Sir James Mine

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Abandoned Sir James open pit. July 19, 2017. The flat area visible through the trees at the immediate bottom of the image is probably the tail end of the roadbed of the ACR spur.

On this trip, I had a chance to find and check out the old Sir James open pit mine and the former ACR Siderite Spur which served it. While all the former structures and facilities at the mine are long gone, you can’t hide the scars created by surface mining, and some concrete foundations still exist next to the road.

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Location of Sir James Mine.

Finding the old mine site isn’t difficult, however the road is not obviously marked with any signage and looks like a private driveway. If you know what you’re looking for though, it’s easy to spot, as it’s immediately at the east end of Wawa Lake on Highway 101. From here it’s a short drive on this gravel road. The first sign you’ve arrived at the mine site is a pair of large tailing piles on either side of the road as the road curves and climbs up to the

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Aerial view of the loading facilities at Sir James Mine in the late 1950s. Lena Lake in the background. Image via www.michiwawa.ca

The Sir James Mine, named after Sir James Dunn, who was the head of the Algoma Steel Corporation in the late 1930s through early 1950s, was developed in the late 1950s and opened in 1958. The mine operated for about 10 years, into the late 1960s, although the spur that served it remained listed in the ACR timetable until 1980.

Following the abandonment of the site, the various mine structures were removed and the loading tunnel and any underground features were filled in for safety.

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North end of the filled in rail car loading structure at Sir James Mine. Only the top corners of the tunnel portal are still visible poking out from the rock pile. July 19, 2017

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North end of the loading structure in the late 1950s, shortly after opening. Image via www.michiwawa.ca

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Part of the concrete base of the gantry support tower sticking out of the rocks beside the tunnel portal.

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North portal of the rail car loading structure foundations. July 19, 2017

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Top surface of the rail car loading tunnel at Sir James Mine, looking north. Heavy concrete bulwark near centre image is one of the support foundations for the conveyor structure.

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Looking away from the loading structure. From this point the road follows the roadbed of the abandoned ACR Siderite Spur for approximately 3 miles to where it meets the abandoned right of way of the Michipicoten subdivision.

Rail service to the mine was provided via the 3.2 mile Siderite Subdivision (in 1960s timetables, the branch was listed as the Siderite Subdivision and has its own footnotes regarding handling of ore trains, but in 1970s timetables it’s downgraded to just a spur and noted within the Michicipicoten Subdivision footnotes) which connected to the Michipicoten Subdivision at Siderite Junction, located at Mile 12.7.

The Siderite Subdivision was pretty well-built, with broad curves, long stretches of tangent track and an almost dead flat gradient. A number of high fills and deep rock cuts are prominent features in places.

The spur was finally removed from ACR timetables around 1981.

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The route of the Siderite Subdivision clearly stands out in the satellite imagery. Siderite Junction, where the mine branch meets the Michipicoten Subdivision at at top left, Sir James Mine (“Siderite” on the ACR timetable) clearly visible at bottom right.

 

Recent Visit to Algoma Country – Notes and Observations

So this week I just got back from another visit to the former Algoma Central railway. I took my girlfriend up with me (who hadn’t really been up to Northern Ontario before and was looking forward to seeing the area) for a few days of camping, general scenic sight-seeing and of course, riding the Agawa Canyon excursion train.

Here’s a few of the railway-related observations from that trip.

Agawa Canyon Tour Train

Agawa Canyon Tour Train unloading at Sault Ste. Marie station. July 17, 2017

Passenger Traffic

With the loss of the regular Sault-Hearst passenger service just a few days over exactly two years previous, the current situation is pretty straightforward – it’s just the Canyon Tour Train operating during the summer/fall months. July is not the peak season for the train – that will come in September when the fall colours start to come out and the train runs at full capacity – so our train on Monday was a short five car affair. The full northbound consist of the train was:

CN 106 F40PHR
AC 5701 “Montreal River” Coach (the one we rode in)
AC 5655 Accessible Coach
AC 5703 “Chippewa River” Snack Bar Coach
AC 506 Dining Car
AC 5708 “Ogidaki Lake” Coach
CN 105 F40PHR

The tour train leaves Sault Ste. Marie at 8 AM, and is scheduled to arrive back at the station around 6 PM – often arriving between 5:30 and 6, although we were delayed a while on the trip south to meet a northbound freight at Frater. (Sun angles make the afternoon arrival the best option for one wanting to photograph the tour train.)

CN 573 at Hawk

CN 573’s power makes a switching move at Hawk Junction, with a long string of Herzog ballast hoppers in the background. July 19, 2017

Freight Traffic

Freights continue to operate over the line as 573 (north) & 574 (south) between Steelton Yard and Hawk Junction and 571 (north) & 572 (south) between Hawk and Hearst. The schedule (if there is such a thing) of the southbound 574 remains a complete mystery (probably entirely dependent on crew rest & availability at Hawk) – on Monday morning I heard a southbound pass our campground in the middle of the night, around 4 AM, but heard nothing the other two nights we stayed there, and on other trips I’ve heard on the radio 574 meeting the northbound tour train at Frater or Wabos, so it’s all over the map. 573 seems to be pretty consistently an early morning train out of the Sault with arrival at Hawk Junction in mid-afternoon based on my isolated sightings over the last few years. However Monday’s train was definitely delayed out of the Sault as we met it at Frater, so it would have been significantly later into Hawk Junction that day. On Wednesday, we happened across 573 arriving at Hawk between 3 and 4 PM.

Monday’s 573 had two engines and roughly 40-45 cars, with a large volume of copper/nickel concentrate from Michigan, steel products from Essar Steel and a few empty scrap metal, lumber and woodpulp cars.

Wednesday’s 573 was also a sizable train with a variety of cars including steel products, empty lumber flatcars and woodpulp boxcars, a few cars of concentrate, tank cars for sulphuric and hydrochloric acid, and others (I didn’t actually see the entire back half of the train as there wasn’t time to hang around for 571’s recrew.)

There was also a long string of woodpulp boxcars and pulpwood flatcars sitting in the Hawk Junction yard which had probably come off the previous day’s 572 and waiting to go south on a 574.

Pulpwood logs were being loaded at the large log spur at Mile 10 just outside the Sault, as well as at Regent and Frater sidings. At each of these locations, the majority of the flatcars seemed to have VRSX reporting marks – sadly I was not able to get photos of any of these cars. A few others had GROX marks, and some of the AC/WC marked flatcars were of course also mixed in.

Rounding out CN freight operations in the area, the freight that crosses the border from the United States still comes in in the evening, we managed to catch one on Monday night around 8 PM. This train brings in the iron ore for Essar Steel from Tilden Mine, as well as any other traffic for the Sault from the United States, mostly pulpwood and steel empties.

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Abandoned Michipicoten Subdivision right-of-way.

General

That mostly concludes notes on current operations. We also took an opportunity to drive down the back road past the abandoned Sir James open pit mine (probably a separate post to specifically highlight this), and used the old Michipicoten Subdivision roadbed to loop back to Hawk Junction. The route is maintained (there were a couple places where a dip and change in the roadbed definitely seemed to indicate a washout that had been repaired long after the railway had been abandoned) for a snowmobile trail in the winter, and some locals have even established some remote camp sites back in the bush along the old right-of-way, so it’s definitely passable from Siderite to Hawk. We found this to be an immensely scenic drive with a lot of quiet and pretty lakes along the route.

On the Forest Industry in Northern Ontario & Quebec – Part 2: Quebec

Continued from Part 1. (See notes in Part 1 on major consolidations and mergers.)

A pair of local family-owned companies, Normick-Perron, owned by the Perron brothers of La Sarre before being sold to Noranda Forest (later Nexfor) in 1989, and Forex, owned by the Cossette family of Val d’Or, figure pretty heavily on the scene in the Abitibi region during the 1980s, with pretty big expansions during the 1970s with consolidations and acquisitions of many other local family-owned businesses.

La Sarre, QC

Normick-Perron (OSB/panelboard) – This Normick-Perron mill was built in the mid 1950s by H. Perron et Fils and the only Nexfor property in the region not sold off in the early 2000s and operates today as Norboard, Inc. (since 2004), a major supplier of oriented strandboard products.

Normick-Perron (lumber) – In 1970 H. Perron et Fils merged with JH Normick of La Sarre to form Normick-Perron. During the early 1970s the Perron family concentrated their sawmill operations in the nearby area in La Sarre. The lumber mill was sold by Nexfor to Tembec in 2003 and as far as I can tell is also still operating.

Taschereau, QC

?? (lumber) – Couldn’t find a lot of detailed information on this one but it was sold to Tembec in 1987 and operated by that company until permanently shuttered in 2009.

Amos, QC

Materiaux Blanchet (lumber) – Materiaux Blanchet purchased the Amos sawmill in 1982 from Theo Ayotte and continues to maintain a significant operation here today.

Normick-Perron (lumber) – Normick-Perron acquired a sawmill in Amos from J.E. Thierrien in 1972. I haven’t been able to track the history of this one, but in addition to the large active Materiaux Blanchet mill today, there appears to be a pair of clearly abandoned sawmills visible in the Google satellite imagery of this town but I’m not sure when or under what name the mills were operating when closed.

Normick-Donohue (newsprint) – Established in 1979 as a joint partnership between Normick-Perron (later Noranda Forest Products/Nexfor) and Donohue, Inc. under the name Normick-Donohue to produce newsprint, in 1995 Nexfor sold off their stake to Donohue. In 2000, Donohue, Inc. was acquired by Abitibi-Consolidated (currently Resolute Forest Products) and this mill is still in operation today.

Landrienne, QC

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Flatcar load of lumber from Scierie Landrienne on the ONR at Cochrane, ON. My photo July 16, 2013.

Scierie Landrienne (lumber) – This independent mill was established in 1979 and continues to operate under the same name today although the company was purchased by Chantier Chibougamau in 2015 – another local company based in Chibougamau, QC.

Barraute, QC

Maibec/Optibois? (lumber) – Not entirely sure of the history of this mill, but it looks like it was sold to Materiaux Blanchet in 1988. It doesn’t appear to be listed on Materiaux Blanchet’s web site as a current operation, and some Googling isn’t turning up much useful, and it looks like it’s been shut down and abandoned.

Senneterre, QC

Normick-Perron (lumber) – In 1976 Normick-Perron purchased a sawmill in Senneterre from Paradis & Fils. This mill was sold to Tembec by Nexfor in 2003. In late 2016, Tembec announced the sale of this mill to Resolute Forest Products.

Saucier? (lumber) – another locally owned sawmill in Senneterre was sold to Donohue, Inc. in 1988. In 2000, Donohue was acquired by Abitibi-Consolidated (later Abitibi-Bowater, then Resolute Forest Products) and this mill is still in operation today.

Matagami, QC

Bisson & Bisson (lumber) – Bisson & Bisson first established a sawmill in Matagami in 1968 and relocated to the current location in 1974 after a fire. The mill was acquired by Domtar in 1988, and subsquently by EACOM in 2010. The mill is still in operation today, although CN has indicated an intention to abandon the branch line serving this mill so it may soon lose rail service.

Quevillon, QC

Domtar (pulp/paper) – the paper mill at Quevillon (and the neighbouring community of Lebel-sur-Quevillon) was established by the Domnion Tar & Chemical Co. (Domtar) in 1966. The mill produced softwood kraft pulp and paper, and in 1974 Domtar built a sawmill connected to this facility. The Domtar mill at Quevillon operated into the early 2000s but was closed permanently in 2008. In 2012 the non-operating mill was sold to Fortress Paper with the intention of converting the mill to produce high-cellulose “dissolving pulp”, however a change in market conditions (high import tariffs implemented by China) scuttled this. In 2016 the mill property and assets were sold to Nexolia Bioenergy.

Val d’Or, QC

Forex (lumber) – Not sure of early history, but it was owned by Forex in the 1980s and sold to Domtar in 1985. Currently in operation as EACOM’s Val d’Or mill. Side note: this mill appears to be the current destination of a large move of pulpwood traffic off the former ACR.

Forex (lumber) – A second lumber mill in Val d’Or, this mill was acquired from the Sullivan family in 1980 and sold to Domtar in 1985. Currently in operation as EACOM’s Sullivan mill.

Forex (OSB/Particleboard) -If I understand what I’ve read correctly (on a French site using Google Translate), this mill was started by Forex in 1975 and operated under the name Forpan during the early 1980s. Sold to Uniboard in 1987 and still doing business today under that name.

Malartic, QC

Forex (lumber) – Another Forex mill in the Val d’Or area sold to Domtar in 1985. Not too sure of history before that. Domtar closed the mill in 1997.

On the Forest Industry in Northern Ontario & Quebec – Part 1: Ontario

During a couple of visits over 2013-2015 to Northern Ontario to investigate and railfan some of what remains of the Algoma Central’s operations as well as the other regional lines such as the Huron Central and Ontario Northland, I noticed westbound loads of lumber travelling towards Hearst from companies like Scierie Landriene, EACOM and Resolute Forest Products that I knew (or was pretty sure) didn’t have local mills served directly by the Ontario Northland, but had come from much further afield from the CN in northern Quebec (interchanged to the ONR via Rouyn-Noranda and routed to Hearst via Englehart and Cochrane). Also, I saw empty pulpwood flatcars heading back to Hearst after having delivered logs cut somewhere on the former ACR territory to one or more of these mills in Quebec.

CN at Wyborn

Southbound freight at the old ACR Wyborn siding in Hearst, ON. In the first four cars are loads of lumber from Tembec, EACOM and Scierie Landrienne, as well as a high-cube boxcar probably loaded with paper. My photo, July 17, 2015.

Obviously this made me interested in finding out where some of these mills were located – and if possible to find out what companies operated them during the mid 1980s – as the possibility of some interesting and realistic bridge traffic off the CN at Hearst would be great enhancement to the operations planning on my future ACR layout. (Also, if I could be even luckier and find appropriate images of lumber loads with correct company heralds to model…)

Tracking the ownership history of each individual mill is a bit dizzying with entire companies being frequently merged, sold/acquired and renamed as well as individual mills being sold between companies. I may have made some mistakes (corrections and/or clarifications are welcome) and I’ve quite probably missed some, but to me I feel I definitely have more than enough information to be able to have a nice sample set of realistic bridge traffic opportunities.

Also note that this research has been specifically limited only to mills along the CN (former National Transcontinental) line through Hearst-Cochrane-Senneterre (and its branches) and the Ontario Northland that might have plausibly generated westbound bridge traffic over a portion or all of the ACR route. For information on mills served directly by the ACR, see my previous posts from my Operations series on paper, lumber and other forest products traffic that already cover this information.

Some general notes on some of the larger corporations and companies:

Normick-Perron, operator of several mills in the area was sold to Noranda Forest Inc. in 1989. Noranda later renamed Nexfor in 1998. In the early 2000s, Nexfor sold off sawmill assets to Tembec and split into two companies to each focus on their own objectives in 2004: Norboard (OSB/Panelboard products) and Fraser Papers (paper products).

Abitibi Paper Co. (formerly Abitibi Power & Paper Co.) merged with Price Inc. to become Abitibi-Price in 1979, with futher major mergers with Stone Consolidated Corp. to form Abitibi-Consolidated in 1997, and Bowater in 2007 to create Abitibi-Bowater. In 2011 Abitibi-Bowater was renamed Resolute Forest Products under which it continues to do business today.

Tembec is a major forestry operator today, although does not really appear on the scene during my time frame. Tembec was formed in 1973 to operate the former Canadian International Paper pulp mill in Temiscaming, QC with their first sawmill acquisition in the same area (served by the CPR northeast of North Bay, ON and not really relevant to any bridge traffic that could have operated on the ACR) in 1986. However since then Tembec has come to acquire a very large number of operations in both Ontario and Quebec.

Update – in November 2017 Tembec was acquired by Rayonier Advanced Materials (RYAM).

The E.B. Eddy company operated several mills in northern Ontario including during the late 1990s the ex-Weyerhaeuser/G.W. Martin lumber & veneer mill in Sault Ste. Marie served by the ACR. E.B. Eddy was acquired by Domtar in 1998. Domtar also acquired several mills in the Abitibi-Temiscaming region in Quebec from Forex in 1985. In 2010 Domtar sold their sawmill assets to EACOM Timber.

So, without further ado, moving roughly west to east on the map and listing mills by what as far as I can tell was the operating name around 1985:

Calstock, ON

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Flatcar load of lumber from Lecours Lumber at Wyborn (Hearst, ON) – my photo, July 16, 2015

Lecours Lumber (lumber) – This mill has been privately owned and operated since 1943 and continues to be one of the largest privately owned mills in Ontario.

Hearst, ON

Tembec Hearst

A portion of the Tembec (formerly Malette, formerly United Sawmills, formerly Fontaine Lumber) mill next to the Ontario Northland yard at Hearst, ON. My photo, July 17, 2015

United Sawmills (lumber) – Formerly Fontaine lumber, becoming United Sawmills in 1982. In 1990 the mill was sold to Malette, Inc. of Timmins, ON and was subsequently purchased by Tembec in 1995 and still operates today.

Levesque Lumber (lumber) – J.D. Levesque operated a couple of small sawmills in the early 1950s (with one located next to the ACR at Wyborn) but the most recent sawmill/planer appears to have been built in the early 1960s (and rebuilt once or twice in the 1970s) at the east end of Hearst. Levesque Lumber went out of business in 1992, although a group of investors operated the planer under the name Tricept until 2006.

Levesque Plywood (plywood, particleboard) – Not to be confused with J.D. Levesque Lumber (which I did for quite a while), Levesque Plywood was formed in the early 1960s by two of J.D.’s sons. The company survived the mill’s destruction by fire in 1965 and continued to expand in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The mill was sold to Columbia Forest Products in 1995 and still operates today. Side note: when I visited Sault Ste. Marie in 2004, Columbia Forest Products was operating a log reload (into flatcars) on a portion of the former Algoma Central shops property behind the former car shop.

Kapuskasing, ON

Spruce Falls Power & Paper Co. (newsprint) – This mill was established in 1926 as a partnership between Kimberly-Clark and the New York Times. The mill has been the exclusive supplier of newsprint to the Times since 1928 and the bulk of traffic from this mill goes south/east over the Ontario Northland. I don’t know if the mill ONLY provides newsprint to the NY Times, but it seems like a good source for the occasional car or two of newsprint sent to a midwest paper. In 1997 Tembec became the sole owner of this mill which still operates today.

Side note: of particular interest, during the late 1960s this mill leased a fleet of 75 boxcars from Pullman’s Transport Leasing Co. (and another 20 cars were leased by CN from TLCX) in an attractive forest green scheme with large billboard lettering, although these cars were returned to the lessor in 1973* and CN provided the mill with their own cars. (*The cars were subsequently leased by Canadian Pacific and numbered in the CPAA 899xx range until 1987.)

Smooth Rock Falls, ON

Abitibi-Price (pulp) – Another old mill established in the early 1900s, Abitibi sold the mill to Malette in 1989, and this became a Tembec operation when Tembec purchased Malette in 1995. Unfortunately this mill closed down permanently in 2006.

Cochrane, ON

Normick-Perron (lumber) – I had a hard time coming up with any detailed information on the history of this mill online but it appears Normick-Perron operated a mill here. Today Tembec still operates a mill here and I presume it’s likely the same one. I found specific reference to Nexfor (formerly Noranda Forest, formerly Normick-Perron) mills at La Sarre and Senneterre, QC being sold to Tembec in 2003 but no specific reference to some of the other former Normick-Perron mills.

Iroquois Falls, ON

Abitibi-Price (newsprint) – Another Abitibi mill (this one served by a branch of the Ontario Northland) this is one that I can actually CONFIRM has shipped paper over the ACR at least at some point. Over on the Green Bay & Western Lines website, they have a collection of waybill data for a nearly two month period of cars delivered to the Ahnapee & Western Railway in Green Bay, WI and there’s one waybill recorded of an Ontario Northland boxcar loaded with paper for a local newspaper and it’s routed over the ACR (AC&HB as it was then still known). Resolute Forest Products shut down this mill in 2015.

Kirkland Lake, ON

Normick-Perron (lumber) -Located on the Ontario Northland’s branch to Rouyn-Noranda, QC. Similar to the Cochrane mill I didn’t find a lot of information on the history of this one; it was eventually owned by Tembec but has been idle since 2008.

Edit: since this was originally posted, this mill seems to have been resurrected as Kirkland Lake Forest Products, with product exclusively marketed/distributed by EACOM.

Englehart

Grant Forest Products (OSB) – Another privately-owned family business founded in 1980, Grant Forest Products established an OSB mill in Englehart, ON and eventually expanded to several facilities in Ontario, Alberta and South Carolina. After falling into bankruptcy during the late-2000s recession, Grant’s assets including the Englehart mill and a secondary facility a few miles south in Earlton were sold to Georgia-Pacific in 2010 and are still operated by G-P today. Another Grant Forest Products facility in Timmins had been permanently closed in 2006 and later demolished. I’m guessing that most or all of output from this mill would have gone south over the ONR via North Bay however.

ACR Auxiliary Bunk Cabins

As a final follow-up to my previous posts on the ACR’s standard section houses, I wanted to include a highlight on the extra little bunk cabins that were located near by in certain locations to increase bunk capacity for a larger section crew, as the standard section house only had two bedrooms and was generally the home of the section foreman and his family, if he had one. In some remote locations, the main house was all there was, but in many others, there could be a few of these extra bunks for additional personnel.

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Abandoned bunk cabins at Batchewana, 2012. Photo courtesy Dan Kachur.

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Abandoned bunk cabins at Batchewana, 2012. Photo courtesy Dan Kachur.

This pair of one room cabins are located next to the section house at Batchewana. Other cabins at other locations appeared to be quite similar if not the same, although variations are proven to exist.

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Interior of abandoned bunk cabin at Batchewana. May 2012. Photo courtesy Dan Kachur.

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Interior of abandoned bunk cabin at Batchewana. May 2012. Photo courtesy Dan Kachur.

These shots give a good view of the interior of one of these cabins, and also their current abandoned nature. Check out the massive hole in the back wall.

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Cabin at Canyon. June 2000. My photo.

This cabin at Canyon has been rebuilt with new windows and siding to match some of the other structures at the park but otherwise appears to be a mirror image of the cabins at Batchewana. I’ve found a few 1960s era photos that while not showing a full view of this cabin, do show that it was then present and at the time it was clad in “insul-brick” asphalt shingle siding like the Batchewana cabins.

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Bunk cabins at Frater, September 2013. Now appears to be a private camp. My photo.

These cabins at Frater appear to be a variation. Neither is quite the same as the Batchewana or Canyon cabins. Looks like the new owner has upgraded the larger cabin with a home-made bay window, probably using materials scavanged from the old station when it was torn down. The siding on this building, which appears to be asbestos shingles, could also be found on some other ACR structures including several stations such as Frater, Goudreau, Mosher, and Wawa and similar other small structures.

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Bunk cabin near Perry, September 2013. May have been a private cabin for a time, but looks abandoned now. My photo.

This little cabin at Perry seems to be quite similar to the cabin at Frater, but mirror imaged. The side alongside the rails has obviously been modified and had its siding replaced, but the original siding is still on both gable ends. This structure is currently located a little ways down from the main complex of structures around the old section house, but definitely has the look of an ACR structure. It may have been moved.

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Cabin at Mekatina. July 2014. My photo.

Another cabin at Mekatina, almost identical to the one at Perry (other than the bit to the right that appears to have been added on later). A second similar structure is just out of frame to the right. Mekatina once also boasted a train order office (closed and torn down, but the concrete foundations remain) and one of the standard section houses, but the main section house burned down in the late 1970s.