Travel Alberta

Mossleigh’s future back on track

Aspen Crossing won First Place in SouthGrow’s Excellence in Business Award

Many prairie towns manage to reinvent themselves by building prosperous subdivisions or by attracting major industries. Mossleigh hitched its future to a railway dining car. Aspen Crossing, comprising a railway dining car, greenhouse and campground, since 2004, has been helping the hamlet recreate its image from being “in the middle of nowhere,” to one of being “in the middle of everywhere.”

The dining car, added in 2006, builds on southern Albertans’ love of trains. Four rail cars from the years between 1887 and 1974 are on display, along with the original Mossleigh CPR station, a 1913 Victorian five-bedroom house as a future museum, and numerous agricultural and railroad items. Acquisition of the dining car was, says owner Jason Thornhill, a “complete fluke.” “Some of our customers suggested it would be great to have a place to get snacks,” he says. “The opportunity to buy the dining car came in a junk email.”

He adopted the railway theme because a rail line ran through the property, on which he grew up. He recalls sitting on his father’s shoulder watching the trains
go past. “It was a great place to grow up,” says Thornhill. “I wanted to make it a great place to operate a business, too.

Thornhill named his venture Aspen Crossing after his favourite trees. The nursery sells upwards of 30 varieties and carries between 300 and 400 types of spring plants. The fully serviced, 82-site campground opened in 2009. The greenhouse, when free, holds murder mysteries, a Christmas Market, corporate events, parties and weddings. Aspen Crossing has grown a unique destination shopping experience in a community many have never heard of and convinced them to drive considerable distance to enjoy it. Staff has grown to 30 from an original three, sales have doubled each year, and the member’s list has grown to more than 3,150 members, of which 2,000 live more than half an hour away. Annual visitors number more than 25,000; in 2009, the Christmas Market attracted 2,000. Aspen Crossing plans to locate and save more unique rail cars from the scrap yard. In doing so, it will be living its own mission: “To provide the ultimate quality of product to our customers, using superior assistance, while preserving history of the railway, agriculture, and gardening.” Thornhill credits his staff with Aspen Crossing’s success. “It takes great teamwork, energy and vision,” he says.
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