Francis H. Clergue was a U.S. Industrialist who first visited the Sault Ste. Marie region in 1892 and foresaw the opportunities for growth as an industrial centre and it was his vision that laid the foundation for the present day city of Sault Ste. Marie. Clergue's persuasive style and boundless optimism attracted investment dollars which enabled him to develop twelve major enterprises including several mining operations in the Wawa and Sudbury areas, a steel mill, a pulp mill, two railways (the Algoma Central and Algoma Eastern Railways), two power and light utilities, a street car system and a fleet of steamships.
The discovery of a large iron ore deposit at Wawa by a prospector named Ben Boyer, was the catalyst for the steel industry in Sault Ste. Marie and a driving force of the railway's construction. The Algoma Central Railway Company was incorporated August 11, 1899 and was known as such until May 23, 1901 when, with ambitious plans to push the line to establish a port somewhere on Hudson Bay, the name was changed to the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway Company. Construction of the railway commenced in 1899 and by the time of the Clergue empire's industrial crash in 1903, rail had been laid to Mile 56 on the main line north from Sault Ste. Marie and from Michipicoten Harbour to Josephine, six miles from the intended main line connection at Hawk Junction.
Due to the devasting financial collapse of Clergue's industrial empire, construction of the line did not resume until 1909. By 1911 the main line north of Sault Ste. Marie connected with the Michpicoten branch at Hawk Junction. The main line crossed the Canadian Pacific at Franz (Mile 194.9) by mid-1912 and then crossed the Canadian National's line at Oba (Mile 244.7) six months later. The line reached its northern terminus in Hearst, Ontario in 1914. Shortly after, plans to continue to Hudson Bay were abandoned, and the name of the railway was eventually changed back to the Algoma Central Railway. The railway had 322 miles of main line track - 296 miles from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst and 26 miles from Hawk Junction to Michipicoten Harbour on Lake Superior, plus smaller branches and spurs that served some of the mining operations in the Wawa area.
At Franz, Mile 195, the railroad crosses the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway while at Oba, Mileage 245, it connects with the Canadian National Railway, thus giving complete connections to points in eastern and western Canada, while at Sault Ste. Marie, connections also exist with the Canadian Pacific (via the Huron Central's former CP trackage to Sudbury) and into the United States towards Milwaukee and Chicago via former SOO Line and Wisconsin Central trackage.
In 1952, the Algoma Central executed the complete dieselization of the railway, replacing their fleet of steam locomotives with 21 GP7 diesel road switchers and two SW8 yard switchers for use at Sault Ste. Marie. Over the years, the motive power fleet was upgraded with the purchase of 3000HP SD40 and SD40-2 type locomotives in the early 1970s for use on iron ore trains, and general purpose GP38-2s in 1981 to replace some of the older GP7s. Massive replacements of passenger car equipment for the railway's tourist train operations also occurred in the early 1970s, 1990s and again in 2009.
The railway has almost from the beginning also owned steamships that operated on the Great Lakes. On June 30, 1965 the name of the company was changed to the Algoma Central Corporation, with the railway and marine operations becoming separate divisions of the parent company. The Algoma Central Corporation also expanded into trucking and real estate. In late 1995 the railway division was spun off as the Algoma Central Railway Inc. and sold to the Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation, which effected its purchase and took control of the railway on February 1, 1995.
In late 1997, Algoma Steel Inc. announced that it would be shutting down its low grade iron ore mining operations in Wawa, in favour of higher grade ore from the Tilden Mine outside of Marquette, Michigan. With Algoma Ore Division's closing, a final ore train, consisting of 18 cars, rumbled along the branch line to Hawk Junction and then down to the Sault on June 25, 1998 and with it, an important chapter closed in Algoma Central Railway's 100 year history as the last loads of iron ore, which the ACR was originally created to exploit, were transported across the railway. Following the shut down of the mines and processing plant at Wawa, the railway's 26 mile Michipicoten branch was abandoned, and by 2001 the rails were torn out.
Part of this history is taken from the Souvenir Guide that is handed out to passengers on the Agawa Canyon Tour.