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Michipicoten Harbour

Sometimes, despite the research we put into our trips to maximize our chances of success, places come to us as a complete surprise. Michipicoten Harbour was such a case; only falling on our radar after talking with locals who had spotted us poking around another location and were curious about what we were up to. With the information they gave, Brind and I headed down to the harbour, not quite sure what we were going to find.

Location attributes for Michipicoten Harbour
Algoma District, Ontario, Canada
Built :: Closed   Status   Difficulty
1898 :: 1952   Abandoned   ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Hazards Risk   Security Risk   AUE Rating
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆   ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Hazard Observations   Security Observations
Nesting Birds   None Specified

The history of Michipicoten Harbour is readily available, unlike most places we saw this trip. The harbour was developed as part of the Helen Iron Mine in 1898, with the 13 mile gap linked by the first part of what ultimately became the Algoma Central Railway (ACR). Ore was shipped from the harbour down to the steel industry in Sault Ste Marie. When the iron mines shuttered in the 1920's, the harbour also went silent with it. Although it was refitted for coal handling in the 1930's, when iron became a hot commodity in 1937, the local mines sprung back to life and Michipicoten became an iron shipping hub again. The harbour lasted until 1952 and was finally shuttered, having been obsoleted as the ore shipments took to the rails of the ACR.

As soon as we got to the site, the concrete foundations for the ore hoppers still stood tall. The ruins are effectively a bunker (and we referred to it as such); while they provided the supports for a conveyor system, a lower conveyor system was also contained in the structure itself. Venturing into the bunker, past some birds angrily defending their nests, we found the remains of the lower conveyor and the hopper doors, extremely rusty but otherwise in surprisingly good shape. After some more exploring of the site, we found the top side of the hopper doors under dirt and leaves, and we also found the portal for the upper conveyor, mostly backfilled but still accessible.

Inside, we found an underground hopper, sitting under grates that ran parallel to the old rail embankment. We also found part of the upper conveyor, again mostly intact. While the surface portion of the conveyor had been removed, the underground section had been left untouched.

Looking at historical photos of the site, it's very obvious how it all worked worked. At the time, and without any reference material, we were left to deduce for ourselves the layout of the facilities and how they interacted. We were close; we did figure out the two conveyor systems and how they worked. Ore and other materials would be offloaded from the rail cars on the hillside into a hopper, and then transported along the upper conveyor to the structure, where they would be piled on top of the lower conveyor structure. Hopper doors were used to separate the storage from the lower conveyor, such that workers could choose what material was being shipped out for transport.

The only part I didn't realize was that the materials were piled loose under the upper conveyor, as I figured they would have been loaded into another set of hoppers for storage. Regardless, it a simple solution to handling multiple materials, and one that is probably typical at harbour facilities of the era.

I always have a soft spot for abandoned industrial, especially when equipment is left in place. Michipicoten Harbour fit that role perfectly, scratching the industrial facility itch, at least for a little bit.

Bunkers and Converyors - August 2023
Historical Photos - Sometime in the Past...

A couple of photos of the second generation of the harbour facilities, showing the conveyor and bunker system in operation. This would have been after the refit in the 1930's.

From the collection of Don Pugh, found on Flickr.

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