masthead image

Michipicoten Harbour

History

Town site photo

The harbour

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

The fun started in 1900 when Francis Hector Clergue established the Helen Iron Mine 16 kilometres east of the harbour. He also established a rail link which was incorporated under the name Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway. Government subsidies arrived in the amount $6400 per mile of track that was laid alongside a two million acre land grant. Work commenced on the line in 1899 and the first link of the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) was completed and became operational the very next year.

At the harbour itself, massive ore docks were constructed along with coal docks and timber harnesses. The approach loading bridge spanned 229 metres (750 feet) in length. The wooden ore docks were 84 metres long and its long pier had dimensions of 183 metres by 18 metres. The first Canadian iron that was absorbed within the American markets was shipped on July 1900. A blast furnace in Midland had become the first to fully process the Canadian iron ore on Canadian soil. The Canadian steel industry was born.

Two years later most of the ore was shipped to Sault Saint Marie where smelting and manufacturing facilities were nearing completion. After hematite iron deposits began to wane from 1917-1921, coal began to be shipped to the harbour to supply fuel for railroad coal stops. Michipicoten Harbour supplied not only the entire ACR line but also many segments of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the Canadian National Railway (CN). situated between Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Timber for sawing and pulpwood were amassed at the harbour and then boomed out by ship or tugs. The Newaygo Timber Company used these facilities for many years after the harbour's demise.

The town site at first consisted of a sawmill, company offices, a store with a post office, warehouses, a large three - storey hotel, and several houses for harbour employees as well as a bunkhouse. Hector Clergue also had a summer cottage on a nearby island, now known as Clergue Island, complete with a footbridge on the mainland that was guarded by two chained black bears.

By the 1930's the village contained approximately 25 houses, Dave Summers' store and post office, that operated from 1899-1952, and a one room school. In 1936 the local water infrastructure was upgraded to provide piped water and fire hydrants to local residents.

Ore shipping began once again in 1937 at the Helen Mine and new ore docks were constructed and completed the following year. But this proved to be very short lived, since by 1945 most ore was shipped by rail. Five years later the bins sat empty for good. Dieselization (the conversion from steam to diesel) had killed the coal industry. The ACR had fully converted to diesel by the early 1950's, almost a full decade earlier than the CPR or CN. Coal shipments then ceased. Michipicoten Harbour's fate, it seems, was sealed.

There is renewed activity at the Harbour once again now that Superior Aggregates have started building a trap rock mine just behind the hills of the wharf. The mine actually cleaned up the environmental mess left by Algoma Ore, and the ACR. Only two of the four remaining structures are used by residents. A third is now used as a bunkhouse for the new mine and a fourth, which in fact is owned by the mine, is currently a pottery shop called "Harbour Pottery." Unfortunately two other unoccupied homes were torn down in the spring of 2003.