Museum train station building has historic stonework restored

preserving the past - Shawn Thibault, a mason who does masonry conservation specializing in sandstone, has been doing some work at the Claresholm and District Museum train station for the past few weeks. Photo by Rob Vogt

By Rob Vogt, Local Press Writer
To say they don’t build them like they used to, is an understatement.

It is something Shawn Thibault has seen time and again in his travels across Western Canada, restoring the stonework of historic buildings. He believes every building tells a story, and the latest chapter was written right here in Claresholm.

Thibault is based in Victoria, B.C., but really could be based anywhere.
“These historical buildings are all over the place so I go to them,” he said.
Thibault was in Claresholm the past few weeks doing masonry conservation on the historic train station building that doubles as the Claresholm and District Museum.

He works on historic projects all over Western Canada, specializing in sandstone, using traditional tools and techniques.
Often, he encounters buildings that have been updated using modern techniques, not always for the better.

“I reverse the effects of modern engineering,” he said with a smile, adding he de-engineers the building and reinstates it to its original, traditional state.

At the Claresholm museum train station building, an archway was collapsing. Over time and vibration it began to crack.
So Thibault took the arch down and re-built it.
He also fixed cracks and, where absolutely necessary, he replaced stones.
“That’s the least desirable,” Thibault said of replacing stones. “We want to keep that historical fabric intact.”
He added he would always rather patch than replace stones.
Thibault brings the source stone with him, and will split, chisel and carve it as he needs it.
“The same way it was done 100 years ago,” he said, using chisel and hammer.
Another aspect of the work is stone and mortar. The way they work together is vital to the health of the building.
Thibault’s background is as a mason, having studied under some fantastic old-school masons.
“Generally, the masonry trade is passed down that way,” he said, noting historical masonry is not taught. “This is quite a departure from what is done today.”
Everything is done by hand. In many cases, such as the back of the Claresholm train station building, equipment can’t be brought in to places that tight.
“We get to employ the old methods,” Thibault said.
He has observed those old methods in everything from castles to First Nations rock art and more.
“It can be really interesting,” Thibault said.
In fact, there is not much difference between a castle and the train station in masonry.
“The same principles apply,” he said.
Moreover, every building tells a story.
As Thibault works on one, he will discover the mason’s mark which will tell so much more about the building.
“That’s their beauty,” he said.