From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
A.B. McLean Ltd. was a well-known business in the city for many years but in 1994, after 97 years in business, it ended its operations. At the time, the company was located west of Algoma Steel, down the river from Leigh's Bay, but up until 1987/88 the aggregate firm had been located on the downtown waterfront, east of City Hall.
In the early 1970s the City of Sault Ste. Marie began expropriating land from A. B. McLean. The north section was to be used for the construction of a senior’s apartment complex. Based on reporting in the Sault Star, the agreement in place, was to move the company, which would enable the city to develop the waterfront area. With their large piles of sand and gravel as well as crushing operations, it was felt that their operations conflicted with the city’s redevelopment plans.
The Civic Centre on Foster Drive was constructed in the early 1970s and opened in 1975. Although it had been suggested that the aggregate firm would be relocated by 1973 this was not the case. It was not until the late 1980s before the move was completed.
The extended time from expropriation of land to the final move generated controversial stories in the local newspaper. Both sides, the city and the firm, wanted the move to happen. The site was an eyesore for some and the firm was anxious to expand. The delays were attributed to finding a location that would satisfy both parties and deciding on financial compensation.
In March, 1986 the firm threatened legal action against the city because of the delays. By March of the following year, land had been purchased from Algoma Steel and plans for the new site were taking shape. Details regarding city compensation were still being solidified but a conditional advance of funds was being worked out.
The new site was significantly larger, allowing the company to invest in more equipment and expand their workforce to approximately 80 employees. It was estimated that sand and stone production would increase to 700,000 tonnes, seven times the production at the smaller downtown location. A. B. McLean reportedly spent $6 million with the relocation and upgrades including port, dock, facilities, equipment and dredging.
A. B. McLean had a long history in the Sault and was often referred to as “the sand and gravel company” however it should be noted that the company was also involved in moving lumber freight from Thunder Bay to Chicago and Windsor.
The Sault Star article, Sault tug is Chicago attraction, from May 11, 1985 describes the tugboat Wilfred M. Cohen pushing a barge of lumber into the city of Chicago via the canal waterway system. This required the raising of 28 drawbridges.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.
Also note: When the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library is able to resume normal operating hours, the public will once again be able to view local newspaper archives on microfilm from 1901 to the current year, at the James L. McIntyre Centennial Library.