’s a woodworker,” explained Fay, outlining how the group works.
The group currently has 18 members, a number Fay says suits them well, noting that there simply wouldn’t be enough work to accommodate a sizably larger group. Despite COVID putting a damper on large group meetings, a few of the guys still meet at their workshop every Saturday and have continued to provide their services to Caledonia during the pandemic, including new picnic tables, refurbishing ‘Thomas’ the train, mowing the grass at the train station, and repainting the town’s flower boxes that they initially built.
It’s clear that these men deserve the recognition they have garnered for their various projects over the years. Through their combined efforts, they have made the town they call home a better, more beautiful place to live. As Fay said, “It’s all stuff that we think is for the betterment of the town.”