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Algoma Eastern Railway

by Dale Wilson

AER employee time table

Note: No Fourth Class in Westbound direction. No First Class in either direction.

Passenger train with Mogul engine on swing bridge. Little Current 1914

Little Current station built by AER c.1912, near the end of its long life, July 1969. Jim McRae

Algoma Eastern had its beginning in 1899 with the acquisition by Lake Superior Corporation of the charter of the Manitoulin & North Shore Railway incorporated in 1888 to build from Little Current on Manitoulin Island to connect with the CPR near the Spanish River.

Lake Superior was the parent company of the Algoma Central & Hudson Bay Railway along with various industries, all part of the Clerque empire of Francis Clerque. It began in Sault Ste. Marie in 1894 when Clergue had taken over a local power company. He created a major customer by building a pulp and paper mill there.
In the paper making process he anticipated using sulphur, a waste by-product of the Sudbury area nickel ore processing. Canadian Copper Company, one of the predecessors of International Nickel, refused to deal with him. Undaunted, Clergue decided to do his own nickel mining and smelting. In 1889 Lake Superior purchased two nickel properties west of Sudbury, naming them Gertrude and Elsie after his sisters.

Clerque obtained a Federal charter in 1900 for the M&NS which included lines from Little Current to Sudbury and from Little Current to lands end; thence from Tobermory to Wiarton, Owen Sound and Meaford on the main land. This of course would require ferry service across Lake Huron. There was also a plan for a line northward to connect with the CPR just east of Cartier. Later, it provided for a line westward to connect with the AC&HB.

In the 1880's Grand Trunk, under the charters of either the Ontario Sault Ste. Marie or the
Northern, North Western & Sault Ste. Marie
, lines were surveyed to build westward into the Soo.

In May 1900, Little Britain was chosen as the location for a small yard and two stall engine house. Construction began from there westward to Clarabelle (Mile 4.8) where it connected with the Canadian Copper Company's railway to their smelter complex at Copper Cliff. Next came the Elsie mine with a short spur, just past Mile 5, approximately the later site of Murray mine. Hilltop Siding (Milate) was at Mile 8, and at Mile 12 was Creighton mine, which was to become a major shipper of ore going to Clarabelle. Finally, Gertrude mine was reached where a smelter was also under construction. This was 14 miles of railway.

Construction of the railway with 60-pound rail was done avoiding cutting through the hardrock ridges, choosing instead the twisted course dictated by sidehill construction. Swamp areas were crossed on massive platforms of timber corduroy with fill and ballast piled on top. In shallow cuts through clay hills a minimum of ballast was used and train movements would cause a pumping action, covering the ties with a thick layer of mud.

As of September 1902 the M&NS operated 15.31 miles of road and possessed 3 steam locomotives and 99 cars, only one of which was a passenger car. Traffic patterns were simple with ore from the Elsie mine going to Gertrude, ore from Creighton mine moving to Clarabelle and finished or semi-finished products going off-line at Sudbury.

Early in 1903, a spur was built in from Mile 10 to the Haight & Dicksen Lumber Company, and a new mine, the North Star, which was owned by Mond Nickel. Ore from this mine was shipped east to Sudbury, thence over the CPR Soo branch 21 miles to the Mond smelter at Victoria mine.

Financial disaster struck the Lake Superior Corporation in mid 1903 due to incestuous business relations of the various parts of the Clergue empire. Both mines and the smelter were closed forever. The M&NS itself did considerable business with INCO and Mond and therefore was able to carry on. Creighton mine shipped an average of fifteen thousands tons of ore per month and the year ending June 30, 1905 showed net earnings of almost a thousand dollars a mile. To protect its charter, MN&S chose to employ for several summers, one man with a shovel and a wheelbarrow to continue construction work extending the line!

Between 1907 and 1910, rails inched from Gertrude to Crean Hill (Mile 22), site of an INCO mine. This allowed M&NS to serve the mine and an INCO owned spur to the CPR was abandoned. The Vermillion River was crossed at Mile 18 with a massive steel bridge. Two miles beyond Crean Hill was another mine spur to the Mond mine, later known as Victoria mine. Ore had been carried from the mine on an overhead tramway for several miles south to the company's smelter at Victoria Mine Station on the CPR. By 1912, Mond had moved the smelter to the east of Sudbury and the re-named Algoma Eastern now enjoyed a longer haul of ore from the Mond mine to Sudbury where it was interchanged to Canadian Northern Ontario.

May 11, 1911 saw a name change to Algoma Eastern although it remained part of the Lake Superior Corporation, which had recovered from its earlier financial difficulties. The re-naming simply gave the name "Algoma" to another part of the Clergue empire which included The Algoma Central & Hudson Bay Railway, and Algoma Steel Corporation.

Turbine at Mile 32 was the location of yet another spur, this one connecting to an INCO spur to a large hydro-electric power plant on the Spanish River some four miles north. It had been served by the CPR, which at this point was parallel to the AER.

Creighton click to enlarge

Espanola click to enlarge

Above are two stations built by Algoma Eastern as seen in their CPR years. Dale Wilson

From Turbine to Nairn, Mile 37, the line followed the Spanish River, crossed under the CPR and reached Espanola. At this point, some fifty miles west of Sudbury, the Spanish River Pulp & Paper Company had constructed a power plant and paper mill at what became Espanola. A spur was built almost two miles north to connect with the CPR at Stanley (Mc.Kerrow). Although part of the M&NS charter, before its mainline reached the spur it was leased to the CPR for initial service which unfortunately, lasted 11 years.

While new construction was carried on, the original fourteen miles were being upgraded by Superior Construction Company, which was also working on extending the AC&HB. This included 80lb. rail, more ballast, filling in trestles etc. Sudbury yard was expanded, including a 5-stall engine house.

From Espanola, the AER headed south, twisting and turning through spectacular lake and rock country with unavoidable rock cuts. Finally, in April of 1913, the rails reached Turner (Mile 84.6), the site of yard and dock facilities for Little Current. A swing bridge across the narrow channel brought the railway to the island and Little Current (Mile 85.5) itself in October and finally, the railway was complete as called for in the original charter of the Manitoulin & North Shore Railway.

Canadian Northern Ontario

The arrival of Canadian Northern building northward from Toronto to Sudbury and beyond changed the traffic situation. The CPR branch from the Soo connected with the main line from Montreal at Sudbury when it continued north to western Canada. There was no CPR southward to Toronto until 1909.

When Mond Nickel relocated its smelter from the western to the eastern side of Sudbury, it was at Coniston, where the main lines of both the CNoR and CPR crossed. The challenge for Mond was how to get its ore from Mile 24 on the AER to Coniston on the CNoR without having to turn it over to the CPR. A number of options were considered but the only option was a long low, wooden trestle with a steep grade over the CPR and AER to the CNoR Sudbury Jct, spur to their main line which passed to the east of Sudbury.

Passenger Service

Until 1913, AER passenger trains had departed Sudbury from the Elm Street crossing, near the CPR,
which was as close as it could get to the downtown. With the coming of Canadian Northern, AER trains used CNoR's downtown station. This lasted until 1924 when trains were changed to run from the CPR station.

A simple Daily Except Sunday passenger service was operated from Little Current to Sudbury and return for many years hauled by a small Mogul type 2-6-0. There were also workers shuttle trains from Elm Street in Sudbury to the BANC facilities, three round trips daily using five or six coaches using one of five CPR M4 class 2-8-0's in use by AER during the Great War.


British-American Nickel Corp. developed a Sudbury nickel deposit at what was the Murray mine, re-named Nickelton (Mile 4.2). A large smelter was included although it had difficulties maintaining production and markets seemed limited to the Royal Navy requirements for armour plating. The end of the Great War (World War I) in 1918 and the lack of a market for nickel brought about the permanent closure of the BANC mines and smelter with the assets being eventually sold off to INCO for a fraction of their worth. The AER removed the Nickelton spur and the property went into decay.

Decline and change

Began in 1929 with the decision of the Ontario government to ban open air roasting of nickel ores, causing INCO to phase out this operation at O'Donnell with the resultant change in the traffic pattern.

Abitibi Paper, by then the owner of the mill at Espanola, faced with an obsolete plant that included steam driven machinery, decided to close it down. This ended a daily freight train. It became a prisoner of war camp during World War II and in 1943 was re-opened under new ownership and remains in use to this day.

The Canadian Pacific Railway took an interest in the little Algoma Eastern and its lucrative traffic. The CPR began upgrading its main line west from Sudbury, necessitating replacement of the trestle carrying the CN/AER interchange track. CN was granted trackage rights (joint section) over the AER between Sudbury and Clara Belle Junction to reach Copper Cliff assuring INCO of service by two railways. Traffic was diverted off the AER to the CPR for movement to Sudbury. Clearly, something was in the wind!

CPR Clarabelle, a deceptive place, since as the shipping point for all INCO freight
it was said to be the busiest station (tonnage wise) in all of Canada! Dale Wilson

March 1930 saw the little Algoma Eastern leased to the CPR for 999 years! Since much of the AER trackage was parallel to the CPR it meant change. Cut backs had already begun with re-routing of traffic over the CPR the previous month. The Great Depression would add to it. Track was first abandoned between Turbine and Espanola, September 1931, by 1935 to O'Donnell, and 1940 to Gertrude.

Passenger service to Little Current ended by 1963 and the line itself beyond Espanola went into disuse with the end of inbound coal shipments and outbound iron ore by lake boat, and eventual abandonment.

Unique rail and road bridge provided the only land access to Manitoulin Island. Al Howlett

Ore car Al Howlett


75 ton 2-6-0 28,410 t.e. MLW #51183 September 1912 Collection of Harry Shepherd

Manitoulin & North Shore power was simple and first included two Mogul type 2-6-0's, the first was
Algoma Central 27, (the only such small engine on the AC), it was re-numbered 50; and in September 1912,
a brand new Mogul lettered for Algoma Eastern but numbered 51 in Algoma Central number series. This was the passenger power.

122 ton 2-8-0 MLW #62598 Jan.1921 MLW/George Dennis

The freight power consisted entirely of low-drivered 2-8-0's beginning in February 1913 with a single engine, number 52. It was followed in 1916 by a pair of similar 2-8-0's and finally, in January 1921 a pair of much heavier and more powerful 2-8-0's complete with vestibule cabs. These last two had even higher tractive effort than the CPR's own 2-8-0's. Built with 23 1/2" by 30" cylinders and only 57" drivers, resulted in 49.410 t.e. 56 was rebuilt with 24x30" cylinders resulting in higher tractive effort of 51,500. Tenders were an unusual 6,600 gallons water capacity and 12 tons of coal. The new 2-6-0 and all of the 2-8-0's became CPR engines (3051, and 3952-3956 inc.) and lasted until near the end of the steam, era.

CPR 3051 (ex AER 51) 20x26 cyl. 56" drv. 28,400 t.e. MLW #51183 Sept. 1912 Al Paterson

CPR 3954 (ex AER 54) 56"drv. 41,100 t.e. CLC #1351 Nov.1916 Paterson/George Collection

CPR 3955 (ex AER 55) with feedwater heater added. Farmer Collection

CPR 3956 (ex AER 56) also with added FWH. Sudbury, 1956. Ernie Plant




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