Riders of the LRT, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, likely know the stops that run through downtown Edmonton by heart. But as the trains curl northeast past Churchill Station, on their way to Stadium, they briefly pass through an area that’s notably wider than the rest of the tunnel. It’s an unassuming room that, in fact, was supposed to be a station in its own right, half-built in the 1970s and then left unfinished-as a “ghost” station-ever since. It’s unofficially known as “Future Station,” and it presents an enticing vision of ambition and engineering that never quite came to pass.
What was the station for? According to Lloyd Meyer, the city’s manager of LRT operations (and a former ETS operator himself), Future Station was intended to be just another stop on the line. But the demand simply “never materialized,” and so the site was left alone. That’s how Paula Simons found it when she toured Future Station for the Edmonton Journal in 2004, describing it as looking “pretty much like a damp concrete box.”
That’s the simplest theory. But there’s another one. Future Station happens to sit directly underneath 97th Street, between the Brownlee Building and the site of the former Remand Centre (which closed in 2013), and legend has it that the original goal was to one day transport prisoners directly from the Remand all the way to the maximum-security prison and provincial jail in Fort Saskatchewan, as part of a beefed-up Capital Line that, obviously, was never built.
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This story has been bandied about as a kind of urban legend for years, and city documents from the mid-’70s do mention a “possible future transfer station” on 97 Street that was then being roughed-in for later development-which raises the obvious question, transferring whom? But even if that was the plan, there would have been several extenuating factors, says Tarra Kongsrude, a communications advisor for transit projects with the city. Chief among them? The sheer amount of time and money required to build that much track, not to mention “numerous security issues and design matters to consider.” Back then, she says, the city was far more concerned with having stations ready to serve the Commonwealth Games (held here in 1978) than it was with devising complicated ways to ship prisoners 30-plus kilometres in some distant future.
No matter its intended function, Future Station has captured the imagination of some Edmontonians-not despite the fact it was never finished, but because of it. The potential is the thing. In 2015, the Art Gallery of Alberta named its biennial (whose themes included “detritus as a working material”) after the station and, in recent years, organizers in Chinatown, Little Italy and the neighbourhood of McCauley have argued that Future Station should still be developed to finally put an LRT stop near their communities.
Despite its metaphorical potency, nothing is happening to Future Station any time soon. In recent years ETS has converted the extra space into an LRT service and storage area, thus removing any residual wonder the site may have held for urban spelunkers. For now, anyway. Future Station has already been biding its time for 40 years. Whenever we decide we’re ready to bring it into the present, it’ll be there waiting for us.