History of the Webbwood, Little Current Subs and the Nickel Spur

Exploratory surveys for a transcontinental rail line from Mattawa to Sault Ste. Marie were started in 1871, south of Lake Nipissing.

By its articles of organization in 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway committed to constructing an entirely Canadian route to the Pacific Ocean.

However, boat transportation between Sault Ste. Marie and the lakehead was used as a temporary solution until a viable route north of Lake Superior could be found.

As a matter of expediency, temporary port facilities were started at Algoma Mills or the mouth of the Spanish River in 1881 rather than at the S.S. Marie.

Up until the all-Canadian route was fixed as branching from Sudbury junction, this route was regarded as a component of the main line.

Willisville Train Station

The SOO Branch

A rail line between Algoma Mills and the main line in Sudbury was first built in 1882; it was later known as the SOO branch.

Completed in 1884, the SOO branch was not required and remained idle until 1888, when it was brought up to code and extended eighty-four miles to S.S. Marie, Ontario, where a middleman acting on behalf of the CPR had just acquired the rights to a financially troubled American line, the Minneapolis, St. Paul and S.S. Marie, which had a track built to S.S. Marie, Michigan.

In 1889, a bridge over the St. Mary’s River that was built jointly by the CPR and the American railway firm was finished and made traffic-accessible. As a result, what was previously intended to be the CPR’s route to Canada’s west coast became their means of obtaining a significant portion of the eastbound traffic emanating from south of the 49″‘ parallel.

CPR Management

In 1890, CPR took over the Soo line when the intermediate experienced financial problems.

The Manitoulin and North Shore Railway Co. (M&NSR) received authorization about this time in 1888 to construct from a connection to the CPR at Sudbury, along the north shore of Georgian Bay, to Manitoulin Island. They received permission to extend the railway via Little Current to Owen Sound in 1900. Of course, the goal was to establish a Sudbury-based southern route to Toronto that was independent of the CPR.

In addition, the Webbwood Subdivision of the CPR’s Sault Ste. Marie branch was extended north to link with the Algoma Central Railway, passing close to the area that is today known as McKerrow.

Willisville Train

M&NSR Connection

The M&NSR started building in 1900 from a connection to the CPR at Sudbury to serve the Copper Cliff smelters of INCO (formerly known as the Canadian Copper Co.).

Clarabelle was the name of the intersection where the INCO and M&NS railways met. The fourteen-mile-long railway was extended past Clarabelle to the mines of Elsie and Gertrude.

A sizable pulp and paper factory was established at Espanola on the Spanish River, and a two-mile spur from Espanola to the CPR at Mckerrow was built under the M&NS charter and leased to the CPR in order to offer rail services to this plant. The two aforementioned mines were forced to close in 1903 due to financial issues, and work on the M&NS railway was put on hold. However, by 1907, things had improved, and the M&NS railway and Algoma Central Railway extended their lines.

The M&NSR became the Algoma Eastern Railway in 1911 as a result of the fact that both lines, despite being separated by 170 miles, were run by the same management (AER). Later, the rails were expanded to connect with the Espanola spur at milepost 47.6.

Extensions and End of the Line

Although initially intended to transport ore and ore byproducts, the Algoma Eastern would go on to make a successful business carrying coal to the smelters at Sudbury in the following years. This was the end of the line.

The AER was leased to the CPR for 999 years in 1930, at which point it joined the Sault Ste. Marie division. The Algoma line was on the verge of being abandoned because of the redundant trackage between Sudbury and Espanola.

The trackage between Espanola and Turbine was abandoned in 1931, along with the AER shop and yard at Sudbury.
The next year, a further 19.6 miles east of Turbine were eliminated from service. The track was extended to a distance of 17.5 miles from Sudbury in 1935.

The Little Current Subdivision is the remaining 7.8 miles of the AER from McKerrow to just before the bridge to Goat Island. Currently, just the first three miles of the railway are used for railroad operations.

History Preservation of Sault Ste Marie

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