Algoma Central Engine House, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Backgrounder

Representative of the early 20th century’s ambitions to increase and improve transportation through northern Ontario, the Algoma Central Engine House in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario’s Steelton Yard, is a remarkably well-preserved example of its type. It was built in 1912 by the Arnold Company of Chicago for the terminal of the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway, which connected Sault Ste. Marie to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)’s main line. Originally used to maintain and overhaul steam locomotives, it was the first “square house” in Canada to have an interior turntable, providing access to its 14 radiating pit tracks. Its innovative design allowed the building to be easily converted, with only a few alterations, to servicing diesel engines during the 1950s.

The Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway was founded in 1899 by American-born industrialist Francis Hector Clergue. It initially connected Sault Ste. Marie to the massive iron deposits found near Michipicoten, Ontario, in 1897. Clergue’s empire collapsed in 1903. Following its acquisition by new ownership, the Railway connected with the CPR main line at Franz, Ontario. It was later renamed the Algoma Central Railway and became part of Canadian National’s Eastern Division in 2001.

With no precedent in Canada when it was built, the Algoma Central Engine House brought an innovative design to the country’s railroads. At the time, Canadian engine houses were typically smaller buildings that used a run-through design, where parallel tracks ran into, and often out the other side of the building. By comparison, the Algoma Central Engine House, with its interior turntable, was built to a massive scale. Its T-shape plan consists of a large engine house attached at right angles to a large machine shop. Double entry doors at opposite ends of the structure provide access. The design features a series of massive window openings along the engine house walls, set between the pilasters and anchored in brick, which help define the building’s aesthetic quality.

Since its construction, the Algoma Engine House has served the double purpose of performing both regular running repairs, typical of an engine house at a divisional point on a longer line, and major overhauls, which would normally be associated with a repair shop, not an engine house. It was a magnificent success, not only in its original intended purpose of servicing steam locomotives, but also in converting to diesel maintenance in the 1950s with limited alterations. In Canada, this is unique to the Algoma Engine House. As a testament to the success of its design, the building has survived virtually intact.

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