Abandoned building©Copyright: Yvan Charbonneau
James Dunn was involved in Wawa's iron ore industry at a very early date. In 1908, Dunn, a partner amongst British investors, teamed up with an American consortium. Together they formed the Lake Superior Investment Co. for the express purpose of acquiring the financially troubled Algoma Steel Company. Although just a minor investor within the group, his influence within the company was instrumental in the company's reorganization. By the early 1930's however, Algoma Steel was again under financial duress and the parent company chose to severe its ties with the beleaguered company. Dunn (Sir James after 1924) acquired the company outright in 1935 and set about a painful but necessary reorganization of the company.
Within a year production at the Sault-Sainte-Marie steel mill had improved considerably. Sir James then turned his attention to the company's iron ore supply. In the Michipicoten area, just north of present day Wawa, Algoma Steel still held a vast number of proven iron ore properties. Although the grounds only contained hematite ore, the easiest and preferred ore type of the day, it did however contain a nearly inexhaustible amount of siderite ore. Previously shunned by steel makers, due largely to its high sulphur content, siderite was considered nearly impossible to process and uneconomical to exploit. Only one Canadian Mine, the Magpie Mine, also located in the Michipicoten area, managed to successfully process siderite ores from 1913-1921.
Undaunted, Sir James saw a wonderful opportunity. By the mid thirties new methods of sintering enabled him to use the vast siderite deposits. With hundreds of millions of tons at hand it proved a feasible ore supply for his steel mill. As a result Dunn formed Algoma Ore, a new division of Algoma Steel to oversee ore production. Algoma Ore then reopened the Helen Mine in 1939 as an open pit and re-examined the other properties for production. A sinter plant would also have to be established nearby the source of production to smelt and process the ores into sinter. In 1936 plans were drawn for the sinter plant and construction commenced the following year.
Completed by 1939, it was conveniently situated nearby Wawa Station on the Algoma Central Railway's Michipicoten branch line. Initially the plant consisted of three small sintering machines with a daily maximum capacity of 1800 tons a day. During the war years the plant's capacity was gradually enlarged for the war effort at the daily output nearly doubled to 3,000 tons per day by wars end, yielding an annual output nearly 500,000 tons. By 1949 production was steadily growing, and that year alone 702,000 tons of sinter was attained. In 1952-3 the yearly production soared once more to approximately 1.2 million tons after additional sintering machines commenced production. The mill's capacity at the time had grown to 4,000 tons of sinter daily, produced from 6,000 tons of ore. By mid 1957 the plant's maximum annual capacity had increased from 1.5 million tons annually to 2 million tons. By 1966 the sinter plant was producing over 1.8 million tons nearly reaching its maximum capacity.
Just prior to the resumption of operations in 1939, Wawa was quickly redeveloped to house the workforce of the Helen Mine and the sintering mill. Situated 2 kilometres away from the sinter plant, the former gold mining boom town was suddenly awakened following nearly two decades of abandonment. The business district on Broadway Avenue was revitalized, as were the schools and other public amenities. While workers enjoyed the newly revamped town site at Wawa, management and their families were required to live near the sinter plant.
A small management town site, consisting of 23 houses, was quickly erected by the company, south of the plant. Laid out on a small grid plot surrounded by dirt streets, the small community became known as Sinterville. To the east of the sinter plant stood Wawa's station and the small section village, along with the Cochrane & Dunlap hardware store and warehouse. Sinterville at its height could claim nearly 80 residents. A half mile east, situated between Wawa and the sinter plant, stood a secondary independent town site called Siderite.
Siderite consisted of over two dozen shabby homes, many of them moved from the recently closed down gold mines south of Wawa Lake. The small community complete with Miller's General Store and post office could count nearly a hundred residents at its height. This settlement accommodated workers of the sinter plant who chose to remain outside the organized municipality of Wawa and nearer to the plant.
In 1962 Algoma Ore announced it wanted to remove the town site from its property. Most of the homes were sold to the employees and moved to Wawa. The remaining unsold structures were simply torn down and carted away in 1965. A few years later, the dry house (showering facilities) and parking lot were on the site of Sinterville. Later the dry house was moved elsewhere, but the building was expanded to contain the time office and engineering quarters.
In 1997 Algoma Ore ceased all mining activity in the area and the sinter plant was closed and removed by 1998. Algoma Central Railway also closed its branch line to from Hawk Junction to Michipicoten Harbour, removing the tracks and station. Today a fence marks Algoma Ore's former sinter plant and town site. All that remains is the ACR section foreman's house, a small ACR bunkhouse and shed. The ACR foreman's house is still occupied. Algoma Ore's engineering building along with the maintenance garage and supporting buildings still stand at Sinterville, along with the hopper building and the community of Siderite.