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The Algoma Eastern Railway Today

Part 2: Espanola to Little Current                        Return to Part 1

The Former E.B. Eddy (now Domtar) paper mill at Espanola is a major source of revenue for the Huron Central.  The small yard just to the south of the south mill access road marks the southern limit of used track on the former CPR Little Current 
Domtar Espanola Paper Mill
John Morgan  (1976)
E.B. Eddy (now Domtar) Espanola Paper Mill
Subdivision.  Beyond this point most of the track is present, however it has not been used for several years.

South of Espanola the track bears east until Tulloch Lake where it curves south to pass to the east of Anderson Lake and then between Loon Lake and Spring Lake.  The road to West Bay out of Espanola parallels the right-of-way for about a half kilometre near Tulloch Lake.  South of Tulloch Lake the line runs through unsettled bush until it reaches Loon Lake.

Following Hwy. 6 south from Espanola the right-of-way may been seen as it passes the west end of Loon Lake.  The Loon Lake ballast pit was on the north side of Loon Lake just before the line curves around the end of the lake.

A little less than two kilometres south of Loon Lake the railway makes its first crossing of Hwy. 6 running from east to west under the highway which passes over it on a concrete bridge.  The railway then generally parallels the highway and may be seen in a few places from it for about two kilometres until it veers west to pass around the north side of Fox Lake.  About 8 kilometres south of Loon Lake a gravel road leads to the west from Hwy. 6.  Taking this road in a little over a kilometre you will cross over the railway.  About a mile south of this crossing the railway crosses West River. 

South of the West River crossing the line back eastward along the north shore of north of House Lake towards Hwy. 6.  This curve is near the site of the former McMillan Gold Mine Spur.  The West End of House Lake is the site of the former Hocken Lumber Mill Yard which at one time was served by the AER.  There is no road access to any of these sites.  The closest access is via a dirt road about a kilometre south on Hwy. 6 of the road mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Take this road in until you meet the railway and then hike back along the right-of-way, a few hundred yards to the site of the mill on the south side of the tracks and about a kilometre to the site of the gold mine spur.  After 50 years however, there is not much left.

The railway then continues west to re-cross Hwy. 6 about a kilometre north of the Willisville Road.  Again the highway passes over the railway on a concrete bridge.  The line is heading east at this point and continues to do so until it meets Whitefish River between Charleton and Frood Lakes.  The line then turns south to loop around Willisville Mountain as it follows the west shore of Whitefish River.

Lawson Quarry Entrance (1997)
John Morgan  (1997)
Former Entrance to Lawson Quarry in 1997

The former Inco company town of Willisville is located where the Whitefish River empties into Frood Lake.  This pretty hamlet was originally built to house workers at the Lawson Quarry located about two kilometres farther south on the line.  The white painted houses are well maintained with the railway running through the middle of the village.  Willisville is reached via the Willisville Road which branches east of Hwy. 6 and climbs over the top of Willisville Mountain affording an exiting drive and some beautiful scenery.

Continuing past Willisville, the line loops around the end of the northeast lobe of Frood Lake crossing a small creek on a through plate truss span. The line follows the shore of Frood Lake around the site of the now abandoned Inco Lawson quarry.  This quarry, opened in 1943 was abandoned sometime in the 1980s.  During this period of quarry operations there was a three track yard on the north side of the main line next to the quarry for the convenience of switching crews.  The yard tracks were removed after operations
Lawson Quarry Entrance (1976)
John Morgan  (1976)
Entrance to Lawson Quarry in 1976
ceased, although remains of the spur into the quarry itself may still be found in the bush about 200 feet north of the bridge over Whitefish Falls which also marks the northern limits of the town of Whitefish Falls.  The siding at Whitefish Falls is still in place although the station, which was located north of the highway overpass on the west side of the tracks and the wye on the east side of the tracks, which was used to turn steam locomotives servicing the Lawson quarry are long gone.

Whitefish Falls - Looking north
John Morgan  (1976)
Looking north towards Whitefish Falls station

Whitefish Falls, 18.6 miles south of Espanola, is located at the mouth of the Whitefish River where it empties into the Bay of Islands of Georgian Bay.  The Highway once again crosses the railway on a concrete overpass.  As of 1997, the passing siding was still in place although well overgrown with weeds and small bushes.   

The rail line now follows the west coast of the LaCloche peninsula through Birch Island as far as McGregor Bay and cannot be seen from Hwy. 6.  At Birch Island, turn west on the first small road running into the village near the Community Centre.  A short trip down this dirt road brings you the railway.  The grade crossing here is on a gentle curve .  Large trees with homes and cottages nestled between them line this portion of the right-of-way.  It is easy to imagine the passenger trains of yesteryear stopping at the station which once stood just to the west of this crossing.  It is my understanding, not having been able to visit the area since 2000, that the current end-of-track is somewhere between Birch Island & McGregor Bay.

West of McGregor Bay, on the east side of the LaCloche Peninsula there is a Concrete Storage Facility and Marine Terminal.  This terminal was served by a spur off the Little Current Subdivision.  The siding was removed in 1997.  The terminal was originally built to supply cement for the construction of Inco's  Super Stack at the smelter in Copper Cliff.  Twenty years ago this terminal was a major shipper on the line.  It also has the distinction of being the last active shipper on the Little Current Sub with shipments ceasing in the early 1990s.  The siding was accessed by a north facing switch and branched off the main line, crossed highway 6 and proceeded eastwards about a mile into the terminal.  The roadbed can be seen to the left of the access road into the terminal.  The roadbed now parallels Highway 6 until it leaves the LaCloche Peninsula at Swift Current, a little less than a mile south of the cement plant siding and crosses over a small causeway to Great LaCloche Island. 

After crossing over to Great LaCloche Island, the roadbed turns south to cross over Hwy. 6 once again, this time at a level crossing.  After following the west side of LaCloche Channel for a little less than half a mile the right-of-way turns east to run straight across this flat island to meet up with and parallel Hwy. 6.  Notice the old stock loading ramp, located right on the former main line, which can be seen about halfway across the island.  The island, and indeed all of Manitoulin Island used to support large herds of beef cattle, many of which were shipped out via rail.  

During the seventies there was a plan hatched to build a new harbour on the east end of LaCloche Island.  Known as Fisher Harbour, this installation was to take the place of the docks at Little Current.  There were grand plans to ship huge volumes of just about everything through this harbour and at least some development work was and construction started on a siding to serve the harbour.  This siding  left the main line somewhere on the eastern end of LaCloche Island.  I have a copy of the 1990 version of the Canadian Government's 1:50,000 maps for this area.  They show the siding completed all the way to Fisher Harbour, however there is some debate as to whether the rail was actually laid.  Unfortunately the maps do not show where the siding left the main line. 

Shortly before leaving Great LaCloche Island, the railway and Hwy. 6 at one time parted company.  Hwy. 6 entered Goat Island, the site of the Turner yard facilities, at the west end of the island, while the railway entered from the east end.  Recent highway realignments have changed this.  About a mile north of Goat Island Hwy. 6 moves over to the old AER roadbed which it follows into Goat Island.  About half way across Goat Island, just south of where the old Hwy 6 alignment joins the new Hwy 6 alignment is the entrance to the former Turner Yard.  While Hwy 6 curves south to enter the Little Current Swing Bridge the AER right-of-way continued straight into the four track Turner yard.  The 4 stall Turner Shop was located north of and at the west end of the yard.  By 1997 all traces of track in the yard and at the Inco pellet loader south of the yard at the dock had been removed.  The giant Inco pellet loader dozed quietly on the site of the former coal dock by the side of the North Channel until it too met its fate at the cutting torch in 1998.  No traces of the pellet loader and the embankment leading up to the unloading bridge behind the loader remain, other than the iron ore pellets scattered all over the site. 

After crossing the through truss swing bridge, an original AER installation, Hwy. 6 turns immediately west into town.  The swing bridge was originally a railroad only bridge.  In November of 1946 it was opened to highway traffic as well.  When the right-of-way south of Little Current was abandoned in the 1980s the bridge became highway only.  Immediately after crossing the bridge, the brush choked rock cut leading to the Algoma Eastern Terminals area can be seen straight ahead.  To the right of this cut, on top of the hill, was the location of the Imperial Oil terminal, once served by a switch back from the station track.  South of the rock cut, the line curved east once more to arrive at the station.  Prior to turning east an 890 foot siding branched out straight south to service the Little Current Stock yards.  Had the line continued south, this probably would have become the main line. 

Take Hwy. 6 into town.  At the first left, turn left and them immediately left again.  Down this road a distance on the right side is a Petro-Canada bulk plant.  This former Gulf bulk plant sat at the end of the AER team track.  To the north, behind the Gulf terminal was the AER Little Current station and freight shed with its own short siding.  All traces of these structures are now gone.  Straight ahead on this road is the Shell terminal and the remains of the stock yards, both of which were once served by the railroad. 

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