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Historic train station repurposed as donation and orientation center for Ukrainian newcomers

A local historic train station has been transformed into an orientation and donation center in support of those displaced by the war in Ukraine.

Engel & Völkers Parry Sound, working with Rotary International, acquired the train station and retrofitted it to give Ukrainian newcomers the opportunity to meet local people and become familiar with the community.

Matt Smith, broker and license partner at Engel & Völkers Parry Sound, says the project is something that Rotary International and the local real estate brokerage have been working on together. 

“It’s really spearheaded by Rotary International, we just donated the space to them to be able to facilitate this. But basically, it’s a donation and orientation center. It’s where the Ukrainian refugees go when they first come to Parry Sound, to get orientated, figure out what’s what and pick up some pieces of furniture or some bikes,” Smith says.

He says bikes have been popular because when (families) arrive in Canada they don’t have any mode of transportation and Parry Sound has no public transportation. Smith says people can pick up anything from bedding to household furnishings. “Anything that will really help them get a head start in the community,” he adds.

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Smith says Engel & Völkers acquired the building in January and it was donated to the Rotary in March. “Basically, the building is in need of some repair and renovation, something that we didn’t think we would be able to undertake this summer because summer is traditionally our busy season,” he says. 

Smith says Rotary International had put a call out to all local businesses around March asking if anybody could help put together some ideas. “At that time we were sitting with an empty building, it was a central location in downtown Parry Sound, so we thought rather than seeing that building empty we might as well put it to good use,” he says.

According to Smith, the center has been able to help up to 20 families. He says the response from the community to this project has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls from different community leaders in the private sector looking to actually hire Ukrainians,” he says. 

“We have a labour shortage in the area and a lot of businesses are looking for staff. So a lot of businesses have approached me asking me how can they get in touch with Rotary and how can they utilize some of their skill sets,” Smith says. As far as Smith knows, the center has even stopped taking donations because they’ve been overwhelmed with community support.

“That station is packed. You go there on a Wednesday when it’s staffed by Rotary volunteers, and it looks like to Eaton Center in downtown Toronto. The parking lot is packed, the building’s full of people, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle and just to see that sort of energy back into a building that’s been sort of depressed over the last few years is really nice to see,” he says. 

Smith says the building was built in 1932, with this project marking its 90th birthday. He says “(Engel & Völkers) is a global company so when we saw the crisis abroad we thought we needed to help however we could. We wanted to partner with a global company, that being Rotary International, and it’s been a great synergy between us ever since,”

If anyone is interested in donating a bike, Smith says they can drop it off on Wednesdays between 3 and 6 at the train station located on 1 Station Street. 

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