A Look at the New Agawa Canyon Tour Train Station

I’m a little behind the ball in posting this, as I originally thought to post something to line up with this season’s restart of full service on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train on August 1 – which is now over a week ago. (The season will run this year to October 10.)

Following the demolition of the old paper mill buildings a few years ago – although the remaining original sandstone mill buildings were saved – the city of Sault Ste. Marie has been very busy redeveloping the old mill property into a hot little zone of community activity. Part of this re-development has included the construction of a brand new home for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which as of 2022 has relocated from its previous downtown station at the Station Mall to this new station at the old mill.

I passed through Sault Ste. Marie earlier in July, and while there was no tour train activity yet at that point, I was able to get a good collection of photos of the new structure.

New home for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.

The new building contains not only the Agawa Canyon Tour Train ticket sales desk and office, but an outdoor sports outfitter’s store, a micro-brewery, and a pub restaurant.

West side of the new station building with the BlockHouse Pub.

Outside of the station is a neat little display of historical railway equipment. The “wood boxcar” has been on display for a few years in the Sault as an interpretive exhibit about Canada’s “Group of Seven” artists; a well known and regarded group of artists who produced artworks of northern Ontario’s scenery, and spent a significant time traveling and living out of a converted boxcar on the Algoma Central. This particular recreation appears to have been built from the framework of the old “camp car” that used to be used on the ACR. Also preserved on display is caboose AC 9609, probably the last remaining caboose in “original” AC colours (this car was acquired secondhand in 1992 from CP).

Historic equipment display at the new station.

The rest of the area at this end of the old paper mill is also being nicely re-purposed. The original paper mill office building across the parking lot is now a music conservatory, and next to the old office, and also across the parking lot and grass from the new station, another original mill building has been renovated with restaurants and an arts and music venue.

The Machine Shop (left) has been renovated with a concert venue, bar, and restaurant. In the background, the original core of the paper mill waits to be preserved.

Also behind/adjacent to the new station is another new structure, an open/covered pavillion named simply “The Rink”. In this winter this structure is a covered outdoor ice rink.

The Rink, with the station in the background.

While the ticket office was not open, as it was almost a month yet before the tour train was actually running, I peeked in through the large windows, and a nice touch inside at the ticket sales desk are the name boards off an old passenger car above the desk.

Ticket sales desk at the new station.

In conclusion, the Agawa Canyon Tour has a nice new home, and in general the old mill property seems to be on the way to a rather nice redevelopment.

W-Day, February 1, 2022

Today is the official first day of operations for Watco’s new “Agawa Canyon Railroad”.

The last CN train L572 to leave Hawk Junction departed in the evening of January 30 for Hearst. While CN will still be operating between Hearst and Oba, how that will be operated appears to be in a state of flux still, with those details to be confirmed and ironed out.

No local word on whether ACR trains have begun operating north of Sault Ste. Marie yet, but various news reports over the last few weeks have indicated the new company will employ 27 people and operate between Sault Ste. Marie and Oba with eight locomotives – six SD40-2s and two GP40-3s.

Back in at the end of June 2021, 4 SD40-2s were moved to Steelton yard:

WAMX 4181 SD40-2 (Wisconsin & Southern paint)
WAMX 4182 SD40-2 (Wisconsin & Southern)
WAMX 4191 SD40M-2 (Wisconsin & Southern)
WAMX 4192 SD40M-2 (Wisconsin & Southern)

Not much word on the remaining four units so far, but WAMX GP40 4051 (Watco standard black & yellow paint) was spotted in the yard in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan just today per a facebook post from a northern Michigan railfan group. (Presumably this will be for the ACR, but could also be for Watco’s new Grand Elk Railroad operation between Trout Lake and Munising, MI.)

The new railway is also intended to take over operation of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, so presumably the passenger cars and engines associated with that train would be included in the sale of the railway.

Watco has a page up on their site now highlighting their new Canadian railway:

https://www.watco.com/service/agawa-canyon-railroad-acr/

The new name and logo of the railway pay nice homage to the history of the Algoma Central, bringing back the black bear, and keeping the ACR initials* and also highlighting the brand of the Agawa Canyon tour train.

* It looks like the new reporting marks for the railway may actually be “ACR” (vs. AC for the original railway, which reporting mark is still active under CN and used on a number of log cars).

Not much is known yet about what operations under Watco will look like, hopefully we will find out more in the coming days.