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Sault partners ink agreement to bolster rail tourism

Collaborators aim to strengthen tour train, resurrect passenger rail
2017-09-09 Agawa Canyon Tour Train DMH-3
Agawa Canyon Tour Train (Donna Hopper/SooToday)

A trio of Sault Ste. Marie-area organizations has signed an agreement laying the groundwork for enhanced tourism experiences related to passenger rail service in the North.

Missanabie Cree First Nation, N1 Strategy Inc., and The Machine Shop announced on April 20 they had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining their intention to work together.

“The announcement of this partnership comes with multiple opportunities and an enhanced plan to incorporate education, tourism, and the authentic Indigenous experience in Northern Ontario,” according to a statement from the group.

“The new partnership will allow us to discuss accommodating the logistics for both trains: the Agawa Canyon Tour Train and the Bear Train Passenger Train.”

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is a seasonal tourist attraction carrying passengers between Sault Ste. Marie and the Agawa Canyon to view the changing colours of the leaves every fall.

A nascent plan for the Bear Train (or Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban in Ojibwe) proposes to resurrect passenger rail service along a 476-kilometre stretch of track between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, which ceased operation in 2015.

Both runs used track operated by CN under the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) banner.

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In late March, CN sold the non-core lines and assets from its Soo Division, which includes the ACR, to the Pittsburg, KS-headquartered transportation company Watco.

At the time, Watco said it would continue to operate the Agawa Canyon Tour Train and announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Missanabie Cree First Nation “regarding partnership opportunities” for the ACR.

Each of the three partners in the newly announced agreement propose to bring a unique perspective and expertise to the deal.

The Machine Shop, a private enterprise owned by Sault businessman Tony Porco on the site of the former St. Marys Paper mill, is currently constructing a new depot for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which will include a cultural exhibit featuring information about the Algoma region.

Jason Gauthier, chief of the Missanabie Cree First Nation, will bring “a wealth of knowledge and a historical perspective to the region to help educate the public on the traditional territory,” noted the partners.

N1 Strategy, which is a division of N1 Solutions, proposes to contribute expertise in logistics and operations, onboarding, sales, and marketing for the project.

“The three partners are coming together for programming, infrastructure and operations, and are very excited to create the ultimate experience in Sault Ste. Marie,” said the statement.