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Three partners sign memo to get Bear Train running, develop Canal District

Groups dedicated to possibilities presented by Sault Ste. Marie-Hearst passenger train, Agawa Canyon Tour Train
Missanabie Cree First Nation Chief Jason Gauthier file photo. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Three groups – Missanabie Cree First Nation, SIS Group and N1 Strategy Inc. – announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) virtually Tuesday, designed to maximize the possibilities presented by development of the Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst and the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.

Missanabie Cree First Nation has long been interested in getting the Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban passenger train service (Bear Train) up and running, and, as reported earlier, has received funding for a market survey and marketing plan for the project.

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train station is located near The Machine Shop, operated by Tony Porco, SIS Group president and The Machine Shop’s developer.

N1 Strategy Inc. is involved in a business advisory role.

Tuesday’s MOU signing recognizes the opportunity for the three partners to synergize the Bear Train and Agawa Canyon Tour Train within the Canal District, home to The Machine Shop and Agawa Canyon Tour Train station, providing what is described, in a release, a “visitor, cultural and entertainment destination within northern Ontario.”

It is envisioned there will be cultural displays, authentic storytelling, and hands-on experiences within the new train station.

“The announcement of this partnership comes with multiple opportunities, a strong business strategy and a passion for development within our communities,” said Jason Gauthier, Missanabie Cree First Nation chief.

Tuesday’s announcement follows news of Missanabie Cree First Nation signing an MOU, late last week, regarding partnership opportunities with Watco – CN’s new owner, pending regulatory authorization in the U.S. – and the Algoma Central Railway (ACR).

“Ultimately the arrangement will activate a business model for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train and train station which will be designed to improve efficiency, and requires collaboration among the partners to determine operational considerations, capital funding for modernization, longevity of the experience and expanding on the current programming model,” Gauthier said, while also acknowledging Missanabie Cree First Nation’s relationship with CN in its passenger train service plans.

Thanking Missanabie Cree First Nation and SIS for partnering with N1, Dan Hollingsworth, N1 vice president, said “the Canal District is quickly becoming a hub in the Algoma region to provide unique experiences, entertainment, a great variety of dining and is now home for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train and soon to be the Bear Train.”

“We’re excited by this opportunity in assisting with marketing, project management, logistics, programming and creating new opportunities and experiences.”

“Back in the fall we did launch an advisory practice within N1 Solutions. Our approach with a lot of our clients is to provide good advisory services, so we felt the advisory services were an important piece...we felt there was a great opportunity in working on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. We had approached Tony back in the fall with respect to working with him and The Machine Shop in building out the future, on what the Agawa Canyon Tour Train would look like,” Hollingsworth told SooToday.

From there, “we reached out to the chief (Gauthier) and had some conversations between the chief and The Machine Shop group with respect to the future of the train and the aspirations the chief had with the Bear Train...our role is basically providing some of those advisory services (toward a successful outcome in passenger rail projects in the Sault and Algoma).”

In regard to profit-sharing between the three partners once the Bear Train is up and running and as the Agawa Canyon Tour Train continues, Hollingsworth said “we’re still in the process of nailing out the final details to what the full partnership agreement looks like.”

“This (MOU) essentially sets the framework for how we work together, the next steps are basically getting into that model of establishing what that partnership looks like moving forward, and how we look at investing, not only in the asset of the train but also in raising capital to do that work and then looking at, down the road, with respect to the implementation and execution of the business model, how we would look at sharing revenues.”

“We’re going to need subsidies from the government in order to get the Bear Train back up and running again as a passenger service but there’s more to talk about than just the Bear Train,” Gauthier said.

“We’re talking more about what’s going to happen with Missanabie Cree and the Tour Train. There’s a lot of moving this point I’m just happy to announce the MOU and partnership.”

“We’re looking at a much broader initiative than we ever have in the past. We continue to do what we need to do to get the passenger service up and running, but the rail itself and the acquisition and the MOU with Watco, we’re looking at much larger initiatives (in addition to the Bear Train),” Gauthier said.

“We look forward to the partnership and getting started as soon as we can,” said Tony Porco, SIS Group president and The Machine Shop developer.

“I’m looking forward to working with N1 and Tony... looking forward to getting everything moving and looking forward to growing this relationship,” Gauthier said.

Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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