History of Durand Union Station Restoration
The American Bicentennial was a crucial event for the Depot. Communities all across the United States were using the 200th birthday of the country to preserve and celebrate their local history. Restoring the Depot became the project for the citizens of Durand. The process, however, was slow. The Grand Trunk Western had abandoned the Depot in 1974 and was preparing it for demolition. By the time President Gerald Ford visited Durand in May 1976, nearly every window in the Depot he spoke in front of had been broken. The railroad was reluctant to sell a structure that had become a target for vandals and an eyesore.
While negotiations to acquire the Depot were ongoing in 1975, Durand’s Bicentennial Committee raised money to purchase a Baggage Car from the railroad. Ironically, the Grand Trunk manager in charge of the sale was named Durand! The Baggage Car was placed between the Water Tower and Fire Hall, and used as a museum. Four years later, a gate tower was acquired by the Baggage Car Museum and placed nearby. In 1991, the Gate Tower, Baggage Car, and its collection were gifted to Durand Union Station when the Michigan Railroad History Museum was established inside the Depot. The gate tower and car are now owned the City of Durand.
The Baggage Car was built by the Pullman Company in 1919 to be used as a Colonist Car for Canadian National Railway. It was used to transport immigrants from the eastern cities of Montreal and Toronto west into the Canadian prairies. It was then sold to Grand Trunk in 1938 and converted to move luggage and mail. The car was retired from service in 1971 and used as a yard office until 1975.
The grand opening of the Baggage Car Museum on April 30th 1976 was celebrated as Durand’s inaugural Railroad Days Festival. Today, Railroad Days serves as the focal point for the community’s celebration of its railroading heritage. Railroad Days Royalty and a Grand Marshal are selected for the annual parade, and a Railroad Person of the Year is elected by their peers in the railroad industry. Railroading and Durand’s famous Depot are celebrated annually the weekend after Mother’s Day.
History of Durand Union Station, Inc
The history of Durand Union Station, Incorporated begins with the American Bicentennial. Towns across the country were forming committees to preserve a piece of their local history in celebration for America’s 200th birthday and Durand was no exception. Efforts to save the Depot were slow, and were not finalized until 1979. After 1976, the Bicentennial Committee was renamed the “Depot Committee.”
When restoration began in 1982, the city felt a non-profit was best suited to oversee the project. Many members of the Depot Committee were also members of Durand Railroad Museum Incorporated, operating the Baggage Car Museum. As such, when DUSI was established in 1985, many citizens and supporters were members of both organizations.
For a time, there were two non-profits in Durand with similar goals. While the Baggage Car group worked to preserve Durand’s railroad heritage, DUSI worked to stabilize and restore the Depot. Many ideas were offered for how to use the structure, including turning it into a restaurant or cafe. In the end, the most popular choice was to turn it into a museum, and rent open space for events. In fact, the Ballroom where you are currently standing was created out of office space for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad!
In 1991, the State of Michigan designated the Depot as its official Railroad History Museum. As a result, the Baggage Car group dissolved, gifting its entire collection and its baggage car to DUSI. Durand Union Station Incorporated owns the collection of the museum, but the Depot itself is owned by the City of Durand.
DUSI continues to maintain and restore the 115-year old structure. It works hand in hand with the City of Durand to ensure the building is safe, secure, and accessible for everyone in the community.
Doctor Robert Cañas held a medical practice in Durand for fifty years. Born in El Salvador in 1917, Cañas graduated from its University Medical School in 1942 and then worked as a surgeon for the United Fruit Company in Panama.
Cañas moved to the United States in 1948, serving his internship in Phoenix, Arizona and then in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 1952, he went into private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. There, he met his future wife Norma. Robert and Norma moved to Flint, Michigan in 1966 and finally Durand in 1967, where he established a medical practice on Saginaw Street. That office stayed open until his retirement in the early 2000s. Cañas was a consultant for the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s on matters pertaining to El Salvador, its political climate, and American foreign policy related to the Central American nation.
In addition to his status in the community as a local doctor, Cañas was a prolific artist and musician. His artwork can be found all over Durand, including in the Depot’s Grand Ballroom. Other murals, sculptures, and paintings can be found at the First Methodist Church, the VFW, the Chamber of Commerce, Durand High School, and outside of the clock tower downtown. He is also an author, publishing an autobiography of his first 100 years.
As of 2019, Dr. Robert Cañas is enjoying retirement with his family in California.