From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
There has been a special piece of equipment located in Bellevue Park that has caught the attention of all ages since 1967 — Porter the Train.
Porter’s nickname was respectfully given to it in tribute of the H.K. Porter Company; the company who built it. This locally famous industrial train, also known as Engine #10, can be found on the north side of the park. It was one of two trains purchased by the Algoma Steel Corporation 75 years ago, in 1943. The iconic 48,000-pound locomotive was once used in its prime to build the Algoma Steel Corporation’s No. 5 blast furnace, and was later used as a shuttle to move coke cars to Algoma’s numerous blast furnaces.
Once the train was taken out of service, it was donated to the park in 1967 as a Centennial project and it became a popular addition to the Bellevue Park playground for almost 40 years. The city was forced to build a fence around it in 2006 when it was determined by the city’s insurers of facilities that Porter was a safety hazard and did not meet CSA safety standards for children to play on.
There was an immediate out-cry from city residents to take the fence down and leave Porter as it was, so that children could continue to play on the train as the generations before them had done. A campaign to save the train was started, and accumulated over 3,000 members advocating for its release over a Facebook page. A rally was organized with 30 adults and children defending the train. There were even shirts made with the message, “Save the train. Protect Porter, a piece of Sault heritage”.
According to a Sault Star article during this time, an unknown artist painted three teardrops on Porter’s face during the city’s battle of whether or not the train would continue to be jailed behind bars. However, the city won this debate and the fence is still seen around Porter to this day. They improved the train with a new coat of paint and installed a panel to explain what the role of the train was, as well as to thank Algoma Steel for its donation in 1967. ASC had maintained the locomotive for 30 years until they had to pass the torch on to the city in 1994, due to their financial situation at the time.
According to the Canadian Railroad Museum, the train is believed to be one of only two in existence in Canada but Porter is considered to be in the best condition of the two. Although, the engine has been modified to have all of its controls welded closed.
The train is special due to the fact that it is a “fireless” type of engine. These were boiler engines popularly used in Europe long before being introduced to North America during the time of WWII. It was also one of the last fireless boiler engines used by the ASC.
The SSM Municipal Heritage Committee worked towards getting the locomotive into a municipal heritage site with its cultural significance towards the Sault Ste. Marie steel industry along with portraying the advancements in technology for the steel industry.
There was a dispute over whether Porter was to be considered “designated” since it is a movable chattel and not a permanent accessory. The Ontario Heritage Act only protects fixed property, such as buildings and structures, but does not include anything portable as it is not considered a part of property. The Heritage Committee nonetheless won, and the land that Porter is located on is now culturally and historically significant under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Although the train has been kept behind bars for the past 12 years, it still catches the eye of pedestrians walking through the park, or driving along Queen Street. It’s a reminder of the prominent presence of Algoma Steel and what it has done for Sault Ste. Marie throughout the years.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.